CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – While North Carolina’s defense underwent a dramatic transition this offseason, headlined by the parting of ways with Vic Koenning and the welcoming of Gene Chizik, Larry Fedora’s role on that side of the ball has remained unchanged.
“I’ve never gone in the defensive room and told them what to run,” the fourth-year UNC head coach told reporters following Monday’s practice. “The offensive guys probably wish I would get out of that room, but I haven’t changed. I’m still involved in all special teams and the offense, and that’s about it. I can’t go over there and help the defense out.”
Chizik’s pedigree, as well as that of linebackers coach John Papuchis, secondary coach Charlton Warren and defensive line coach Tray Scott, allow Fedora to delegate without hesitation.
“I’m very comfortable with everything that Gene’s doing and that staff,” Fedora said. “You’ve got three guys in there that have been former coordinators, so they know what’s got to be done. They get it. Gene’s been a head coach, so he understands. There’s nothing that I’m going to go in there and tell them that will make them feel any better or change what they’re doing.”
Fedora spent the majority of his time in spring ball watching the defensive staff interact with the players during practice to learn their approach and teaching methods. He remains active on that side of the ball, according to senior linebacker Shakeel Rashad.
“He’s back and forth between the offense and defense when we’re running plays, so it’s not like he’s some behind-the-scenes coach,” Rashad said. “He’s hands-on. He’s over here, he’s watching what we’ve got going for us. He knows what’s going on with us.”
Both Koenning and Chizik had full control of the defense. The primary difference in their approach, according to Rashad, is Chizik provides more insight into his actions and decisions than his predecessors.
“We’ll run a personnel grouping a lot during one practice, but he’ll tell us before the practice, ‘We’re doing this because this is something we may see a lot,’” Rashad said. “It’s something where you understand why you’re doing things; you’re not just doing them. You understand why you’re doing it and how it will help.”
Chizik’s prior success – a national championship as defensive coordinator at Texas in ’05 and a national championship as a head coach at Auburn in ’10 – provides a built-in layer of confidence for his defensive roster as well. It helps that Chizik has implemented some of the exact same play calls that he used in Texas’s title run a decade ago.
“He showed us clips all throughout training camp of Texas versus Ohio State in 2005 [and] Texas versus USC,” senior linebacker Jeff Schoettmer said. “We’re running very similar stuff to what they did.”
The offseason transition of the defensive staffs, along with the switch from a 4-2-5 to a 4-3 base scheme, have overshadowed, in some respects, the key element of defensive improvement: the roster.
“He can give us all of the scheme he wants and the best scheme in the world, but it comes down to players making plays,” Schoettmer said. “The coaches aren’t out there doing anything. It’s the guys on the field that have to execute and make plays.”