Turner's Take: Time for a Turnaround
Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels are 1-4 and 0-2 in Atlantic Coast Conference play, currently sitting at the bottom of the seven-team Coastal Division. On Wednesday, the head coach had several opportunities to hint that his 1-4 Tar Heels were ready to pack it in, to write this season off as a casualty of both the difficult transition from one coaching staff to the next and the scholarship reductions and probation that came about as a result of the penalties handed down by the NCAA last spring.
Fedora and his staff inherited half of this roster, players who were recruited to play in different systems from the spread and 4-2-5 installed by the current coaching staff. They also had very little time to recruit for the 2012 class, and the first year of scholarship reductions affected the class of 2013. So the Tar Heel veterans are still new at this system, and the players Fedora signed are young. It’s not an easy situation, but it’s the hand he was dealt.
Carolina fans are tired of being told ‘Wait ‘til next year,’ but if that line was legitimate at any time in Tar Heel football history, it’s now. But Fedora won’t take that hand-out. “No doubt in my mind,” he said when asked if the season was still salvageable. “There is no doubt in my mind that it is, and it starts today, yesterday, or whenever you want it to start. It starts now.” Fedora knows that he has a group of young men who, despite the challenges before them, continue to wear the Carolina blue with pride and represent the university well.
Kareem Martin can’t wait until next year. The senior defensive end won’t put on a Tar Heel uniform after December, so he’s going to play his heart out and try to write a happy ending to this chapter of his football career. “Coach (Keith) Gilmore’s told us about one of his Michigan State teams that started off the same way. They went on a win streak and went to a good bowl game and I definitely think that could be us.”
Carolina has shown flashes of potential on both sides of the ball, but they’ve also shown frustrating breakdowns that have led to losses, particularly on defense. “We can be a good defensive unit,” Fedora said Wednesday. “The guys see it, and they’re frustrated with it too. So we’ll just keep working and we’ll get those things. We’re going to cut them out eventually. We’ll cut them out and we’ll play good defense.”
“We played probably our best game last week at Virginia Tech,” Martin said. “I think we’ve just got to build on that. We’ve just got to expect that every week. That wasn’t just a one-time thing for us.”
Offensively, receivers like sophomore Quinshad Davis and freshmen Bug Howard and Ryan Switzer have stepped forward. They are the future of the program, but Fedora recognizes that they are also its present. He could have redshirted freshman tailback T.J. Logan, who missed four games with an injury, but Logan played - and played well - at Virginia Tech. When Logan hit the field in Blacksburg, Fedora signaled that he is concerned about winning now. “I’m not looking one year down the road, three years down the road, or for the future,” he said Wednesday. “I’m looking right now, and it’s about getting this team on track, because there’s still a lot of season to play and there’s a lot that we can still accomplish.”
It’s going to be extremely difficult for the Tar Heels to capture the Coastal Division title, with losses to two teams that figure to be in the mix at the end of the season. But strange things happen in the ACC, and each of Carolina’s remaining games are winnable. And even at 1-4, showing a commitment to putting your best effort forth in every game, despite the situation, is the best way to success down the road. College football isn’t the NFL; teams can’t tank and get the #1 draft pick. The student-athletes that will be on this roster in future years are watching what his happening now.
So Fedora and his staff, and the leaders of this football team know that now is not the time to pack it in, but to commit to winning. This team knew they’d face adversity. Now, they’re about to find out what they’re made of. “I think you find out a lot about individuals,” Fedora said about tough times. “I think you find out a lot about what your team is and the identity of your football team.”
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