North Carolina’s off-season was spent dealing with a good bit of off the field issues. Adding to those issues was the firing of Butch Davis on July 27th. The timing of the firing left the Tar Heels in a difficult place as the season was just around the corner. The Tar Heels promoted their Defensive Coordinator, Everett Withers, to the an “interim” Head Coach position to help guide the Heels through the season.
UNC came out the box pretty good as they won 5 of their first 6. Once conference play really kicked up, the Tar Heels weren’t quite as lucky. They only won two of their last seven including an ugly 13-0 loss to NC State and a high-scoring 59-38 loss to Clemson. With the NCAA cloud above their heads, the Tar Heels finished the season with a whimper. Since the season has ended UNC has hired Larry Fedora as their Head Coach. 2012 will be an interesting year for the Tar Heels as they should get resolution from the NCAA and we will also see how successful Fedora can be in year one. We caught up with our good buddy Michael Felder of In The Bleachers to get his take on the 2011 season and also get a brief glimpse into 2012.
CFBZ: After starting out 5-1, UNC lost 5 of their last 7. What were the biggest issues that led to the poor finish?
In The Bleachers: Like most teams that just aren’t that good overall the Heels were a function of their schedule. They started off with just one game against a quality opponent that was equally talented and finished with four such games. Georgia Tech, even though close on the scoreboard, really took it to UNC and then we saw Miami, Clemson, NC State and Virginia Tech do the same. Less a referendum on the team itself and more a product of the opponents being better; better talent and better coaching.
Issues that showed themselves against James Madison, Rutgers and other early games such as poor secondary play, inconsistent defensive line play and poor play calling from the offense were compounded when better teams took the field.
CFBZ: If you could have a “do over” for any game which would it be?
In The Bleachers: This answer was pretty easy, NC State. The lone game this season where our defense showed up and played four quarters but then the offense decided to go into a shell and make Mike Archer and Jon Tenuta’s defense look like LSU. 13-0 was the final and the Heels just couldn’t get anything going on offense after their first series that showed promise was submarined by a Bryn Renner fumble. John Shoop made Archer and Tenuta’s job easy by being predictable, playing it close to the vest and turning in the Heels worst offensive performance in years.
CFBZ: What is the lasting memory you will have of this season?
In The Bleachers: As has been the story with UNC the lasting memory for me will be off the field. A lot of things happened behind the scenes that told the story of Everett Withers’ position and how this team was in disarray. However, the one instance that became public knowledge was Donte Paige-Moss and his post Independence Bowl tirade of tweets that were revealed. Hated on fans, coaches, the bowl itself and then decided it was time to hit the NFL. That was this team in a fragile state and as things deteriorated both on and off the field issues like DPM’s became quite real.
CFBZ: Freshman RB Giovanni Bernard and Soph QB Bryn Renner both played prominent roles on this years team. Who are some young guys that you think will break out next season?
In The Bleachers: New head coach, new system and the NCAA cloud hanging over things make it tough to speak definitively on who should and could have a big impact next year. On the defensive side of things it looks like new defensive coordinator Dan Disch is going to play a 4-2-5 that might let Tre Boston return to the form that we saw out of him in 2010 as a freshman safety that helped during the suspensions early. Also expect Travis Hughes to be a major player at the linebacker position now that Zach Brown is gone.
On offense look for TJ Thorpe and Sean Tapley to really benefit from the new system. Both are explosive wide receivers that, with the ball in their hands in space, should be able to make something happen. As a bit of a wildcard on that side of the ball we have AJ Blue. Blue came in as a quarterback, moved to tailback and now with the new style is sort of in no man’s land until the coaches figure out what they want to do with his outstanding talent.
CFBZ: Larry Fedora takes over as Head Coach. What are you thoughts on him and the staff that he’s putting together?
In The Bleachers: I’m not a Fedora fan myself but it seems the bulk of UNC fans are into the guy; he did go 12-2 this season, beat Houston and gave a hell of a press conference. An offensive minded coach, for the first time ever, really excites UNC fans and they were drawn in by Fedora’s line about missing touchdowns if you go get a soda during a game.
Perhaps if I never followed Southern Miss football I’d feel the same way as those folks, unfortunately I don’t have that luxury. As for the staff I’m a big fan of Gunter Brewer, he’s a true plus and I also love Vick Koenning even though he’s been hamstrung by working with Dan Disch. Overall the staff is filled with Southern Miss guys, they have jettisoned off a coach who has been there since 1994 and given the boot to a former UNC tight end and recruiting coordinator. Not exactly a great start for them from a UNC family and NC high schools standpoint.
That said adding Brewer to the staff is a strong move, he is solid with high schools in select areas of North Carolina and he is a guy that truly knows about building big play wide receivers and getting production out of them. Randy Jordan is the running backs coach and while he’s had success it was under two former NFL coaches at Nebraska and Texas A&M, how his teachings translate from a pass pro and running view will be interesting to see.
On defense watch for the Koenning-Disch situation to be, um, intriguing. Koenning likes to run his own show and Disch has been named the defensive coordinator while Koenning is the Associate Head Coach for defense. This will be a fun ride, looking forward to spring ball.
Editor Note: Make sure you take the time and check out the podcast that Michael did with Bomani Jones last week. It’s a really good listen from two guys who are passionate about college football. They tackle a variety of topics including where a playoff should be in terms of NCAA off-season priorities, the disconnect between fans and the reality of college athletics, and much more.
Previous 2011 Exit Surveys
Pac-12- Oregon State Beavers