As Fedora worked his way through a throng of reporters to find his seat in the Grandville Ballroom at the Grandover Resort on Monday, a few writers quickly discussed the potential subject matter of the first question. Penn State? NCAA? Bowl ban?
The final guess was correct. How do the players handle knowing that they won’t be playing in the postseason this fall?
Fedora’s response was akin to his football team obliterating a worn-out tackling dummy at Navy Fields. His answer was as pure as it was enlightening, leaving no reason for a follow-up question.
“When we first found out, it was sitting down and being honest with them,” Fedora said. “This is what it is. And then letting them say what they wanted to say, letting them express their frustration. They all got to say what they wanted to say and talk about it, and once they were done, we said, ‘Okay, here’s the plan. For the first time in my life, I know we have 12 games. That’s it. Now if I’m a senior and I know I only have 12 games left, I’m going to take advantage of each and every one of them. I’m not going to take anything for granted.
“No matter how I feel, what the weather is, whether we’re playing on asphalt or gravel, or who we’re playing or what color our helmets and jerseys are, nothing matters. I’ve got an opportunity, and I’m only going to have 12 of them, to play a game that I love, to go out and put that interlocking NC on the side of my helmet or my chest and represent the University of North Carolina.’”
There have been plenty of other coaches that have uttered similar words when faced with adversity, but rarely do you encounter a coach who speaks with such conviction that there’s no doubt he believes what he’s preaching. Hardship and misfortune, as it turns out, are developments that Fedora believes are crucial in building a foundation, whether it be for a football program or for an individual.
“Why dread adversity?” Fedora asked. “Why do we dread it? Why does our society dread adversity? It’s what brings out the best in you. When your back is against the wall, that’s what brings out the best in you. I’m teaching them each and every day, hey, adversity is going to hit. It’s coming, it’s around the corner. So when it does, look it in the eye, grab it by the throat, choke it and just move on. Let’s go.”
Welcoming adversity also requires that you accept responsibilities for your actions. When asked about specific mistakes made at Southern Miss that he hopes to correct at UNC, Fedora laughed and replied: “I make mistakes every day.”
So many, in fact, that he writes down notes at the end of every day about the good and bad things that occurred. The purpose is to become a better head coach one day at a time. He’s taken notes for his entire program ever since taking over the Southern Miss job five years ago.
“As long as you’re never satisfied, you’re always going to be pushing yourself to do something better each and every day,” Fedora said. “Not only do I talk about it with our team, but with our coaches also. You either get better or you get worse every single day of your life. You don’t ever stay the same.”
Fedora doesn’t want things to be easy for his players. He believes that constant challenges lead to individual growth as well as discipline. Earrings and hats are not allowed to be worn in the Kenan Football Center. That’s an admitted old-school approach, but one that Fedora’s comfortable with because that’s how he grew up.
The strict level of discipline and accountability that Fedora has brought to the program, however, is not without compassion. It’s the coaching staff’s responsibility to build and foster relationships with the players in order to understand their needs and wants.
“It’s the same thing as when you’re getting ready to give a pregame speech,” Fedora said. “You don’t just pick one out of a book and give a pregame speech. You’ve got to have the pulse of your team. You’ve got to know what’s going on amongst your guys. You’ve got to know who needs to be motivated and who doesn’t, who needs you to push them and who doesn’t. You’ve got to figure out which button each guys needs to push.”
For a program that’s endured a wealth of adversity over the past two seasons, there’s nothing quite like a motivational speaker doubling as your head coach.
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