Dave Doeren and Larry Fedora don’t appear to share the same thinly veiled hate for each other as their predecessors, Tom O’Brien and Butch Davis, and most of the friction between North Carolina and N.C. State in recent years has come from the players, not the coaches.
What the coaches share in this particular Black Friday edition of the rivalry are pretty good odds this is the last ACC game for one of them – if not both – regardless of the result. A disappointing fourth season has left Doeren’s status at N.C. State increasingly insecure, while another double-digit win season at North Carolina could vault Fedora into the conversation for other jobs wherever those dominoes proceed to fall.
A North Carolina win seems the most likely scenario that would lead to the departure of both coaches, one by choice, the other not, but there are no guarantees here either way. There’s plenty of inertia behind bringing Doeren back for another season regardless of what happens Friday, and Fedora’s still here after last season’s offseason merry-go-round.
This isn’t a discussion that would be happening at N.C. State if the Wolfpack was 6-5 with wins over East Carolina (which has lost eight of nine since beating N.C. State) and Boston College (the Eagles’ only ACC win in two seasons). But that’s not how it worked out, and when you can’t win games like those, this is where you end up. Combine that with tepid recruiting, fan apathy if not anger, an abysmal ACC record at Carter-Finley and a pervasive sense of futility, and the case for keeping Doeren is not a strong one.
N.C. State clearly doesn’t want to make a change, but it’s also clearly not out of the question. Continuity matters in football, and a decision to part ways with Doeren requires there be a more attractive alternative available lest the Wolfpack find itself going down another cul de sac – and Charlie Strong, available shortly after an unsuccessful tenure in difficult circumstances at Texas, could be that alternative.
This is about more than Friday’s game, but it’s a lot easier to sell a fifth year under Doeren with a third straight bowl appearance and win over the Tar Heels. It’s a lot tougher to sell tangible regression at 5-7, especially when combined with a 1-3 record against North Carolina.
The good news for Doeren is that Duke proved North Carolina, despite its gaudy win-loss record, is eminently beatable, and if N.C. State can produce the kind of performance it had in losses to Clemson and Florida State, then victory is certainly within reach and any conversation about a coaching change likely tabled – for good, if Doeren can deliver next season, which is certainly a possibility even as unlikely as that may appear at the moment.
Fedora had a couple rough years at North Carolina as he battled the fallout from NCAA sanctions and the ongoing scandal – his win totals actually declined over his first three seasons – but by his fourth year he was 11-3 and in the ACC title game. With a win over N.C. State, North Carolina would have an impressive two-year record of 20-6.
Even if that’s not impressive enough to get him atop the list at LSU, his name is sure to come up elsewhere. He may not want to dive into the Baylor mess, but if someone like Mike Gundy takes the LSU job, look out. Fedora would be the logical choice at Oklahoma State, and there’s enough money in T. Boone Pickens’ pockets to buy Fedora all the Red Bull in the Central time zone.
There are a few other jobs that would make sense for Fedora, and the way he has things rolling at North Carolina he has the luxury of waiting for the right one to come along, if he wants to leave at all. But as long as Fedora has things in gear, every offseason is going to be an anxious one for the Tar Heels, and even with a bowl game looming, those conversations will begin after Friday’s game, for Fedora and Doeren both.
Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, firstname.lastname@example.org, @LukeDeCock
N.C. State at UNC
When: Noon Friday
Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill