After losing 21 of his last 27 games and picking up only two ACC wins since 2017, the Larry Fedora era of North Carolina football is over.
On Sunday, Nov. 25, the seventh-year head coach of the Tar Heels was let go from the program effective immediately, according to a release from the UNC athletic department. Offensive coordinator Chris Kapilovic and defensive coordinator John Papuchis were also let go, according to ESPN.
"Despite injuries, despite setbacks and hardships, Larry never made excuses. He focused his teams on overcoming adversity, and I deeply respect the way he persevered and led our program each day with integrity through some tough times," athletic director Bubba Cunningham said. “This was not an easy decision because of the deep affinity I have for Larry. It simply is time to take our football program in a new direction."
Fedora came to UNC from Southern Mississippi in December 2011 — taking over in Chapel Hill soon after investigations into the school’s academic scandal began. During his tenure, UNC had a combined record of 45-43 — having some of its best and worst seasons in recent program history under the coach.
Less than three years ago, North Carolina and Fedora reached a multi-million dollar extension to keep him at the school until 2022. Now, the two parties have reached a buyout agreement to terminate the relationship altogether.
"It has been a great honor to be a part of this incredible University," Fedora said in a statement released by UNC. "I am extremely disappointed that I will no longer be UNC’s head football coach — I hate that it had to end this way."
Fedora through the years
Since 2012, North Carolina had four winning seasons and three losing ones under Fedora.
The program experienced early success into 2015, but the ugly records of 2017 and 2018 eventually overshadowed Fedora's time in Chapel Hill — as too many losses, nine of the last 11 games, became too much to ignore.
But for several years, Fedora's presence in Chapel Hill was only elevating the program.
In his first two seasons, the new-look Tar Heels impressed with a 15-10 record that was one loss better than the previous two years under Butch Davis and interim head coach Everett Withers. However, in 2014 the program took a step back with a 6-7 campaign, Fedora's first losing season since taking on the job.
But the bad record didn't stick then.
In 2015, the team rebounded with its best season under the coach, reaching as high as the No. 8 ranking in the country according to the AP Poll. With Marquise Williams under center at quarterback, the team won 11 straight games to clinch the Coastal Division. The lone conference loss of the year came in a 45-37 defeat to Clemson in the ACC Championship game.
After the season, when rumors swirled about openings at some of the nation's best football programs, Fedora was a part of that conversation. Nevertheless, he stuck around to build on the success.
Williams graduated in 2015, and former Tar Heel and now-Chicago Bears franchise quarterback Mitch Trubisky took over the offense. With Trubisky leading the team to an 8-5 record, the recent success signaled to the athletic department that Fedora was ready to be rewarded.
It was after that season when things started to take a tumble — just as Fedora's new contract extension began. In May 2017, the Board of Trustees approved an extension that aimed to lock Fedora into staying in Chapel Hill through 2022, with his salary increasing every year until then.
But while the coach cashed in, one of the biggest challenges of his tenure loomed ahead: suddenly all the stability that'd reaped rewards for his program was gone.
Entering 2017, with Fedora well above .500 at a 40-25 record as head coach, UNC lost 98.6 percent of its total offense.
After a loss to Stanford in the Sun Bowl, players like wide receiver Ryan Switzer, Trubisky and running backs Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan moved on from the program, and new faces struggled to step up and make up the gap. With a carousel of three starting quarterbacks in the season — Brandon Harris, Chazz Surratt and Nathan Elliott — nine losses, more than 20 season-ending injuries and just one FBS win ensued.
In a matter of months, Fedora went from being one of the trending coaches in the country, to a man whose job security was starting to slip.
From 2016 to 2017, UNC lost five more games, saw its offensive yards per game decrease by almost 70 yards and its points per game decrease by nearly a touchdown, on average. With the 59-7 loss at Virginia Tech the low point of the year, Fedora's record was eating away at the long leash he'd built with his superiors.
Then, at ACC Kickoff in July, Fedora made things worse for himself with comments suggesting doubts about the validity of concussion and CTE research.
“I believe the game is under attack right now. I really do," Fedora said in July. "If we’re not careful, we’re going to lose what the game is all about.”
Upon further clarification, Fedora said he was distrustful of groundbreaking studies into CTE. He also said that without football "our country goes down too," and that a three-star general once told him the U.S. military was 'superior' because "we’re the only football-playing nation in the world."
The same day Fedora spoke out against CTE, Jeff Gravley from WRAL broke news that 13 UNC players — who were eventually handed down suspensions — had sold their team-issued Jordan brand shoes online, an NCAA rules violation. With one thing after another, the head coach needed this season to go well if he wanted to reassure confidence.
But if anything, by the time games began, things only plummeted out of control.
North Carolina lost its season opener to California for the second year in a row, then got blown out by a struggling ECU program the following week. The team squeaked past Pittsburgh with a three point victory, then lost handily in an ugly performance against Miami that included six combined turnovers from the quarterbacks.
The following contest, UNC lost a close game to Virginia Tech after Michael Carter fumbled at the 1-yard line. In three straight games after, the team blew a late lead to Syracuse in an eventual double overtime defeat, lost by 10 points to Virginia and could not quite come all the way back after tying Georgia Tech late in the game on 18 unanswered points.
Duke quarterback Daniel Jones ran all over the Tar Heel defense, torching the Tar Heels for a program record 547 yards and keeping the Victory Bell in Durham in the rivalry game. The following week, UNC beat Western Carolina, 49-26.
Against N.C. State, the Tar Heels fell 34-28 in overtime. To bring Fedora's time to a close in Kenan Memorial Stadium, a brawl broke out after Reggie Gallaspy Jr. dove into the end zone for the score.
Over the course of the season, the Tar Heels lost seven games by 10 points or less, scoring first yet losing the lead in five contests.
"The last two seasons have been challenging and heartbreaking," Fedora said in a statement. "The results are not what we wanted and it has been frustrating for everyone involved – coaches, athletes, fans and supporters alike. The results did not reflect the commitment and hard work put in by our players and staff."
Despite the obstacles of a massive contract buyout and the program's historic highs in recent years, the University was ready to move on from Fedora.
So they did.
"I wanted the opportunity to fix this," Fedora said in a statement. "I wanted to make the changes necessary to win again. I also understand this business. I understand that you don’t always get the time you want to turn things around. I respect the administration’s position and understand their actions."
According to the release, Cunningham will not have any further comment on the situation until the new head coach is officially hired.
Fedora by the numbers
In state record: 11-13
2017-2018 ACC record: 2-14
Wins since end of 2016 season: five
FBS wins since 2016: two
Bowl record: 1-3
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