CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – A Wake Forest investigation that determined its football radio analyst provided confidential game plan information to opponents will likely serve to bolster the paranoia already teeming throughout the coaching ranks, including North Carolina’s Larry Fedora.
Wake Forest announced its findings on Tuesday. Former player and assistant coach Tommy Elrod “provided or attempted to provide confidential and proprietary game preparations on multiple occasions, starting in 2014,” according to the press release. The inquiry began following Wake Forest’s loss to Louisville on Nov. 12 when the football staff discovered materials left behind by the Cardinals showing they were prepared for plays the Demon Deacons had never run before.
Espionage is part of the growing lore of football. The New England Patriots were disciplined by the NFL in 2007 for videotaping signals from the New York Jets’ coaching staff from an unauthorized location. In the 2014 BCS national championship game, Auburn allegedly stole Florida State’s offensive signals before the Seminoles’ coaching staff made changes.
Such trickery is why the Tar Heels employ various decoy signal callers on the sidelines, along with nonsensical play call signs with graphics of cartoons, celebrities and the like.
The thievery of pertinent opponent information, from the dirty to the illegal to the pure gamesmanship, has been a topic of concern for Fedora since long before he arrived at UNC in December 2011.
Fedora declines to provide injury information, aside from the season-ending variety, because he doesn’t want to tip off opponents about which players can be exploited on game day. And while most teams make a spectacle of rewarding scholarships to walk-ons for positive news blurbs, Fedora keeps those decisions quiet to avoid providing too much detail about the makeup of his roster.
The fifth-year UNC head coach even prefers to keep everyone in the dark about his schemes and his coaches’ responsibilities. In the buildup to his first game in Chapel Hill in 2012, Fedora surprised media and fans by declining to share whether defensive coordinator Dan Disch or associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning would be calling the plays.
“We have a plan,” Fedora said in August 2012. “It’s already established how we’re going to do that defensively. It’s not something that I want to tell everybody how we’re doing it. I would prefer that our opponents have to try to figure out how we’re doing what we’re doing over there, for a variety of reasons.”
A similar situation played out this season on the offensive side of the ball. Despite offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic being promoted to offensive coordinator during the offseason, Fedora has consistently played coy about who was responsible for calling the plays. An interview posted on the school’s official site, GoHeels.com, in October caused a stir due to Fedora being quoted as saying quarterbacks coach Keith Heckendorf was calling the plays from the press box after scripted plays were exhausted.
Fedora’s fear of providing opponents with valuable information was a talking point during one of his weekly press conferences last month.
“It’s why I tell you very few things,” Fedora said.
He confirmed that he has staff members assigned to monitor opponents’ press conferences, reports and any other relevant news items that might provide an advantage, no matter how slight, on game day.
“Oh, yeah, definitely,” he said. “We have people that do all of that, and comb the Internet for anything that’s out there. For someone who takes a picture in practice, if there’s anything we can see in that picture.”
When asked if reporters should disregard what he tells them, Fedora replied: “Pretty much.”