CHAPEL HILL – North Carolina coach Larry Fedora saw his first team set school records for scoring and total offense, win eight games and do enough to win a division title it can’t officially claim due to NCAA sanctions.
As he prepares for his second season, Fedora plans to push his players for more.
“That’s not the bar for us,” Fedora said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We don’t feel like we’ve maxed out by any means. We feel like we’ve just got a start.”
To Fedora, the Tar Heels (8-4, 5-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) did a good job of building a foundation and a culture for a program that practices and plays at a go-go-go pace. He said the coaches have built trust with the players, who understand the expectations that await them when they report for training camp in August.
“They know that whatever we say, we’re going to carry through,” Fedora said. “If we expect you to be in a meeting at a certain time and if you’re running late or something happens, you know you’re going to be disciplined for that. There’s no questions about any of those things anymore.
“A lot of it now is we don’t have to say anything. We don’t have to teach them. They know, and now they start teaching each other. And when that starts happening, then you know you’re getting what you want.”
With a no-huddle spread offense, North Carolina scored 487 points and averaged 40.6 per game. Both statistics shattered school records, surpassing the 421 points and 35.1-point average of the 1993 team.
UNC also finished with 5,817 yards of total offense, good for an average of 484.4 yards per game. That total was nearly 600 yards more than the school record set by the 1993 team in one fewer game played.
The Tar Heels faced a one-year postseason ban from the NCAA for improper benefits and academic misconduct dating back to 2008. That denied them a fifth straight bowl appearance in Fedora’s first year as well as what would’ve been an appearance in the ACC championship game.
The Tar Heels tied Georgia Tech and Miami atop the Coastal Division but would’ve owned the tiebreaker had it not been for the NCAA penalty. Still, Fedora set the goal of winning what amounted to an unofficial division title, then presented his team with rings for reaching that goal.
“I wanted to reward those seniors and that class for what they accomplished,” he said. “I knew that a lot of people wouldn’t agree with it, but I wasn’t concerned with everybody else. I was more concerned with that team and those seniors.”
The sanctions are gone now, but Fedora said he doesn’t think his players will approach the coming season differently.
“We looked at it as there’s nothing we can do about it, we’re going to look forward to the future from the beginning,” he said. “I would say there’s a relief that it’s behind us, but our guys already looked at it as behind us. I think there’s more relief that it’s behind us for our fans and everyone else.”
North Carolina has senior quarterback Bryn Renner back to lead that high-scoring offense, though the challenge will be replacing do-everything tailback Gio Bernard. The Tar Heels also have seven starters back on defense, a unit that needs to improve significantly after six of eight ACC opponents to score at least 28 points.
Fedora said he felt “a tremendous buzz” about the program from fans he met during stops on the annual “Tar Heel Tour” this spring.
He also knows the Tar Heels have a huge challenge in the opener by traveling to South Carolina in a nationally televised Thursday night game.
He’s eager to get started and find out how his Tar Heels can build on his first year.
“I’m very confident we’ve made a lot of progress and I’m excited about where we are, but I know we have a long way to go,” Fedora said. “Our fans may not be as realistic as I am in some of the areas, and that’s OK. That’s a good thing. That’s not a bad thing.”