By UNC Insider
CHAPEL HILL – The scandal that hit North Carolina football is in the rearview mirror, but the effects are still being felt in one important area – recruiting.
The 2014 class will be third one that will be reduced by five scholarships as part of the NCAA’s penalties, and it will likely be another two years before Carolina gets back to having a full 85 recruited football players on scholarship.
Since the fastest way to get better is to get better players – and the only way to get better players is to recruit – the scholarship reductions will likely delay UNC’s chances of becoming a regular in the Top 25 for the foreseeable future.
There are some optimistic Carolina fans who argue the scholarship reductions can be spun as a positive – top recruits will be more eager to come to a place where they can play right away, as opposed to spending their first few years on the scout team.
However, there’s a reason that the NCAA uses scholarship limits as a punishment, and that many of the top recruits still flock to the same few schools.
“Does it ever help you in recruiting to not be good? No, it doesn’t,” said a UNC assistant who is involved in the team’s recruiting efforts.
That same coach also said that the NCAA violations are still brought up by other schools, though it’s not much of a factor now as it was when coach Larry Fedora first took over.
“I don’t think it’s as bad a black cloud,” the staffer said. “That’s just one more seed (other schools) can cast in that kid’s mind – you may be going somewhere that’s not at full strength, it may take them a while. Now those first two classes when we got here, when nobody knew what would happen, that was miserable.”
The bigger obstacle the coaching staff has to overcome is the perception that UNC is a basketball school and that the football team will never be able to reach the same level of success. After all, the football team hasn’t won a conference championship since 1980 – four years before assistant coach Walt Bell was born, let alone the current players or recruits.
Despite the reductions, UNC’s poor showing so far this season has given some people a reason to wonder about Fedora’s recruiting ability – especially considering Southern Miss has lost 17 straight games since Fedora left for Chapel Hill.
But Fedora did bring in and develop NFL talent during his time with the Golden Eagles, including New England Patriots linebacker Jamie Collins, Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Jason Weaver and Atlanta Falcons tackle Lamar Holmes.
Instead, the bigger problem at Southern Miss may have been a disastrous coaching decision – the Golden Eagles chose South Carolina defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson over Blake Anderson, USM’s offensive coordinator who came over with Fedora to UNC.
Carolina staffers talk openly about making UNC the Stanford of the East Coast, with rigorous academic requirements and strong athletic success going hand-in-hand.
But even the Cardinal had seven straight losing seasons until 2009, when Jim Harbaugh and now David Shaw got the team turned around. And Stanford doesn’t have the scholarship limits that UNC is operating under right now.
“It’s a giant concern,” the UNC coach said. “But them’s the grits, man. It’s our job to get it fixed, and if we can’t get it right, then we didn’t do our job. Does it hurt? Yes, just in terms of depth. But there’s nothing you can do about it.”
One Play Says It All
The schedule gets much easier after the Thursday night game against Miami. But if UNC can’t get its season turned around, the lasting image of ineptitude will be the Tar Heels’ nine-man defensive formation in the second quarter of their 55-31 loss to East Carolina.
No one escapes blame on this one – the two players who ran off by mistake, the assistant on the sideline who didn’t stop them, or the coaches who didn’t call a timeout until the play was already finished.
The problem started when lineman Ethan Farmer ran off the field because he thought the team was going back to a base defense, even though the players were told repeatedly not to run off unless there’s an incomplete pass or another stoppage of play that would allow UNC to substitute.
The problems were compounded when Norkeithus Otis got shaken up and unexpectedly hobbled off the field instead of falling to the ground.
Somehow, no one on the staff saw UNC’s new 3-1-5 formation or realized what was happening until ECU was finished gaining 26 yards on a run.
“It’s just unheard of,” cornerback Jabari Price said afterward. “ECU has a fast tempo, but it’s not that fast that we put nine people on the field. I remember looking at the tape when I got home … and was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ Those are immature mistakes.
“You can’t win a game with nine people. I’ve never seen it done in my life. It’s inexcusable.”
The Tar Heels have had enough problems on defense with their full allotment of 11 people on the field. The nine-man formation illustrated a lack of focus and execution that has plagued the unit throughout its 1-4 start.
As associate coach for defense Vic Koenning put it in an epic rant after the East Carolina game: “I’m sure Coach Fedora is beyond frustrated. I’m sure the fans are. There’s no one more upset or embarrassed about it, I promise you, than us. I wish there was something I could undo or redo or make do, but that’s the way it is.”