John Shoop is an extremely studious and hardworking coach. How could we possibly know that since he's only been on the job for a short amount of time?
The interview that is the basis for this series took place on Signing Day, Feb. 7, 2007. At that point, Shoop had been on the job at UNC for less than a month, having been named to the job on Jan. 12. Recruiting took up an extraordinary amount of his time during those three weeks. Despite the limitations on his time and the short period he'd had been a North Carolina coach, Shoop knew a great deal about the 2006 North Carolina football team, particularly on offense, as will become obvious from his comments in this part of the series.
The process began even before he accepted the position at North Carolina. "I have watched every single game from this past season, more than once," Shoop said. "I'm really starting to study this league as well. In fact, I watched every single game of North Carolina's before I even took the job. I wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting into and things like that."
What did Shoop take note of during his review of last year's UNC games?
Quarterback – "(The players) at that position need to be better decision-makers and they need to be more accurate at that position. I'm really excited about the guys we've got coming back. I really like those guys and spent some time with them and know them better than maybe some of the other guys. So, I feel good about that position and getting to know those guys. I've interacted with them. I feel good about my ability to coach them as well."
Offensive Line – "I do think that we have some good looking linemen that look good in their uniform. We've got to get them playing at a higher level as well. We've got to get them playing at a real high level."
Wide Receiver – "There are some playmakers at the wide receiver position. Hakeem Nicks just turned out to be a guy that even when he's covered comes up with the catch. And, sometimes it takes a quarterback a little bit of a leap of faith to throw the ball to a guy that's not wide open. He's got a knack for having quick hands and coming up with the ball."
Running Back – "Most of the film from the running back position is about Ronnie McGill, who is gone and that's a position that I really got to get to know this offseason."
Tight End – "Most of the film from the tight end position isn't helpful, with [Jon] Hamlett graduating. But I think we've got some really strong candidates at that position. I think we've got some good tight ends on our team – we really do. I think we've signed some good tight end/H-back guys as well."
When discussing tight ends, the term "H-back" gets tossed around and can become confusing. Shoop said there is a simple way for the average fan to understand the distinction. "Here's the best way to think of it," he said. "If a tight end is kind of half-lineman and half- wide receiver, your true tight end may be a little bit more lineman than wide receiver. And your H-tight end, H-back, may be a little bit more wide receiver than lineman. I think that's probably the best way to explain it."
Butch Davis' offenses have always seemed to feature the tight end, and several of his former Miami players went on to stellar careers in the NFL as tight ends, such as Jeremy Shockey. Does Shoop believe this offense will also feature the tight end? Maybe yes, maybe no.
"Which comes first, the scheme where you're trying to get it to the tight end or do you have a superstar at that position who you want to get the ball to?" Shoop said. "I think it's important that we have an awful lot of balance and the better that player is at our tight end position, the more balls there's going to be thrown to him."
Shoop's grasp of the UNC offense from 2006 was impressive based on the limited amount of time he'd been on the job, but film study tells only part of the story, "Football isn't just watching film, it's getting to know the guys, being around one another in ways that help you figure out what makes them click," he said. "That is the stuff I've got to figure out. I haven't been around the guys as much – I've watched the film and the film doesn't necessarily lie, but I've got to figure out – we've got to figure as a staff - what we need to push to maximize their ability."
What about the class just signed, does Shoop have any preferences or prejudices against playing true freshmen? Will some play and impact the team? "It's possible," Shoop said. "There's no doubt. Like Hakeem (Nicks) did it. But Hakeem's play made that decision. That decision wasn't made for Hakeem this time last year. We've got some dynamic players coming in, there's no doubt about that. How they prepare; how they take care of themselves; how they adjust to college life, all those things. That decision will be made by all those factors, not by any coach sitting in an office right now."
This series of articles wasn't intended to provide the exact shape of the North Carolina offense for the 2007 season, though we hope that the picture is somewhat coming into focus. In Part V -- the concluding piece in this series -- we'll take our best shot at providing a forecast of what to look for from the North Carolina offense next year.