Letters from Camp: Camp Rules
Larry Fedora and his staff are wasting no time getting down to the business of training camp. The players reported to campus a week ago today, held the first practice of the fall on Friday, and signed autographs for fans at Meet the Heels on Saturday. Tuesday's practice was the first in full pads, and on Wednesday the team held two practices for the first (and only) scheduled time this fall.
Since late December, it's been interesting to watch the way Fedora has established his own methods of operation on campus. From the way practices are run, to the way he interacts with the media, Fedora has his own way of doing things. In recent years at Carolina, we have experienced a range of personalities in the head football coach's office. There was the CEO type, the one with experience working in the media himself; there was the elevated assistant working as an interim coach, the one who tried to maintain the course while introducing his own methods and campaigning for the permanent gig; and now there's Fedora, the coach who had a highly successful run at a non-BCS school with a thoroughbred pedigree. What's worked for him in his years as an assistant and at Southern Miss, he's bringing to Carolina. That includes a tightly-knit staff and a new way of doing things. New to Carolina, at least.
Take practice. There's music playing. All. the. time. It's loud. In previous years, in the days before a road trip, speakers would be set up on the practice field, and music and crowd noise would be used to simulate a hostile environment. It was cacophonous, because often the music would only be heard between plays. The coaches would call a play in, and upon the snap, silence. Not anymore. Music plays all the time. Fedora said this spring that the seniors are in charge of the selection, and there's a wide range of artists, from Adele to Wu-Tang Clan*, from LCD Soundsystem to LMFAO. From Roy Jones Jr. to Ram Jam.
The tempo of the music is reflected in the tempo at practice. There is lots and lots of running. There is lots and lots of activity. Not a lot of standing around, by anybody. And they don't waste time getting started. Once or twice a week, media are invited to the first 30 minutes of practice. I'll be honest: In previous years, this would be basically worthless. You'd get to see some very preliminary warmups, but then the whistle blew and it was time for stretching. There was a long period of stretching. I got used to hearing counting, C-A-R-O-L-I-N-A jumping jacks (do the players at schools with longer names get in better shape?), and lots of wolfing between position groups. Frankly, the most valuable information to come out of this period was to see who was leading stretches, because that indicated team captains for the week. After stretching, there might be some special teams practice, and then that was all that we got to see.
Not anymore. Larry Fedora's team gets down to business right away. Already we've seen some competitive drills going on between position groups and some tremendous technique work going on with the offensive defensive lines. And the coaches are involved. In one field goal dress rehearsal, there were eight(!) coaches directly involved. Each has a duty on field goal or field goal block team. Twenty-two players on the field, and eight coaches.
This early in his tenure, Fedora is still establishing the way he's going to interact with the media. Take injuries, for example. T.J Thorpe injured his foot in practice last week and is on crutches. That's all we know, and Fedora likes it that way (enterprising Durham Herald-Sun reporter Harold Gutmann had to get the scoop from Thorpe's mother). Tuesday, he was asked about Thorpe's status, and Fedora took the opportunity to set his policy for injuries.
Reporter: "Could you talk about Thorpe, and what happened to him, where he stands?"
Fedora: "He's a great kid, you know?"
Fedora: "His foot? I don't know what to tell you, because I don't talk about injuries. Here's what I'll tell y'all about injuries, guys. I will tell you about anybody that we lose for the season, and that's it. So, we haven't lost him for the season, so I don't really have anything to say for him."
The conversation was indicative of a lot of Fedora's media interactions as he establishes himself: He doesn't reveal too much, and if he doesn't think a question is germane to his football team, he'll let you know. Saturday, he was asked about his bench press numbers. He just laughed. "Why do you want to ask me about that? Let's talk about the players."
And so we will. I'll give you one more Fedora story before wrapping things up (and heading to practice myself). I tried throughout December to get a Fedora Q and A in February's Tar Heel Monthly, but with Carolina preparing for the Independence Bowl and Fedora taking Southern Miss to the Hawaii Bowl, it was difficult to make things work. Southern Miss played on Christmas Eve, and Carolina's game was the day after Christmas. On the day after that, I went to the Rembrandt exhibit at the North Carolina Museum of Art with my family. I had a sneaking suspicion that Fedora would call me back while I was in the one place I couldn't answer the phone. Of course, he did. We finally connected the next day, just in time to make it into the magazine.
About six weeks later, I was introduced to Fedora in person.
Me: "Hey, coach. Turner Walston. We've spoken on the phone."
Fedora: "Oh yes, Turner! Several times. I remember!" A beat. "No, I don't."
Well, at least he's honest.
*Can't remember the Wu-Tang Clan song that played in practice; I'll try to pay closer attention.