Report: UNC offensive coordinator Seth Littrell to become head coach at North Texas

UNC offensive coordinator Seth Littrell sizes up the talent during the Tar Heels' first day of practice on Wednesday, March 5, 2014, at Navy Field in Chapel Hill.
UNC offensive coordinator Seth Littrell sizes up the talent during the Tar Heels' first day of practice on Wednesday, March 5, 2014, at Navy Field in Chapel Hill. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Seth Littrell, who for the past two seasons has been the offensive coordinator at North Carolina, will be the new head coach at North Texas, according to an ESPN report on Saturday.

If Littrell leaves UNC, he would do so after he helped lead the Tar Heels to one of the most prolific offensive seasons in school history. The Tar Heels enter the ACC Championship game on Saturday night against Clemson averaging 495.7 yards per game, which ranks 16th nationally.

UNC averages 7.46 yards per play, which is second nationally. The Tar Heels' offense has been particularly explosive this season, too, which is something I wrote about here.

The timing of this news isn't ideal for the Tar Heels, who will play one of the most important games in school history on Saturday night. Even so, there had been rumblings for the past week or so that Littrell was among North Texas' leading candidates.

The obvious questions from the UNC side are these: For one, how might this affect UNC on Saturday night against Clemson? I wouldn't expect it to but you never know. UNC has been a well-oiled offensive machine this season, and coach Larry Fedora has repeatedly espoused the value of doing the same things the same way, week after week.

The offensive coordinator entertaining a job offer and then deciding to take it – if the ESPN report is accurate (and there's no reason to believe it isn't) – isn't exactly an example of following an established routine. It is, to use the well-worn sporting cliché, a potential distraction. But does it really matter? And would we ever know, anyway, to what degree this might have affected Littrell's ability to focus on the task at hand? Probably not.

And then there's this, too: It's not like Littrell has left already. He'll have the same responsibilities as always on Saturday night. And it's probably a little silly to think that his accepting the North Texas job would have any bearing on what happens with the Tar Heels against Clemson. It's not like Littrell will be sitting there in the box thinking, on a key 3rd-and-6 from the Tigers' 31-yard-line, “You know, I'll really need to get down to Waco for some recruiting in a few weeks.” At least you wouldn't think.

The more important question is this:

How would Littrell's departure affect UNC beyond this season? The easy, and correct, answer: Probably not much. And that's no knock on Littrell's coaching and what he has contributed – especially this season. Still, though, make no mistake: UNC runs Fedora's offense, not Littrell's offense. Fedora designed this offense, implemented it and is still very much involved in it, even if Littrell calls (most of) the plays.

At some points this season, even, Fedora has slipped a time or two and acknowledged that he called a critical play. Like the game-winning touchdown pass to Quinshad Davis in overtime at Virginia Tech.

Here's what he said about that earlier this week:

“I said on the headsets, ‘We're going to go to 14 with the fade and he's going to make the play,’ and I really believed that. If there would have been any doubt in my mind I probably wouldn't have called it, but I knew he would make that play.”

And Fedora was right: Davis did make the play and UNC won the game. But the point is this: In the decisive moment, when UNC needed to score a touchdown to win, it was Fedora who was making the call. Which isn't surprising in the least but, still, makes you wonder how often Fedora has called a play in an important moment.

The Tar Heels' struggled offensively at some points during Littrell's first season as coordinator, but those moments have been far rarer this season. UNC has accomplished its explosive play goal in every game and when the Tar Heels aren't committing turnovers they've been practically unstoppable offensively. Which is why Littrell is an active candidate to move up the coaching ladder.

He'd be missed but more so because Fedora would have to make another hire. Somebody else would have to come in, learn the offense, learn how to work with Fedora, learn how to work with the returning players. Transitions like that are never seamless, and that – the transition to a new offensive coordinator – would be the most difficult challenge associated with Littrell's departure.