When Larry Fedora walked into The Westin Charlotte for ACC Kickoff on July 18, he hoped that little more would come from the day than delivering a message of hope for the North Carolina football team.
At least, that was the plan as Fedora brought along Aaron Crawford and Anthony Ratliff-Williams as team representatives to craft that message.
“This season, we just have a chip on our shoulder in the sense of, that team we put on the field (last year), that's not who we are,” Ratliff-Williams said that day. “That's not the team we built in the season. That's not the team we built in the summer. That's not the team we built through fall camp.”
Hours later, the seventh-year head coach walked out of that hotel having done the opposite of re-establishing confidence in his ability to lead the program. After giving voice to the biggest story coming out of the two-day conference event, he left Charlotte with two scandals and a world of distraction looming over his program.
It's likely this is where the spiral toward his eventual firing began.
“I believe the game is under attack right now,” Fedora said about recent rule changes to improve the safety of the game. “I really do. If we’re not careful, we’re going to lose what the game is all about.”
In his comments, Fedora expressed doubt there is any link between C.T.E. and football. When pushed, he questioned the validity of groundbreaking concussion research in recent years and said he thinks too many changes for football would have profound effects upon the nation as a whole.
“I fear that the game will get pushed so far to one extreme that you won’t recognize the game 10 years from now,” Fedora said. “And I do believe, if it gets to that point, that our country goes down, too.”
Fedora also said a three-star general told him the United States military was "superior" to the rest of the world because of football.
He left Charlotte having done something he almost assuredly didn't plan to do: create a massive distraction for his team headed into the preseason.
Fedora had hardly gotten back on the road to Chapel Hill when WRAL broke the story that multiple football players had violated NCAA rules. After suspensions were subsequently handed out to 13 players for selling team-issued shoes, the season turned south before the games had even begun.
When the games did begin, the losses from the previous year continued. The seat began to warm for Fedora as the job security he’d built from an ACC Coastal Division Championship in 2015 and a successful 2016 campaign started to be spent on bad losses and scandals.
A season-opening defeat to California marked the 12th loss for the Tar Heels in 15 games. The following week, the team was blown out of the water by East Carolina and the heat intensified even more.
After a recovery win over Pittsburgh in the next game, North Carolina dropped six straight contests. Across that stretch, the team lost by 10 points or less in all but one contest.
The final win of the season came against Western Carolina, a struggling FCS program that’d won only three games up to that point.
Fedora and the Tar Heels fought for the head coach's job in the final game against N.C. State. It may have already been too late by that point, because less than 24 hours after the Wolfpack beat UNC in overtime, UNC athletics director Bubba Cunningham announced Fedora would not be returning. In what turned out to be his final game, a fight broke out in the end zone between UNC and N.C. State players following the final play.
“It simply is time to take our football program in a new direction," Cunningham said as part of a statement in the release.
Fedora ended his time in Chapel Hill with a record two games over .500 after losing 21 of his last 27 games. Fedora had a 2-14 conference record in his final two seasons. He will be replaced by a familiar face in Mack Brown, the Hall-of-Famer who previously coached at the school from 1988-1997.
Though his time as the head coach of the North Carolina football team ended, Fedora expressed nothing but gratefulness for the opportunity in a statement released by the school.
"It has been a great honor to be a part of this incredible university," Fedora said in the statement. "I am extremely disappointed that I will no longer be UNC’s head football coach — I hate that it had to end this way."
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