October 21, 2013

UNC coach Larry Fedora: Time to circle the wagons

Amid the Tar Heels’ 1-5 start, coach Larry Fedora has challenged his players to rally around each other and not give in.

North Carolina coach Larry Fedora held his usual Monday press conference earlier today, and one of the first questions I asked was about the Tar Heels’ mental state. How is this team faring after the devastating 27-23 loss against Miami on Thursday night?

Fedora after that game spent about 30 minutes with his players. He described a scene of shock and heartbreak.

On Monday, though, he said, “I think they’re fine now. I mean, I think we’ve put it to bed and moved on. And now you better. You have to. You realize that when you play like that, that you can play with anybody in the country.”

Even so, Fedora recognizes he’s in a dangerous place. The Tar Heels are 1-5. Most of their preseason goals – winning the Coastal Division, improving on the 8-4 finish from a season ago – are no longer possible. Fedora has challenged his players to build off the good from the Miami loss.

Yet he also acknowledged the obvious.

“We’re in a tough spot right now in our season, with where we are,” he said. “So it’s just us. That’s it. It’s circle the wagons and it’s play hard and it’s practice hard and it’s prepare hard and it’s do the things and it’s find a way to get a win.”

If there’s one positive, it’s that the second half of UNC’s schedule appears significantly easier than the first. Half of UNC’s first six games were against teams that are now ranked among the top 25 in the country. There are no top-25 teams on the back half of the Tar Heels’ schedule.

Going down the list, there’s not one game in which UNC will be (or should be, at this point) a decisive underdog. Every remaining game is winnable. And, given what we’ve seen out of the Tar Heels to this point, every game is losable, too.

We should know a lot about how much the Tar Heels have left by how they play on Saturday against Boston College. Come out and take care of business in that game, and maybe UNC can get a bit of momentum going over the final month of the season.

The Tar Heels need to win five of its remaining six just to become bowl eligible. They’d have to win out to finish with a winning record. UNC’s defensive lapses, its lack of a running game and its continued knack to hurt itself with penalties and mistakes suggests that a 7-5 finish is completely out of the question.

But, again, it’s not like the schedule is all that difficult. At this point, though, talking about a bowl game or finishing the season with a winning record probably deserves the kind of response Jim Mora gave years ago when he was asked about making the playoffs.

Indeed, Fedora is just hoping, at this point, that UNC wins another game.

He did say he’s going to keep believing, though. I asked Fedora how much he’s worried about keeping the Tar Heels together, and whether he worries about them packing it in. He said:

“That is one of probably a million things I worry about. That’s why I can’t sleep at night, because I think about it. I’m thinking about everything, and what we can do, and trying to turn over every stone to get this thing turned. Because I want it for the worst way for this football team, for these kids. For the investment that they’ve put in.

“But what do you do? You circle the wagons, you keep working hard. You keep investing everything you’ve got. You keep believing in each other. And eventually, good things will happen. I wish I could say that they’re going to happen today, but I don’t have that control. But I do believe it’s going to happen.”

Good things came close to happening against Miami. UNC nearly held on for a victory against the No. 10 team in the country. The Tar Heels led for most of the game. They led with less than a minute to play. Even amid their poor start, they were playing in front of the best home crowd of the season.

Kenan Stadium was loud on Thursday night. It was mostly full. The atmosphere was closer to what Fedora hopes it will regularly become.

“That’s what makes it fun,” he said, “is the atmosphere and the hype around it all. So we won’t have that now. Now it boils down to how bad – how bad do you want to win? How bad do you want it? And we’re going to find out.”

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UNC beat writer Andrew Carter


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