Larry Fedora’s fourth season as North Carolina’s head coach saw the Tar Heels return to the national discussion thanks to a record-setting offense and vastly improved defense. After an 11-1 regular season that featured a school-record 11-game winning streak and ended with the program’s first trip to the ACC Championship Game, Fedora has the Tar Heels poised to compete for a league title on a yearly basis.
“I’m a believer that nothing great can be accomplished without energy and a passion for what you believe in,” he says. “We’re building this program and every day we are striving to become better coaches and student-athletes.”
Fedora is building a program at North Carolina that encompasses all aspects of the student-athlete experience. In his first four seasons, the Tar Heels have set offensive records in bunches, electrified fans with their special teams play, produced numerous professional prospects and finished first in the Coastal Division on two occasions. Off the field, North Carolina student-athletes are regulars in the community and at local elementary schools. The Tar Heels’ APR has improved under Fedora and Carolina had four players on last year’s All-ACC Academic Team, the most since 2010.
Despite scholarship limitations imposed before Fedora took over the program, he guided the Tar Heels to 32 wins in his first four years. Only Dick Crum won more games (34) in his first four seasons in Chapel Hill since the ACC began in 1953.
Fedora was one of the first coaches in the country to implement the spread offense, a style now employed in a majority of major programs. Fedora was quick to brand his style of play as “smart, fast and physical,” a mantra he’s preached since he first became a head coach at Southern Miss in 2008. That style has paid dividends for UNC, which has averaged more than 425 total yards of offense per game under his watch and averaged more than 40 points in 2015.
Fedora’s first season in 2012 was highlighted by a 6-1 mark at home, including a thrilling 43-35 victory over NC State and a 48-34 win against Virginia Tech. Giovani Bernard’s 74-yard punt return in the final seconds of the NC State game ended Carolina’s five-game losing skid to its nearby rival and set off a wild celebration on the UNC sidelines. The Virginia Tech game saw Carolina rush for 339 yards, its most since 2004, as the Tar Heels posted 533 total yards of offense. It was also the most points the Hokies had allowed in a game since joining the ACC. Carolina also posted home victories over Elon, East Carolina, Idaho and Maryland, and picked up road wins at Miami and Virginia. It marked the first time a UNC coach had won at Virginia in his first attempt since Dick Crum in 1979.
Statistically, Carolina finished eighth in the country in scoring in 2012, averaging a school-record 40.6 points per game. The Tar Heels scored 30 or more points in nine of 12 games, and twice posted more than 60 points, including a school-record 66 against Idaho. Carolina was 14th in the nation in total offense, averaging a school-record 485.6 yards per game.
The Tar Heels also excelled on special teams, finishing 10th in net punting and 10th in punt return average. Bernard was second nationally in punt returns and fourth as an all-purpose runner.
In his second season, the Tar Heels stumbled to a 1-5 start, but won six of their last seven games, and captured the 2013 Belk Bowl title with a 39-17 thumping of Cincinnati. The win ensured Fedora of his sixth-straight winning season as a head coach.
Carolina’s offense set several more school records in 2013, including most points in a game (80), most plays in a season (943) and most passing yards in a season (3,606). It was the sixth consecutive year as a head coach that Fedora’s offense has gained more than 5,000 total yards.
Fedora takes pride in having outstanding special teams play and 2013 may have been his best yet. Punt returner Ryan Switzer tied the NCAA single-season record with five punt returns for touchdowns en route to first-team All-America honors as a true freshman. It was the first time a true freshman at Carolina had ever been named first-team All-America. Meanwhile kick returner T.J. Logan returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. Throw in an interception return for touchdown by safety Dominquie Green and the Tar Heels set a school record for most non-offensive touchdowns with eight. Not surprisingly, the Tar Heels led the nation in punt returns and also finished 10th in the country in net punting.
The 2013 season culminated in a decisive 39-17 victory over Cincinnati in the Belk Bowl, the Tar Heels’ first win in the Charlotte bowl game in four chances. It was Carolina’s first bowl win since 2010.
In 2014, Carolina again had one of the top offensive units in the ACC, ranking third in scoring and fifth in total offense. The Tar Heels won four of their last six regular-season games to earn a second straight bowl bid. The season was highlighted by a 45-20 win at No. 25 Duke, which was televised nationally by ESPN on Thursday night.
Carolina had one of its best seasons in nearly two decades in 2015 as Fedora guided the Tar Heels to an 11-1 regular season and the school’s first appearance the ACC Championship Game. Carolina won a school-record 11 consecutive games during the season, went 8-0 at home and swept its in-state opponents. It was another record-setting season as UNC posted more than 60 team and individual marks led by senior signal caller Marquise Williams. Williams was one of 17 Tar Heels to earn All-ACC honors as Carolina led the nation in yards per play and was among the top three in the league in scoring offense (1st), rushing offense (2nd), passing offense (3rd) and total offense (2nd). UNC also had the most improved defense in the country, allowing 14.5 fewer points per game than the previous year.
