PINEHURST, N.C. – Reporters sat clustered around Larry Fedora’s makeshift dais at the ACC Football Kickoff on Monday, firing question after question about the locker room breakdowns and on-field miscues that led to his first losing season as a head coach in 2014.
Roughly 30 minutes in, a media member asked the fourth-year UNC head coach to make sense of his team’s unpredictable play late in the season, a stretch that included a 47-20 drubbing at Miami, a 45-20 dismantling of rival Duke in Durham and a 35-7 blowout loss to N.C. State at home.
“The only way to make any sense of it is that we were inconsistent,” Fedora said, before stopping the exchange to address the media surrounding him.
“Listen, let’s make something clear real quick right now. All of these questions about last year’s team – that’s still my responsibility. All of those issues and everything we talk about, that’s me. So when it all comes down, it’s a poor job by Larry Fedora. I mean, really, that’s what it is. No matter what the reasons were, it’s my job to get it right and to make sure we come out and we’re successful. That didn’t happen last year, so I’ve got to do a better job.”
The issues were aplenty. In the aftermath of the 40-21 loss to Rutgers in the Quick Lane Bowl, players blamed teammates for not caring enough, seniors blamed underclassmen for being negative, underclassmen blamed outgoing players for focusing too much on their professional aspirations and there was even criticism directed at the defensive coaching staff.
All of those topics were talking points during the player interviews with UNC quarterback Marquise Williams and linebacker Jeff Schoettmer on Monday.
“It was too many I’s on the team and we don’t have that any more,” Williams said. “A lot of those guys left and graduated. And we’re thankful that we have the people that we have now.”
Schoettmer pointed to poor chemistry and leadership, saying, “That’s what we did not have enough of last year.”
Williams said the problems were not confined to the defensive side of the ball, that it was a team-wide ordeal. And he bristled when asked if there was a division between the “Butch Davis guys” and the rest of the roster, saying that he was a Davis recruit along with Schoettmer.
Both seniors spoke of renewed trust and healthy bonding in the locker room, thanks in part to the departure of certain players and coaches and the arrival of new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik.
Long before any of the healing took place, though, Fedora called a team meeting early this year to allow the players to air their grievances.
“The first thing we did was talk about the issues that we felt like we had as a team,” Fedora said. “Every single guy on the team got to say what [he] thought the issues were and then we addressed every one of those issues. We owned them and then we got rid of them.”
Every player on the roster was required to write a concern on the whiteboard. The issues listed ranged from the specific to the abstract, from chemistry to a lack of belief in the scheme. The most repeated topic was leadership, according to Fedora.
The team discussed every issue on the board and how it impacted the team.
“I think that’s one of the things that our kids are excited about is they feel like we did address the things that we felt like were issues on our football team,” Fedora said. “And I think they’re excited about new guys on the staff, a renewed philosophy on that side of the ball. I think you see a level of confidence in those guys. I think everybody in the program is excited.”
The players have since utilized different methods to understand the breakdowns and mend the locker room.
UNC’s leadership council, which consists of 14 players from different classes, met throughout the offseason to address the fallout. In addition to various team-building activities through the spring and summer, such as volleyball games and cornhole contests, the team also worked with Jeff Janssen, who runs the Janssen Sports Leadership Center. The agency works with over 200 schools nationwide in developing leadership traits, according to Janssen’s website.
Fedora said chemistry on every team is different, and that in 27 years of coaching, he’s seen similar situations as what played out at UNC last year. He stressed that he’s never been associated with a successful football team that didn’t have good chemistry, and that’s why his staff works hard to encourage that intangible.
The team leaders have to be aware that they are constantly influencing their teammates, whether it be in a positive or negative direction, according to Fedora.
“I definitely think there can be a dramatic change, and I expect it,” Fedora said.
Owning The 2014 Fallout
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