University of North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora was in Columbus Friday as one of the guest speakers at the 2016 Minority Coaches Association of Georgia football conference on the campus of Columbus State University.
The event’s stated goal is to help the professional development of youth and high school coaches across the region.
Fedora was a natural fit as a featured presenter considering his own coaching career started out at Garland High School in his home state of Texas.
“I was a high school coach for five years and that’s how I started,” Fedora said. “When I think back on my career, the things I learned coaching at the high school level are principles I still use today.”
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Fedora was eager to share his story of going from a high school assistant to leader at a power five program with the group of more than 200 coaches in attendance.
“In our profession, it’s a small profession,” Fedora said. “It’s a small fraternity. It’s about who you know and relationships you make.”
It’s how Fedora ended up hiring former Auburn coach Gene Chizik as his defensive coordinator last season.
The two coaches crossed paths multiple times as assistants throughout their careers. They never coached on the same staff, but the mutual respect that developed through competition turned into a friendship.
“I’ve known Gene for a long time,” Fedora said. “Back when Gene was the defensive coordinator at UCF, I was the offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State, that was my first experience with him then I went to Florida and he went to Auburn as assistants. We faced each other again. I went to Oklahoma St., he went to Texas and we were facing each other again.”
Their paths up the coaching ladder culminated with Chizik getting his first head coaching job at Iowa State in 2007 and Fedora getting his shot a year later at Southern Miss.
“He was one of the first people to call me just to give me advice about going into my first job and what to expect…” Fedora said. “I never thought I would have opportunity to hire him, but when I decided to make a change last year he was the first guy I reached out to. It was kind of a wish list thing and it worked out.”
Fedora is now coming off his most successful season as head coach. Last year, North Carolina went 11-3 with an 8-0 record in the ACC. It lost 49-38 to Baylor in the Russell Athletic Bowl.
“We didn’t accomplish all the goals we had for this previous season, but our players recognized how close we were,” Fedora said. “Our fans realized it. It made our guys even hungrier. It’s started out in the winter conditioning. We are in our blue dawn drills right now and you see the want to in the guys eyes.”
Another former Auburn coach popped up on Fedora’s radar this offseason with Will Muschamp landing at South Carolina. Fedora expects a spirited battle on the recruiting trail with the former Auburn defensive coordinator.
“I don’t doubt it will be different,” Fedora said. “Will has got a lot of energy and he’s put together a great staff. I’m sure they are going to recruit extremely hard. We are going to have to battle them just like all the other schools that we have to battle.”
Fedora said the arrival of any new coach and staff brings a certain level of excitement, but his staff plans on “weathering” the storm.
“They are going to bring it…” Fedora said. “You get a feel for how they are going to recruit, what there style is going to be like and you have to figure out how you are going to beat them.”
One player Fedora heavily recruited during his time at Southern Miss was Central alum Jonathan Wallace.
Wallace was verbally committed to the school when Fedora accepted the head coaching position at North Carolina. Wallace reopened his recruitment shortly after the coaching change.
“I remember him, I haven’t followed him since, but hopefully he had success,” Fedora said.
Fedora was happy to hear Wallace is going to be a graduate assistant on Auburn’s staff this season. Wallace graduated from Auburn in December with a degree teacher education-physical education, a background that will serve him going into the coaching profession.
“It’s the same thing,” Fedora said of teaching and coaching. “You better be able to do both.”