By Aaron Beard/The Associated Press
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Larry Fedora sounded undeterred taking over a North Carolina program still wounded by an NCAA investigation and facing sanctions.
If anything, the Tar Heels’ new coach welcomes the challenge.
“To be honest with you, it didn’t scare me,” Fedora said Friday at his introductory news conference. “I’ve got a saying that adversity, it’s going to happen and it brings out the best in all of us. But when it does, you look it in the eye, you grab it by the throat and you choke it. … That’s what we’re going to do with whatever adversity comes up, now or in the future.”
Earlier Friday, the school’s trustees approved a seven-year contract worth more than $1.7 million annually for the Southern Mississippi coach to become the permanent replacement for Butch Davis. The deal includes several bonuses, including for winning a division or conference championship, reaching a BCS game and high graduation rates.
Fedora, who planned to meet with his new team after the news conference, will receive annual retention bonuses ranging from $100,000 to $350,000 beginning in 2015, as well as a one-time payment of $400,000 in the first year and an annual expense allowance of $30,000.
With men’s basketball coach Roy Williams among the hundreds of fans and reporters in attendance, Fedora invoked Gen. George Patton in promising he would lead a program that would “always be attacking” with a no-huddle offense that creates explosive plays and plenty of buzz in Kenan Stadium.
“You’d better buckle your seat belts and you better hold on,” Fedora said, “because it’s going to be a wild ride.”
The former offensive coordinator at Florida and Oklahoma State went 33-19 in four seasons at Southern Miss. Fedora led the 22nd-ranked Golden Eagles to the Conference USA championship and extended two impressive streaks — 10 straight bowl appearances and 18 consecutive winning seasons — in his final year in Hattiesburg, Miss.
The 49-year-old native of College Station, Texas, is perhaps best known for his aggressive coaching style and wide-open offenses. He became a hot commodity this offseason after he led Southern Miss to an 11-2 record and a dominating upset of then-No. 7 Houston in the C-USA championship game.
“I like exciting football just like everybody else,” chancellor Holden Thorp said. “So if we’re going to throw the ball a lot and go crazy, that sounds like a lot of fun to me.”
Junior linebacker Kevin Reddick and quarterback Bryn Renner were among a handful of UNC players who also attended the news conference.
“It sounded good,” Reddick said. “Like he said, I hope the players buy into it. I’m willing to buy into it. … If we all buy into it, I think it’ll be a good ride.”
North Carolina offered Fedora a longer contract because it put itself on two years of probation in the aftermath of an NCAA investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct within the program. That probe led to the firing of Davis — the big-name coach brought in five years ago to turn UNC into a national power — days before training camp. The NCAA alleged nine violations, with the most serious being that a former assistant coach had worked to steer players to sign with an NFL agent.
North Carolina has also sanctioned itself by vacating all 16 victories from 2008 and 2009 and cutting nine scholarships over the next three years. The school appeared before the NCAA infractions committee in October and is still waiting to hear from the NCAA whether those penalties are enough, which is why new athletic director Bubba Cunningham said he made sure during negotiations that Fedora knew exactly what he was inheriting in Chapel Hill.
“The idea was this is an unbelievably special place, but it’s not perfect,” Cunningham said. “We need to work through that and figure out a way to be successful. He was terrific. He’s all over it. He knows exactly what we need to do to get better.”
Defensive coordinator Everett Withers served as interim coach this season and will coach the Tar Heels (7-5) against Missouri in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 26, the program’s fourth straight bowl trip. Withers interviewed for the permanent job last week, one of four people Cunningham said he interviewed for the job.
Cunningham has said Withers will coach the Tar Heels in the bowl, but his future beyond that is uncertain. Fedora said he has a plan in place for building a staff and that “consideration” would be given to current UNC coaches, but he didn’t give specifics.
The Tar Heels’ bowl game comes two days after Fedora will coach the Golden Eagles for the last time, against Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl.
Thorp said Fedora first arrived in Chapel Hill on Wednesday. After meeting with Thorp at the chancellor’s home, Fedora was confined to a car during his tour of campus to keep a low profile and avoid media scrutiny.
Fedora returned to Southern Miss on Thursday to meet with players and coaches there, calling that meeting “probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
He sounded like he’s not planning another one.
“We have moved across this country,” Fedora said of his family, listing the stops during his coaching career. “We’re looking for a home, and we’re ready to stop moving, I can assure you.”
AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary contributed to this report.