It’s like moving a couch, Vic Koenning said. Someone has to push. Someone has to pull. And Koenning is getting tired of doing all of the heavy lifting.
The North Carolina defensive coordinator said getting his players to do the right thing is like getting in a fist fight with a heavyweight champion on a daily basis. He said his defense made the East Carolina Pirates look like the Green Bay Packers on Saturday in a 55-31 loss. Their running back looked like Walter Payton; their quarterback like Brett Favre.
He looked exasperated — embarrassed — speaking to media following Wednesday’s late-afternoon practice, the team’s last practice before it plays Virginia Tech on Saturday. He had just yelled at his defense for messing up in coverage on a two-minute drill. It was a scheme that UNC uses routinely. A player lined up in the wrong position. “And no one tried to help him!” Koenning said, incredulous.
Just a week ago, his outlook was more positive.
“I went 180 degrees,” Koenning said. “I went from being very encouraged … that we finally played hard and we played with reckless abandon and we showed something that we hadn’t really shown much of. And then all of a sudden, six or seven days later, it was like the whole other side of it.
“There’s not very much leadership right now.”
As Koenning spoke with reporters, senior safety Tre Boston was on the other end of the practice field, still dressed in full pads, holding a lacrosse stick, passing a ball around and laughing with a couple of young boys.
“I’m a very relaxed guy,” Boston said. “I try to have fun with it … but we gotta make sure we’re playing our hardest at all times.”
Fellow senior Kareem Martin, a defensive end, called a players-only meeting Sunday where the Tar Heels looked at the mistakes that plagued them the day before — 37 missed assignments, allowing ECU to run 101 plays.
Players spoke from the heart, Boston said, voicing their concerns and trying to usher in a new mindset.
“You gotta practice how you’re going to play,” he said. “We’re really preaching that now … so the young’uns kind of get that feel.”
He disagreed with Koenning’s assessment that the defense lacks leadership.
“Coach has such a passion for this, he tends to say stuff like that,” Boston said. “But I think we have leaders, and guys know who the leaders are … Guys just have to trust that we know what we’re doing.”
In preparation for the trip to Blacksburg, Va., practices have been more physical than usual. Koenning said he’s run more tackling drills than he ever has in his career in an attempt to get his defense back on track.
“A lot of tackling comes from the heart, though,” Boston said.
On that, both Boston and Koenning would agree.
To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.