(So do I have a future writing corny newspaper headlines, or not?)
On Thursday, North Carolina finally put an end to a week's worth of speculation and officially announced the hiring of Southern Miss's Larry Fedora as the Tar Heels' new head coach.
It's by no means the ideal marriage for either party. Most reports indicate UNC's top candidate was Boise State's Chris Peterson (isn't he everybody's?), and Fedora would have preferred the Texas A&M gig. But neither side did badly settling for their second choice, either. Ruling out the Ohio State opening (which everyone knew was never really "open"), North Carolina was arguably the 2nd most desirable job available, depending on how you feel what's transpiring at Penn State right now will affect it down the road. Fedora wasn't going to do much better on this spin of the Coaching Carousel. Likewise, Southern Miss's upset of Houston in the C-USA championship game, firmly established Fedora in that second-tier of attractive mid-major head coaches below Peterson.
So the second or third best job reeled in the second or third best coach. A professional matchmaker couldn't have put it together any better. And the early response to Fedora's introductory press conference has been predictably favorable. But will this new love affair last?
As a Southern Miss graduate, I've been known to have some strong opinions on Fedora's coaching over the last few seasons. And while it's difficult to argue with his success, posting a 33-19 record at USM and keeping the school's streak of 18-straight winning seasons alive (though just barely, a few times), it would also be fair to say that most of his success could be classified as "middling" prior to this season's breakthrough C-USA championship run. I wouldn't go so far as to say he shouldn't have been the hot commodity that he was on the 2011 market, but I also wouldn't say he's a slam dunk prospect to be a successful head coach at the AQ-conference level.
As far as the positives he's bringing to Chapel Hill: First, and most evidently, he brings enthusiasm and energy, second to none. Based on what I've seen from his first presser at UNC, Tar Heel fans have already gotten a heavy dose of his ATTACK! philosophy. (The transcript read like a Greatest Hits collection of his pressers and locker room speeches at Southern Miss.) He will work as hard as anyone in the ACC and demand that everyone in the program match his intensity. If he fails, it won't be for lack of effort. He was sold out for Southern Miss every step of the way. Even though it was always understood that Southern Miss was a stepping stone job for him, he never treated it that way. I wouldn't expect him to approach this job any differently.
Secondly, I would expect no drop off from the high standard of recruiting Butch Davis set during his tenure. Fedora has extensive experience fighting major recruiting battles at Florida and Oklahoma State, and upon arriving at Southern Miss, he signaled that he wasn't going to back down from anybody when he signed 5* WR prospect DeAndre Brown, right out of the gate (so what if he never panned out, right?). No, the talent level should remain the same, barring any future crippling NCAA sanctions. And that won't be his fault, and is why they gave him that 7-year contract in the first place (whatever that's worth).
Finally, the man knows how to score points. He had Southern Miss averaging 30 points a game in his first season (with some walk-on freshman baseball player no one had ever heard of at quarterback) and grew his offensive juggernaut from there, despite his crown jewel, the aforementioned troubled and oft-injured Brown, becoming less and less a factor as it went. There may be somewhat more of an adjustment period for him at North Carolina with the opposing defenses in the ACC being a bit more stout than what C-USA typically has to offer, but I'd say it's almost inevitable that the Tar Heel offense will become quite prolific under his guidance.
But he's not without his drawbacks. First and foremost, he's a classic example of these offensive geniuses that don't care a lick about defense. Under his watch, the once proud defensive tradition at Southern Miss became a laughingstock, even by C-USA standards. Over his first three years, the defense deteriorated so badly, his teams lost 8 games in which the Golden Eagles scored at least 30 points, including 5 games in which they scored 40. Three of those occurred during the 2010 season. But did that motivate Fedora to make a change on defense? Nope. In all likelihood, Southern Miss would still be discovering new lows on defense under the watchful eye of Todd Bradford if not for Randy Edsall whisking him away to Maryland (I should have known right then the Terps were heading for 2-10) and the what I can only assume was serendipitous hiring of the unheralded Dan Disch to fill his job.
So that's a problem. His Southern Miss teams also had a history of lacking discipline and poise. They consistently, infuriatingly committed dumb penalties, and even this year, his banner year, finished 115th in the country in penalties with nearly 8 per game. Fedora teams also seem to have a knack for losing games they have no business losing (example: Fedora's 3-game losing streak to woeful UAB, a team USM had NEVER LOST TO previously) and coughing up big leads due to questionable game management.
Beyond the football field, I wonder how that same personality that was so winning on display in his introductory presser will play over time. I mean, that's him, all the time. He only comes with one volume setting. What's inspiring at first can become abrasive, and people are lying if they try to tell you he didn't rub some the wrong way at USM. And while Butch Davis did quite a bit to drag UNC into the world of modern college football, it's still a basketball school first. Based on some nosing around I've done, it seems like there's still a significant portion of the athletics power base on Chapel Hill that would prefer the football program be quiet, take what's given to it, and simply appreciate the fact that it exists. "Quiet" has never, and will never, describe Larry Fedora.
So I wonder how those people will react when Fedora starts making demands. Or how he'll react if they try to shut him up and send him back to his corner of the athletic department. That could be the real deal breaker here. We'll see how it plays out over the next 7 years, I guess.