Fedora was named the 2015 Fellowship of Christian Athletes Coach of the Year and was a finalist for the Bear Bryant National Coach of the Year Award.
COACHING THE BEST
Without question, Carolina’s players have benefitted from Fedora’s up-tempo style of play. Quarterback Marquise Williams set more than 20 school records during his brillant career, including records for total offense, passing yards, touchdowns and rushing touchdowns by a quarterback. Wide receiver Quinshad Davis, one of Fedora’s first recruits at UNC, finished as the school’s all-time leader in receptions and touchdowns receptions. Ryan Swizter, who returns for his senior season in 2016, has already become the ACC record-holder in punt return touchdowns and is one of the most electrifying players in the league.
In 2013, tight end Eric Ebron earned All-America honors after establishing ACC records for most receptions and receiving yards by a tight end (single-season and career). Ebron flourished in Fedora’s fast-paced offense, and with more NFL teams requiring athletic tight ends, he was selected 10th overall by the Detroit Lions. It was the second time Fedora has produced the top tight end in the NFL Draft. When he was at Oklahoma State, Fedora coached Brandon Pettigrew, who was the first tight end selected in 2009.
Carolina had five players selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, which ranked second in the ACC and seventh in the country. In total, nine of UNC’s 11 seniors in 2013 were either drafted, signed a free agent contract or received a tryout opportunity from an NFL team.
Ebron was the third first-rounder Fedora has coached in Chapel Hill. The previous year, offensive guard Jonathan Cooper and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams were selected in the first round by Arizona (No. 7) and Denver (No. 28), respectively. It was just the second time Carolina had produced multiple first-round picks in the same season. Cooper was a consensus first-team All-America and became the first Outland Trophy finalist in UNC history. Williams, who prior to coming to UNC had worked in a factory making truck parts, was a stout run-stopper who earned first-team All-ACC honors. Williams played in the Super Bowl in two of his first three years in the NFL, capturing the coveted trophy in 2015.
Bernard, a fleet-footed runner from Ft. Lauderdale, led the league in rushing in 2012, earned first-team All-ACC honors at both running back and specialist and was the first tailback selected in the NFL Draft when Cincinnati took him in the second round. Nine Tar Heels from the 2012 squad signed professional contracts, including five draft picks and four free agent signings. All three senior offensive linemen were drafted, including Cooper in the first round, Brennan Williams in the third and Travis Bond in the seventh.
BUILT A PROGRAM AT SOUTHERN MISS
The 35th head coach in Carolina history and the 11th since the ACC was formed in 1953, Fedora came to Carolina after four seasons as head coach at Southern Miss where he compiled a 34-19 overall record, including a 12-2 mark in 2012, and advanced to four consecutive bowl games. USM knocked off previously unbeaten and No. 6 Houston, 49-28, in the CUSA title game and then won its school-record 12th game of the year over Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl. The Golden Eagles reached double digits in wins for just the third time in school history and the first time since 1952. USM finished the season ranked No. 19 in the USA Today Coaches Top 25 poll, No. 20 in the Associated Press poll and No. 21 in the BCS standings.
Fedora’s 2011 team was among the best in the country on both sides of the ball. Southern Miss was 17th in the nation in total offense, averaging 461.4 yards per game, and 14th in scoring offense with 36.9 points per contest. On defense, the Golden Eagles were seventh in pass efficiency defense, 26th in scoring defense and 29th in total defense.
Southern Miss developed into an explosive offensive program during Fedora’s tenure, gaining more than 5,000 total yards of offense in each of his four seasons, including a school-record 6,459 yards in 2011. In three of his four years in Hattiesburg, the Golden Eagles established a school record for total offense. In addition, USM was one of only five schools to run more than 1,000 plays in 2010-11.
En route to an 8-win season in 2010, Southern Miss established 35 school records and finished 18th in the country in total offense – the highest finish for the Golden Eagles since becoming a member of the FBS. Fedora’s Southern Miss offenses were 31st in the nation in 2009 and 20th in 2008.
While admired for his offensive style, Fedora also believes in an attacking defensive philosophy. The Golden Eagles forced turnovers in 46 games during the Fedora era and two or more in 36 contests. That turnover margin helped the Golden Eagles rank 10th in turnover margin nationally for the second consecutive year in 2009 and 20th in 2010. In 2011, Fedora’s defense set an FBS record with eight interceptions returned for touchdown.
Off the field, Fedora’s teams have succeeded in the classroom. Southern Miss’s graduation success rate (GSR) ranked second in CUSA in the 2009-10 academic year and third during the 2010-11 academic year. In 2009, USM was recognized by the AFCA for its graduation success rate.
