CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – A trip to Orlando, a quality opponent and the ever-present bowl swag are all rewards that No. 10 North Carolina will receive for its 11-2 football season.
The best gift of all though, according to head coach Larry Fedora, is extra time to improve in practice.
“I think anytime just having the opportunity to practice more is always something that you’re striving for,” Fedora said during his bowl press conference on Tuesday.
UNC took the week after the ACC Championship game off for exams and recruiting, but the Tar Heels returned to practice on Saturday to not only prepare for No. 17 Baylor, but also to gain an idea of where they are heading in 2016.
“These last three practices we’ve had to this point have been all about us, nothing to have to do with Baylor,” Fedora said.
Fedora estimated that UNC will hold 12 practices between last Saturday and the Russell Athletic Bowl on Dec. 29.
“I’ve still got to give these guys a few days off to go home for Christmas,” he said.
Carolina graduated 10 seniors this past Sunday, including captains Marquise Williams, Landon Turner, Jeff Schoettmer and Shakeel Rashad, so that group of players missed that afternoon's practice session. These extra practices give Fedora a chance to evaluate his young talent and find what they need to work on to fill in for the senior class.
“It gives you a better idea of where those guys are in the spring and where their deficiencies are, where they need to improve,” Fedora said. “You’re able to communicate that with them so that they know between now and spring ball what they need to work on.”
Fedora plans to utilize practice the same way this year as he did in 2014’s preparation for the Quick Lane Bowl. While the game itself turned into a blowout loss to Rutgers, it helped the team prepare for one of the best seasons in program history.
“That was a really good thing for us that we got a lot of really young kids a lot of reps to go into this year, because it’s kind of a pre-spring is what you look at,” Fedora said. “Not all of it, because you eventually have to start working on an opponent, but probably 4-to-5 practices were based on kind of a pre-spring type of orientation. I thought it was really good.”
“Our football team is excited about the Russell Athletic Bowl down in Orlando. We’re excited about the quality team that we have the opportunity to compete against in Baylor University, and I’m sure by this time you guys know that I’ve got a lot of ties down there. It was kind of where I cut my teeth on college coaching. I know a lot of people down there, have a lot of friends, still, from that area, and it should be a lot of fun.”
How will offensive play calling be handled for the bowl game?
“Right now, we’re still game planning the same way we always have as an offensive staff. Right now, I haven’t really finally decided how it’s gonna go down in the game. I think that I will probably be more involved than I have been. That doesn’t mean that I’ll be making all of the calls. I’ve got guys on our staff that can handle it without a problem. I still need to make a final decision on how we’re gonna do it.”
What’s the game planning process for the bowl game?
“We’ll be finalized on the game plan probably by the end of (Wednesday).”
Is it easier to prepare for an offense that’s so similar to yours in Baylor’s?
“I don’t know if it’s easy. They’re the number one offense in the country, I think, in just about every statistic. They are explosive, yards, touchdowns, they’ve got one receiver that’s got 20 touchdowns already. They are pretty phenomenal in what they do. When they say they spread the field, they spread the field. They widen you out. Those receivers will be outside the numbers. That’s a lot of room to cover to stop the running game and you’ve got to make the decision on what you’re gonna do, and they’ve proven that they can beat you with either one. There is similarity that way.”
Do you notice a lot more outside desire to fill that offensive coordinator now than the last time you had to hire one?
“Yeah. There’s a lot. There’s a lot of people that are very interested. I mean, the last two guys came in here and became head coaches. I think they think that they’re gonna walk in here and become a head coach. And I think because our offense has a great track record from not only here, but every place we’ve been, that they see it as an offense they would like to learn. If I was a coach outside of it, I’d want to. Just as I like to study other successful offenses, I’m sure that people would like to study ours. The response has been really unbelievable. Overwhelming, actually.”
How many of your juniors have interest in the NFL Draft?
“We filed paperwork on four or five guys. I don’t know who all they are right now, but they’re all interested in seeing what the process is, and we encourage it. For a guy that is thinking about it, we want to make sure we give him all of the information that they could possibly get. One of the things we talk about in recruiting is that it would be a dream for me to be sitting on that couch in my office with you three years from now, and you have to make a decision. That means you played pretty good. So yeah, we do have some guys thinking about that, and we’ll have to wait and see as we go through the process.”
Were you worried about Gene Chizik’s name coming up in some head coaching rumors?
“I’m really kind of at peace with Gene Chizik. What I mean by that is there’s no doubt in my mind if Gene Chizik decides he wants to be a head coach again, he’s gonna be a head coach again. No doubt. So, that’s not gonna be something that I worry about, because if the right situation arises for him, and that’s what he wants, then I’m gonna be happy for him and his family. I really am.
"It’s just like I am with every guy on my staff that has aspirations of being a head coach. I want that to happen for them. I want my players to reach their dreams and goals. I want my staff to reach their dreams and goals. If those things are happening, then we’re probably doing some pretty good things, and things are good around here, so I really wasn’t worried about it. I really wasn’t. First of all, I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about all the rumors that are out there. I can put something on the internet, if I knew how, and start a rumor, and you guys would go crazy. Anybody can put anything out there. If that issue would come up and Gene says ‘Hey, I want to look at this,’ then we would address it. I’m really at peace with all of that.”