If Larry Fedora is so much as pretending to listen to feelers from Tennessee, the North Carolina football coach also is playing with matches.
As of late Tuesday afternoon, no one at UNC had publicly confirmed or denied various reports mentioning Fedora as a candidate for the job that opened when Derek Dooley was fired Nov. 18.
Volunteers athletic director Dave Hart (formerly of ECU) is believed by many to be primarily interested in Louisville coach Charlie Strong, but Fedoras name has been tossed around in the general mix for more than a week.
And whether Hart and Fedora have talked isnt entirely pertinent. Just last week, N.C. State athletic director Debbie Yow basically hired Dave Doeren by dealing primarily with the coachs agent rather than the coach himself.
Fedora has made it clear through school spokesmen that he doesnt address speculation about job searches. Still, that Fedora hasnt released any sort of definitive statement has to be unsettling to Carolina fans. (Soon after the Tennessee job opened, David Cutcliffe announced he had no intention of leaving Duke.)
It must also remind a few of those fans of what happened with Butch Davis after his first season with the Tar Heels in 2007. When Arkansas (Davis alma mater) fired Houston Nutt at seasons end, Davis was immediately mentioned as a prime target even though his first UNC team had finished 4-8.
The Tar Heels responded to the Arkansas reports by giving Davis a contract extension, a $291,000 raise and other perks. Ironically, Davis wound up collecting $2.7 million in severance rewards when he was fired in July 2011.
In his first season after leaving Southern Miss, Fedora reversed Davis opening record by going 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the ACC.
With an explosive, creative offense at both schools, its understandable that Fedora could be pursued by other schools. Then, theres the fact that UNC is facing some scholarship reductions. And, of course, Tennessee of the SEC is a higher-profile program with a much richer history, bigger stadium, unlimited recruiting budget and more intense football fans.
But all of those points pale when compared to the fact that Fedora was given a seven-year contract and what amounted to a $400,000 signing bonus by Carolina.
Odds are, Fedora will be back in Chapel Hill next season. But under no circumstances should UNC feel pressured into extending the same incentives Davis received in 2007.
Fedora, by the same token, wouldnt be wise to ask for perks and even accept them if offered. The UNC team hell coach next season might not have Gio Bernard at running back and will not have Jonathan Cooper blocking for him. Nor will Fedora have Kevin Reddick and Sly Williams to lead a defense that gave up 33 points to Duke, 35 to State, 68 to Georgia Tech and 38 to Maryland with those two.
By winning eight games and ending the losing streak to the Wolfpack, Fedora made a lot of friends in his first season. Flirting, even de facto flirting, is hardly the way to keep those friends.