CARY — Reminded Thursday about N.C. States five-game winning streak against North Carolina in football, first-year North Carolina coach Larry Fedora reminded those listening that he is still counting down the days until the Tar Heels and Wolfpack meet again.
I know were 99 days away, Fedora said. So well see what happens.
Tom OBrien, entering his sixth season as the Wolfpacks head coach, was sitting a couple seats to the left on the dais at the Raleigh Chamber of Commerces annual Triangle Pigskin Preview, held in a banquet room at the Embassy Suites in Cary in front of a couple hundred people.
How many days is it? OBrien asked, referring to his teams Oct. 27 meeting against the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill.
OBriens question served as a subtle reminder of his approach at least the one he endorses in public of treating games against North Carolina like any other. Fedoras attention to the countdown offers a glimpse into his philosophy of emphasizing the significance of rivalry games.
I hope its like any other rivalry Ive been involved in (that) its pretty ferocious, and the fans get into it, Fedora said. And thats what makes college football what it is, is the rivalries that you have. The regional rivalries are what makes college football the greatest sport in the world.
Coaches at N.C. State and UNC have long helped define the rivalry and some, including former Wolfpack coach Chuck Amato and former Tar Heels coach John Bunting, have taken part in the kind of banter that engages fans and creates headlines. The dynamic that Fedora and OBrien will share, though, remains as unknown as they are to each other.
OBrien had an established relationship with former UNC coach Butch Davis, dating back to when they coached against each other in the Big East when Davis was at Miami and OBrien at Boston College. But Fedora and OBrien are less familiar.
I dont know him that well, Fedora said. Ive never coached with Tom. And Ive never coached against Tom, either. So I really dont know him that well, you know. Weve met on one other occasion before I ever came to the conference, and that was just kind of a greeting, and that was about it.
Fedora and OBrien shared a quick handshake Thursday before the event began, and then made some brief small talk after it ended. Two others, including Duke coach David Cutcliffe, sat between Fedora and OBrien during the event, giving them little time to mingle.
Afterward, OBrien spoke in generalities about Fedora, saying they have been, and will continue, to fight over recruits, and for in-state prestige. Yet they are, for now, almost like strangers.
Hes a good guy, OBrien said. Hes a good football coach. So I think hes a good addition to the ACC, and hell do a good job at Carolina.
Still more than a month away from coaching his first game, Fedora already has done a good job of fanning the rivalrys flame. At a UNC booster club event in late April in Charlotte, a Tar Heels fan asked Fedora about the significance of games against the Wolfpack.
Fedora said there would be an emphasis on playing N.C. State, but then said, I dont want to talk about (the rivalry) too much because I dont want to legitimize their program.
The comment spread over Twitter and on message boards, and drew the ire of Wolfpack fans. Thursday, Fedora playfully pleaded ignorance when Don Shea, the master of ceremonies, brought up UNCs losing streak against the Wolfpack.
You know, Don, thats the first time Ive heard that, Fedora said. I didnt realize thats whats happened the last five years.
The crowd laughed; and even OBrien smiled. He later said the UNC game is one game on your schedule, and that N.C. State hasnt won five games in a row but one game at a time for five years.
Later, OBrien shared his philosophy on rivalry banter friendly or otherwise.
I ignore it, he said.
The two coaches walked out of the room, and went their separate ways, 99 days before they will see each other, when it counts.