Over the next few weeks, we’ll be chatting with each ACC coach to go over the highs and lows of 2017 and take a look at what’s in store for spring practice and the season ahead.
Next up, North Carolina’s Larry Fedora, whose Tar Heels endured nearly two dozen season-ending injuries and now look to find a fresh start with more healthy bodies in 2018.
You’ve coached for a while. Ever been through anything like last year, with all the injuries?
Fedora: I’ve never been involved with anything like it. In 31, 32 years of coaching football, I’ve never been involved in something like that.
It’s hard to grade last year’s performance given how many guys were out, but looking back, it speaks highly of the character of the team that, by year’s end, you were still competitive in a lot of games.
Fedora: I think in times like that, any time you have adversity, you find out a lot about who you are, who your staff is, the make-up of your team and I think we’ll all be better coaches, better men, better players because of it. You learn from each lesson, and you make the best of that and then you move on. I was proud that those guys were fighting all the way to the end. They showed a lot of grit, and I think that will help us going forward in the future.
How many of those injured guys are back, who are you waiting on?
Fedora: We probably have about half back and the other half we’re still waiting. I anticipate we’ll have everybody when we need to have everybody.
Does this spring feel like a fresh start or are there things you can really take from how last year played out?
Fedora: There’s always some background that you work from, but I’ve always tried to basically start over. It’s a new team. We start from the beginning as if they know nothing, and we go from there. You don’t want to take anything for granted. Now, you’re able to, in some instances, go faster. Whatever the lowest common denominator is, that’s as fast as you can go. The good thing is we had a lot of young guys who probably wouldn’t have played last year that got reps, so we’re not starting from scratch.
You cycled through three quarterbacks and have two new faces added to the roster. Where does that position group stand?
Fedora: It’s just like every other position on the field for us, a wide-open competition. We got two guys that got reps. We’ve got two guys here in camp that are in spring ball right now that we signed and came in early. We’ve got an open competition, they all know that, and you’d expect the guys who had experience last year to be ahead of the others — and they are. But we’re evaluating every day.
You look at how Chazz Surratt and Nathan Elliott played last year, and there were some nice throws, some mistakes — but they were also playing without so many of the weapons you might’ve counted on. Does that make it tough to evaluate them?
Fedora: You evaluate all the details. How did he handle the situation? What was his demeanor? How did he handle the players around him? Did he lead? There are so many things that you can evaluate and learn from, so you try to look at everything he did in each of those guys. You get an idea where he’s at, and then we start there in spring ball.
Do you expect to wait until fall to name a starter at QB or if one guy separates himself, would you do it at the end of spring?
Fedora: Yeah, I have no problem ever naming a starter once a guy has shown he’s distanced himself from the other guys and is the leader of the team and is ready to be named the starter. It just depends on when it is. I don’t have a date it has to be done by. When that happens, that’s when we do it.
The defense had its share of struggles, for a lot of reasons. How much was the personnel, the transition on the coaching staff, the struggles of the offense?
Fedora: I don’t think the transition to Coach [John] Papuchis was that big a factor. There were a lot of factors, and any time you have one side of the ball struggling, it affects the other side. But that’s part of this game. The game of football, you have to be good in all three phases, and if not, one phase has to pick up for the others. It put too much strain on all the phases. Hopefully we learned some lessons.
Tough to replace a guy like MJ Stewart. How’s the back end of the defense looking for this year?
Fedora: Well, you get guys like Myles Dorn, who’s gotten quite a bit of experience since he’s been here. K.J. Sails. Those guys become the leaders on the back end. You have some younger guys, Patrice Rene, who got some experience, that have an opportunity to step up. Myles Wolfolk. They’ll show who they are and have a chance to make a name for themselves.
Did you feel like last year’s struggles toughened this team or was there a concern it could really kill morale moving forward?
Fedora: I think by the way they performed throughout the year, that they never gave in, it gives you an idea of the attitude they’ve taken. There was no pointing fingers or feeling sorry for themselves. It was, this is what it is, and let’s try to overcome it. That’s carried over into winter conditioning and definitely into spring ball.