How Larry Fedora saved a UNC med student’s graduation

UNC coach Larry Fedora with Scarlett Murphy, a UNC medical school graduate, after Fedora helped her with a ride on graduation day.
UNC coach Larry Fedora with Scarlett Murphy, a UNC medical school graduate, after Fedora helped her with a ride on graduation day. Courtesy of Scarlett Murphy

To say that Larry Fedora wears a lot of hats at North Carolina would be a wince-worthy pun, but one rooted in truth. He’s the Tar Heels’ head football coach, but also a university ambassador, of sorts, and one of the public faces of the athletic department.

And, oh yes, he’s also giving rides now. At least Fedora did recently on graduation Saturday at UNC. Fedora, as it happened, drove to work early that morning – early, at least, for an off-season weekend – when at about 8:30 he passed Merritt’s, the beloved sandwich shop known for its BLTs.

Merritt’s is close to campus, just right down South Columbia Street, but it’s a good long walk – about 1.5 miles or so – from there to Memorial Hall. That’s where Scarlett Murphy, UNC Medical School graduate, class of 2017, was headed for her commencement that morning, walking past Merritt’s up a hill.

Fedora knew Murphy was graduating because she was wearing her gown. And he knew she might be laboring because she had on these high heels, which aren’t necessarily known for their walking comfort.

“There was no way she was going to make it to all the way to campus in those high heels,” Fedora said recently, retelling the tale. “I’ve got three daughters and a wife.”

And so Fedora did what any high-profile college football head coach who also gives rides would do: He pulled over and asked Murphy if she’d like a lift to her graduation. Ordinarily, it might have been a suspicious sight: a bearded middle-aged man asking a young woman if she wanted to get in his car.

But Fedora looked familiar enough to Murphy and besides, Murphy said, “My dad recognized him instantly.”

And so they hopped in, Murphy and her father, for the short ride to graduation. Along the way Murphy said her father made some “dad jokes,” asking Fedora if he needed an extra assistant coach. Fedora, meanwhile, told them that he’d go back down the street and pick up the rest of the family, too.

Which is what he did, eventually. Somewhere along the way, though, Murphy realized that in her haste to begin her trek toward campus, she’d left the graduation tickets back at her apartment. No problem, Fedora said: He’d simply drive her family back there so they could retrieve them.

So Fedora drove back from Memorial Hall to pick up the rest of Murphy’s family, then drove to Murphy’s apartment for the tickets, and then back to the graduation site, ferrying his passengers with the aplomb of only the most skilled and patient of Uber drivers.

In all, Fedora gave rides to six people, just a guy doing a small good deed. They’d all been strangers before that morning. Now Murphy, who was in New York City on Monday scouting apartments for her residency in internal medicine, has a story to tell, another lasting memory from her graduation day.

“I can’t imagine a more Tar Heel kind of a story than being picked up by Larry Fedora on graduation day,” she said.

When Fedora dropped her off she asked for a picture. She later posted it on her Instagram page, along with the story of how Fedora rescued her from her long hike in her “killer heels.”

“Graduation hero of the day is Coach Larry Fedora … ” Murphy’s story began.

Since it happened a little more than a week ago, Murphy, a Winston-Salem native, has shared the story with several friends. Some of them have reacted, she said, with an incredulous, “No way!” Her father and uncle, she said, have been even more excited and have been “telling everybody.”

During the ride, some of Murphy’s family members asked if they could tip Fedora. He declined the offer but told them they could give him a favorable rating.

“Like I was some kind of Uber driver,” he said. “But I didn’t have any bottled water in the back seat or anything.”

College football coaches aren’t known for having too much spare time, but in this, the slower time of the year if there ever is one, maybe Fedora had found another calling. He laughed at the thought: “If anybody needs a ride ...”

University of North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora talks about the Heels' big win including the game-winning field goal in the final seconds.

University of North Carolina hosted a commencement ceremony for the class of 2017 Sunday morning, May 14, 2017 at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill. CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin delivered the commencement speech.

Andrew Carter: 919-829-8944, @_andrewcarter