Fan bases’ patience for coaching regimes in college football has never been shorter. By extension, athletic departments’ patience is scant.
I’m a firm believer in a head coach having one full recruiting cycle, four years, to show measurable progress. The universally accepted deadline seems to get tighter and tighter, to such a point sweeping referendums are made with sample sizes of less than two years.
Larry Fedora’s success in Year 4 at North Carolina is a testament to patience; allowing a head coach to build a program. Such projects require some trial-and-error, but the window for discovering what works and what doesn’t gets increasingly narrow.
Had Larry Fedora been at a program where football is of higher priority to the fan base, he may not have been afforded this fourth year to see his vision start to bear fruit. North Carolina’s record regressed each of the previous two seasons, from 8-4 in 2012, to 7-6 in 2013 and 6-7 in 2014.
Thursday’s dominant win Thursday win at Pitt ends that trend, and moves the Heels just one win shy of matching the high watermark of the Fedora era. Carolina is assured a spot in next week’s Top 25, and can take a stranglehold on the ACC Coastal with a win over rival Duke.
Fedora’s plan is finally coming together, but some growing pains were necessary. A celebrated offensive guru in his time at Southern Miss, North Carolina’s offense lacked identity through Fedora’s first three years.
Part of the struggles were the result of a shift from a more traditional philosophy to Fedora’s vision of an uptempo spread, built around a dual-threat quarterback. North Carolina eased into the transition with a two-quarterback look that validated of the cliché about two quarterbacks.
Marquise Williams’ maturation into a leading man is crucial to Carolina’s turnaround. Williams already made a splash nationally, putting together a game earlier this season in which he led the Heels in passing, rushing and receiving yards. Thursday, he provided one of the most jaw-dropping highlights of the 2015 season to match that ridiculous stat line.
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) October 29, 2015
The trio of Williams, wide receiver Ryan Switzer and running back Elijah Hood combine to set the foundation for an offense that looks much more like Fedora’s Southern Miss teams. But the real linchpin in North Carolina’s breakthrough is evident.
It’s the addition of argyle to the uniforms.
OK, the argyle isn’t the catalyst of Carolina’s season. It’s another offseason edition, the hire of Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator.
At this juncture of the season, Chizik is a shoo-in for the Broyles Award, given to college football’s top assistant. The most recent outing did nothing to dissuade me, as Pitt had to scratch to finally get into the end zone deep in the second half. Among the Heels’ stops was a stout effort in the red zone, the field position conceded by a blocked punt.
North Carolina gave up a staggering 39 points per game a season ago. Under Chizik, UNC is one of the best defenses in the nation.
North Carolina allowed 20+ points to every opponent last year. North Carolina has allowed 20+ points to one of eight opponents this year.
— Matt Brown (@MattBrownCFB) October 30, 2015
The 2014 defensive struggles necessitate a change. The dual defensive coordinators Ron West and Dan Disch weren’t working out, and the struggles of any one position or unit become a direct reflection of the head coach.
Larry Fedora had to make a change, but deserves kudos for the direction he went with his change. Chizik has completely transformed the makeup of this team.
Carolina’s process to get where it is now is the program’s reward for trusting in the vision.