Larry Fedora always says that the Frank H. Kenan Football Center is where his team can learn the truth.
Whether it be in the film room, in the weight room, the locker room, or in the coaches’ offices, any time you ask, Fedora tells you this facility is where he and his staff will tell you the truth.
And yet every time Fedora has stepped up to the podium after a loss this season, it seems like he struggles to tell the whole truth about why his team has come up short nine times this season.
UNC lost 34-28 to NC State in overtime on Saturday at Kenan Stadium. The Tar Heels fell to 2-9, 1-7 in the ACC.
“It's frustrating for everybody in that locker room,” Fedora said. “They're the guys that are working their butt off every day. They're the ones that are buying in and doing it, and I've got to find a way to show them how to get over that hump.”
In many ways, it was a positive performance for Carolina. The defense played well, holding State to just seven points at the half and keeping Ryan Finley off the scoreboard. Cade Fortin got the start at quarterback and, after his wideouts learned how to catch the ball at halftime, flourished, throwing for 276 yards and a touchdown while connecting on several deep passes.
And to be fair to Fedora, he put his team in a position to win multiple times this season, and players just didn’t come through.
“Coach Fedora has put us in a good position to win games, and it just didn't go our way,” senior safety J.K. Britt said. “We lost games on the last play of the game, last drive…being this close every time and not being able to capitalize.”
But in other ways, it was a loss emblematic of everything that has gone wrong in the Larry Fedora era.
There were dumb penalties, like the facemask on the first drive for State that gave them fresh set of downs after stopping them on third and long. There were missed blocks and assignments, like the free rusher that destroyed Hunter Lent, causing a one yard, yes, one yard punt that set up State’s only touchdown in the first half.
There was the playcalling at the start of overtime, two short runs and then a pass that took too long to develop, that set up a field goal attempt Freeman Jones shanked.
And, of course, there was the lack of discipline, in a brawl started in the end zone right after State scored the clinching touchdown in overtime. A fitting end to a miserable season.
But don’t ask Fedora about that fight, in which multiple players on both teams appeared to throw punches and went on for at least 45 seconds after the whistles blew. It was so obviously a brawl, that it’s the first video that pops up when you open up the ESPN app now.
But not according Fedora. He doesn’t seem to know, or want the public to know, whether it was a fight or not.
What was your reaction to what happened in the endzone at the end?
“What?” Fedora asked, seemingly wanting to portray being incredulous.
The fight, the scuffle.
“There was no fight. Not to my knowledge,” Fedora said.
What would you call it?
“Their team celebrating and our team celebrating,” Fedora smirked.
What was your team celebrating?
The coach is off his game now.
“My team wasn't celebrating. Their team was celebrating, in our endzone. That's what was happening. But there wasn't any fight to my knowledge.”
I don’t take Fedora at face value here, but let’s say we do. Then Fedora either doesn’t know a fight occurred because:
a) he wasn’t paying attention post game and no one on his team told him or
b) he doesn’t know what a fight is.
The more likely explanation is that Fedora wants to pull a fast one on the media, to feign ignorance about reality in such a way that only a football coach can. Where he doesn’t want to divulge information, or acknowledge faults, because it might show weakness. Where he can say things that are true, but don’t tell the whole story, because he’s trying some sort of spin that’s incredibly transparent.
It’s infuriating, mostly because that schtick is only cute when a coach is winning, and Fedora hasn’t been winning since October 2016. Nick Saban gets away with it because he wins games. With coaches like Larry Fedora, it’s just fake.
Here’s the sad reality for UNC Football. Fedora is 7-13 against in-state FBS opponents, and has lost his last seven of those games dating back to 2016, when UNC lost 28-27 to Duke on a Thursday night game in Durham.
Since that game, the Tar Heels have gone 6-21.
In any program that’s worth its salt, that would be an unacceptable track record. But with Fedora being owed somewhere in the neighborhood of $12 million if he’s fired this offseason, and his team at least being competitive in most of their games this season, he isn’t likely to be going anywhere, at least for one more year.
“I don't know,” Fedora said when asked on whether the loss to State would affect his future in Chapel Hill. “We'll find out. I plan on being here.”
If he is, I can’t say I blame athletic director Bubba Cunningham. $12 million is a lot of money, and the team never quit on the coaching staff like they did at schools like Louisville.
But as long as Larry Fedora is UNC’s football coach, he’ll do the same song and dance, again and again, from the podium of Football Center. Insulting Tar Heel fans’ intelligence, one more time.