LEARNING AS AN ASSISTANT
The Southern Miss job was Fedora’s first head coaching assignment after excelling in the collegiate ranks as an assistant. He spent three seasons as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State from 2005-07 where the Cowboys raised their rushing, passing and total offensive yards each year with Fedora at the helm. In 2006, the Cowboys were one of just two teams - the other being Boise State - to average over 200 yards both rushing and passing.
The OSU offense averaged over 30 points per contest over his final two seasons as well. The Cowboys made the biggest improvement in the country in scoring following his second season of running the offense, jumping from 96th nationally in 2005 to seventh in 2006.
Prior to his stint at Oklahoma State, Fedora spent three seasons at Florida as run game coordinator (2002), perimeter game coordinator (2003) and offensive coordinator (2004). He also coached the running backs and receivers all three seasons.
In 2004, Fedora’s Gators ranked first in the SEC in six different categories including passing offense (271.1), total offense (426.9), third down conversion percentage (47.8), touchdown passes (29), pass attempts (407) and pass completions (243).
Before going to Florida, Fedora was the offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee from 1999-2001. In three seasons at MTSU, Fedora’s offense averaged 424 yards of total offense, 181 rushing yards and 31 points per game. With Fedora as their offensive coordinator, the Blue Raiders set 43 school records over three seasons.
Fedora began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Austin College in 1986. He then served as an assistant coach at Garland (Texas) High School from 1987-90. Fedora returned to the collegiate ranks in 1991, serving as the tight ends, wide receivers and running backs coach at Baylor, where he stayed until 1996. He then spent two seasons (1997-98) at Air Force coaching the passing game and wide receivers.
As a player, Fedora was a wide receiver at Austin College from 1981-84. He played on the 1981 Kangaroo squad that won the NAIA championship. He earned academic All-America honors in 1983, and was honorable mention All-America in both 1983 and 1984.
Born Sept. 10, 1962, in College Station, Texas, Fedora is a 1985 graduate of Austin College in Sherman, Texas, where he also received his master’s degree in 1986. He is married to the former Christi Wood, and the couple has one son, Dillon, and three daughters, Sydney, Peyton and Hallie.
|1986||Austin College||Grad. Asst.||---|
|1987||Garland (Texas) HS||Assistant||---|
|1988||Garland (Texas) HS||Assistant||---|
|1989||Garland (Texas) HS||Assistant||---|
|1991||Baylor||Assistant||8-4||Copper Bowl (L, 24-0 vs. Indiana)|
|1992||Baylor||Assistant||7-5||Sun Bowl (W, 20-15 vs. Arizona)|
|1994||Baylor||Assistant||7-5||Alamo Bowl (L, 10-3 vs. Washington)|
|1997||Air Force||Assistant||10-3||Las Vegas Bowl (L, 41-31 vs. Oregon)|
|1998||Air Force||Assistant||12-1||Oahu Bowl (W, 45-25 vs. Washington)|
|2002||Florida||Assistant||8-5||Outback Bowl (L, 38-30 vs. Michigan)|
|2003||Florida||Assistant||8-5||Outback Bowl (L, 37-17 vs. Iowa)|
|2004||Florida||Assistant||7-5||Peach Bowl (L, 27-10 vs. Miami)|
|2006||Oklahoma State||Assistant||7-6||Independence Bowl (W, 34-31 vs. Alabama)|
|2007||Oklahoma State||Assistant||7-6||Insight Bowl (W, 49-33 vs. Indiana)*|
|2008||Southern Mississippi||Head Coach||7-6||New Orleans Bowl (W, 30-27 OT vs. Troy)|
|2009||Southern Mississippi||Head Coach||7-6||New Orleans Bowl (L, 42-32 vs. Middle Tennessee)|
|2010||Southern Mississippi||Head Coach||8-5||Beef 'O'Brady's Bowl (L, 31-28 vs. Louisville)|
|2011||Southern Mississippi||Head Coach||12-2||Hawaii Bowl (W, 24-17 vs. Nevada)|
|CUSA Championship Game (W, 49-28 vs. Houston)|
|2012||North Carolina||Head Coach||8-4||Tied for first in ACC Coastal Division|
|2013||North Carolina||Head Coach||7-6||Belk Bowl (W, 39-17 vs. Cincinnati)|
|2014||North Carolina||Head Coach||6-7||Quick Lane Bowl (L, 42-20 vs. Rutgers)|
|2015||North Carolina||Head Coach||11-3||Russell Athletic Bowl (L, 49-38 vs. Baylor)|
|Career HC Record:||66-39|
|Record at UNC (Eight Seasons)||32-20||*Did not coach bowl game|