August 25, 2014

UNC coach Larry Fedora: Not announcing QB 'gives me pleasure'

Tar Heels football coach Larry Fedora has some fun talking about the quarterback competition between Marquise Williams and Mitch Trubisky.

It's that time of year again, folks – the time of year when North Carolina coach Larry Fedora holds a weekly press conference on Mondays. Today was the first one of the season, what with the Tar Heels' season-opener against Liberty just days away.

As you might expect, the topic of the quarterback position came up. First question, in fact.

A reporter asked Fedora who is “going to trot out” and start for UNC on Saturday. Marquise Williams, a fourth-year junior who started five games last season, has been competing for the starting job with Mitch Trubisky, a redshirt freshman who arrived at UNC a heralded prospect.

Fedora's answer, when asked who will start on Saturday:

“I don't know. Who do you want to go? You?”

To which the reporter replied: “Yeah, sure.”

To which Fedora said: “All right, we haven't made that decision yet.”

A predictable exchange, it was. Fedora has maintained throughout the preseason that he's in no rush to make a decision, and that he's content to wait until the day of the first game for the public to find out who the Tar Heels' starting quarterback will be.

(And even then, the player who starts on Saturday might not remain the permanent starter. Would it surprise anyone, given UNC's first two games are against Liberty and San Diego State, to see Williams and Trubisky continue to compete for the job well into September?)

UNC had to release a depth chart on Monday and it did, predictably, with a big, bold “OR” between Williams and Trubisky. As in it could be one of them starting on Saturday. Or, it could be the other.

“Somebody's going to go out there,” Fedora said. “It'll probably be a quarterback, though.”

I laughed. Fedora has made this ongoing, not-tremendously exciting storyline entertaining enough, with comments like that one. He also said recently that he didn't know when he'd make a decision, but that he knew he had to make one by Aug. 30.

Harold Gutmann of the Durham Herald-Sun then asked Fedora why he's going about this this way – why, without exactly asking it, he won't just name a starter already. Fedora was ready for that one, too.

“Because it bothers a lot of people,” Fedora said, dryly. “And that'd probably be the number one reason – is that everyone wants to ask about it, and so it just gives me pleasure. And it just gives me pleasure.”

OK, then. There's no denying that Fedora at least derives some sort of entertainment from this silliness, but that's probably low on the list of reasons as to why he's keeping quiet his thoughts on the quarterback situation.

Fedora is an avid “Art of War” enthusiast – he has several copies of the book in his office – and one of the tenets in it is to never provide your opponent with an advantage. Does he believe that Liberty might have some kind of advantage it knew whether Williams or Trubisky was starting on Saturday? Maybe.

More than that, though, Fedora believes in creating a culture of competition. So whether it's an illusion or not, he'd like to give the impression that Williams and Trubisky are competing for the starting job right up until the final practice. Then Fedora will figure out how to announce the winner to the team – though, again, the winner at this point is guaranteed nothing more than the chance to start Saturday.

If you want to psychoanalyze, though, I found one of Fedora's comments on this illuminating, though he probably didn't intend for it to be. I asked Fedora whether he planned for both Williams and Trubisky to play on Saturday, regardless of who starts.

He said, “I don't know. I think in every season, I think no matter what you would like to be prepared in case something happens – as (what) happened last season for us when Bryn (Renner) went down. Marquise had reps, and I think that helped us. So you'd always like your number two guy to have a little bit of meaningful experience going into a season. ...”

That last part caught my ear. You'd always like your number two guy to have some reps. If UNC's No. 2 guy was Williams – meaning Trubisky is the starter – Fedora probably wouldn't have that on his mind. Is it a stretch to read into that way? Maybe.

Saturday's almost here, anyway.

Andrew Carter is the UNC athletics beat reporter for The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow him on Twitter at @_andrewcarter .

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