KNOXVILLE – With Tennessee's search for a new head coach ongoing, Nooga.com is taking a closer look at some of the potential candidates. Click here for Nooga.com's complete list of potential candidates.
Larry Fedora, head coach, North Carolina
Overview: Fedora, who played wide receiver at Austin College, worked his way through the coaching ranks with stops as an offensive assistant with Baylor (1990-96), Air Force (1997-98), Middle Tennessee (1999-2001), Florida (2002-04) and Oklahoma State (2005-07).
He took over as the head coach at Southern Miss in 2008. The Golden Eagles showed consistent improvement throughout Fedora’s tenure. They started with back-to-back 7-6 campaigns in 2008 and 2009 and elevated their record to 8-5 in 2010 before going 12-2 in 2011, including a Conference USA Championship and a 24-17 win over Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl.
Fedora was 34-19 overall at Southern Miss with a 1-1 mark in bowls.
He inherited a North Carolina program that had been banned from postseason play in 2012 and had 15 scholarships taken away over the next three years because of violations by a former assistant coach. Despite the postseason ban, the Tar Heels finish this season 8-4 with a 5-3 mark in the ACC. They won the regular-season ACC Coastal Division title, but could not participate in the conference championship game.
Recruiting: NCAA issues notwithstanding, Fedora’s current recruiting class at UNC is ranked 19th nationally (per Rivals.com). He signed the 44th best class nationally in 2012.
Though Conference USA teams traditionally don’t recruit the same caliber of players the SEC does, Fedora regularly had one of the best classes in the conference and even had the 37th best class nationally in 2008 – just two spots behind what was former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer’s final full signing class.
Overall, he’s viewed as a top recruiter who would have a legitimate chance to sign highly-ranked classes in the right situation.
Why he’d come: Though Tennessee has a few NCAA issues itself, Fedora could escape the scholarship reductions that were put on UNC by the NCAA in March. He makes in the neighborhood of $2.5 million, meaning Tennessee could afford to give him a nice raise.
Why he wouldn’t: Leaving a program after just one season is generally not too well accepted by fans and in the coaching community. Just ask former Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin. The Tar Heels will be eligible for the postseason again next year and though the scholarship reductions will hurt, that's not enough to cripple the program.
Chalk talk: Fedora is viewed as one of the top offensive minds in college football. He runs a fast-paced variation of the spread offense that regularly uses three or four wide receivers and generally just one running back. The Tar Heels were 16th nationally in total offense this season with an average of 486 yards of total offense per game. They averaged 292 yards per game through the air and 194 yards on the ground, so there’s an emphasis on balance.
Fedora focuses on the offense, meaning his defensive coordinator hire could dictate what direction he would want to go with on that side of the ball. His current defensive coordinator, Dan Disch, utilizes a lot of 4-2-5 looks. UNC finished 57th nationally in total defense this season.
Fedora has generally been loyal to his staff, as evidenced by his decision to bring practically everybody from Southern Miss to UNC. Two assistants – Disch (Florida) and passing-game coordinator Gunter Brewer (Ole Miss) – have been full-time assistants in the SEC in the past.
What they've said:
• “This time each year there are a number of coaching vacancies in college football and yesterday several rumors included speculation about our own football coach Larry Fedora. Neither Coach Fedora nor I are going to address rumors about individual jobs that are bound to happen each year.” – UNC AD Bubba Cunningham said on Wednesday
Grading the potential hire: Fedora fits the general description of what Tennessee AD Dave Hart said he was looking for. He has SEC experience, ties to the area and experience as a head coach. He might not be an instantly recognizable name around the nation, but he has a strong track record of winning and has shown the potential to be a top recruiter. One interesting note about Southern Miss is that it went 0-12 this season after Fedora’s 12-2 record last year. Was that a sign that he left the program in bad shape or evidence of how important he was to the program? That’s tough to say, but it’s clear that he has a winning touch and would be an upgrade for Tennessee. We would give this hire a solid B.
Daniel Lewis covers Tennessee football for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @Daniel_LewisCBS.