North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner will lead coach Larry Fedora's up-tempo spread offense. PHOTO: Robert Willett
CHAPEL HILL — Continuing on with my interview with North Carolina coach Larry Fedora, who spoke of the history, inspiration and philosophy behind his version of the spread offense.
And here’s the second part of the interview:
AC: What makes your version of the spread different from other versions of the offense?
LF: I’ve thought a lot about that and I would say probably the biggest thing is we’re very balanced. That’s one thing that we take a lot of pride in, is that we’ve been able to run the football and throw it out of this style of offense. And most teams do one of the other. And I’ve always believed that if you can spread the field and you can do both, that teams can’t take both away from you. And they may be able to stop one, and they can make you throw it, and they can make you run it and I’m OK with that. I don’t care how we get it. But a good example is the last year I was at Oklahoma State, we averaged 243 rushing and 243 passing at the end of the season after 12 games, or 13 games. But that’s been pretty much [standard] – except for the first year at Oklahoma State and the first year at Middle Tennessee – other than that we’ve been very balanced throughout an entire season.
AC: Going back to that visit to Tulane, were you right on board with what you saw right away?
LF: I was right on board right away because it was – it reaffirmed what I believed in. That I could do that. So that’s what it did for me. I knew what they were doing, and so I wanted to go see it for myself and it just reaffirmed what I was believing.
AC: Did Bowden and Rodriguez give you any words of wisdom about the offense?
LF: It was more they were going through spring ball and I was just there watching and getting to talk to them, getting to sit in meetings with them and listen to them. I don’t remember anything. I just probably the biggest thing was just them the way you needed to practice with the tempo and those things was probably the biggest things I picked up on at that time.
AC: What do you have to have to make this offense work?
LF: I tell you what – I don’t think it’s any different … you need athletic guys, you need guys that can process quickly. You need guys that have stamina. You need great athletes. I can say that just about any offense that you talk about. I think more than anything, you’re looking for a certain style of quarterback. I’ve done it with big running backs, I’ve done it with small running backs. I’ve done it with big receivers, I’ve done it with small receivers. I’ve done it with big linemen, I’ve done it with smaller linemen.
So again, I think that’s part of being a good football coach, is adjusting to what you have and then tweaking the system. I’m not one of those guys that says, hey, this is our system, this is the only way it can be done, you’ve got to fit our system or you can’t play. I don’t believe that. I believe taking what you have and then you mold a system around those kids.
AC: What is the ideal quarterback for this offense?
LF: I’d say the guy that played shortstop in high school and was the point guard on the basketball team and has that it factor – a guy that can make decisions. He’s got good feet. Doesn’t have to have an extremely strong arm but he’s got to be accurate. That’s more important to me than the strength of his arm, is his accuracy. And decision-making. You’ve got to be a really good decision maker.
AC: What has been your reaction to the comparisons between UNC quarterback Bryn Renner and Austin Davis, your quarterback at Southern Miss?
LF: Well they’re both really tremendous leaders. And that comes very natural to them. It’s a little unfair to compare Bryn to Austin and I even tell Blake and our staff, I mean, you can’t compare it to these guys from last year. Those guys had been in our system, that was the fourth year of the system. So Austin Davis knew it like the back of his hand. He knew it was good as any coach on the staff. So that’s a little bit unfair for Bryn. Now if you start comparing Bryn to Austin’s first year in the system – very, very comparable except Bryn’s got a stronger arm than Austin had. He probably runs about the same. He understands the game about the same and so there are a lot of similarities in watching them in Austin’s first year in the system.
AC: How much do you think defenses have improved against the spread?
LF: Oh, they’ve improved tremendously. I mean, when we first started it was – I can remember even playing teams, we were no huddle and the defense is still in a huddle. And we would be snapping the ball and they would be trying to get out of a huddle. So you’ve seen it all in the evolution of how teams have adapted to no-huddle spread offenses. And so yeah, they’re so much more prepared now than they used to be.
AC: Do you see the spread evolving much beyond where it is now?
LF: Yeah, I think the game is constantly evolving. And one side of the ball is always trying to get one step ahead of the other and stay there. And so I think it will always evolve. That’s why you’ve seen there are so many different styles of spread offenses out there, because everybody has their own little twist to it and their own little taste of what they want to do. And so that makes defenses have to adjust to a lot of different things. And any time you have more teams doing it, obviously you have more teams practicing against it, so that helps it.
AC: How often do other coaches contact you for advice regarding the spread?
LF: Well, very often. You saw, just in the spring alone, how many different staffs were here, both college and high school. That’s what they’re doing, they’re looking to see how you’re doing it, what you’re doing. If they can take something back and add to their offense and their defense – that’s kind of what the game’s all about. You’re constantly sharing and giving ideas and taking ideas and trying to make these ideas work for you.
AC: What do you tell them about this offense that makes them understand it in as easy of a way as possible?
LF: It’s about spreading the field horizontally to create vertical seams in the defense. It’s about putting the ball in playmakers’ hands in open space and letting them play. When you spread the field, the defense has to spread out with you. So when they spread out, they create seams in the defense. Which enables you to have a better opportunity for explosive plays. So there’s a lot of ways to skin it, but we feel like we’ve found a way that’s been pretty successful for us and we’ll continue to use it and we’ll continue to tweak it and try to stay one step ahead of the defense.
AC: What were some of the first things you told your players at UNC about the offense?
LF: Obviously, Blake [Anderson] went in with the offensive staff and they talked about [the offense]. I talked about with the team about my philosophy offensively, defensively and special teams, and then each of the coaches then took it from there. And so we knew we were going to be bringing this offense here. Those kids knew that. They didn’t really know what to expect until we started right after we got here off the road recruiting. And I think at that point, they started delving into it. They started watching the film. They wanted to see what it was all about, you know. And so really that part of it, I think they’ve been very eager to figure it out.
AC: At Middle Tennessee did you build a playbook from scratch?
LF: Yeah, from scratch. Exactly. And I haven’t had to do that since, so that’s been a good thing. The playbook has changed over many years, you know, but it’s still the base. The base system is still there. I don’t want to have to recreate one, I can tell you that.
AC: Do you still have it?
LF: Oh gosh, I’m sure I’ve got it somewhere. As many times as I’ve moved, there’s no telling what attic it’s in.
AC: What should I have asked you about the spread offense that I didn’t?
LF: I think you asked about going to the SEC, and then we went to Oklahoma State in the Big 12, and obviously had a lot of success with it in another league and then taking it to Southern Miss, and going into another league. And in every one of those instances, we replaced a pro-style team, offensively. Every single one of them. And so I really have a pretty good feel of what to expect in the transition and how hard it is and how long it takes. So I think we’ve got a pretty good feel of where we need to be here and we’re not there yet but we feel like we’re on track.
So there you have it. Thanks to Fedora for his time.