Few coaching falls have been as steep as that of Gene Chizik. As head coach at Auburn, Chizik (thanks in large part to Cam Newton) led the Tigers to the national championship in 2010. But just two years later, Chizik was shown the door.
Interestingly, Chizik has played a role in another seemingly quick coaching descent. As the North Carolina defensive coordinator under Larry Fedora, Chizik did his part in helping the Tar Heels win the 2015 ACC Coastal Division championship. But he resigned after the 2016 season and things have not gone right for Carolina — and more specifically Fedora — ever since.
It is interesting how the Fedora plunge has mirrored that of his former assistant. Both coaches' best season led to great optimism going forward. But 8-5 records followed the next year for both and that was not what the fan bases were expecting. Little did anyone know it was about to get worse.
Auburn in 2012 was riddled with injuries and when things started going bad, they just didn’t stop until the final record said 3-9. The Tigers' only three wins came againstSun Belt members ULM and New Mexico State as well as FCS member Alabama A&M. They lost their last three SEC games by an average of 42 points per game. And that was the end.
UNC had a similar fate last season. Like Chizik’s 2012 team, Fedora’s crew finished 3-9. They did manage to get by Pitt (who has a coach that also is feeling some pressure right now), but the other two wins came against Old Dominion (Conference USA) and Western Carolina (FCS).
In large part because the North Carolina football situation is not as crazed as Auburn’s, Fedora got another year. But 2018 has so far proven to be an even bigger disaster than '17.
At ACC Media Days, Fedora disputed the link between football and CTE, creating a national firestorm. Then, just three weeks later, 13 Tar Heels were suspended for selling team-issued shoes. It really doesn’t matter if the rule is foolish or if Fedora had knowledge of the situation. Thirteen players were suspended under his watch.
That led to a belief that the Heels could get off to a slow start, so it came as no surprise that UNC fell at Cal. In some respects, how North Carolina battled and nearly came back late in the game was a positive sign. Fedora’s team did put up a fight in most contests last year, even in defeat, and they started 2018 the same way.
Then Saturday arrived.
The East Carolina Pirates — who have had their own enormous struggles and were coming off a loss to FCS member North Carolina A&T — outscored the Heels 20-0 in the second half on their way to a very easy 41-19 victory. What made this game so frustrating is that the Heels cleaned up some of the problems that plagued them in the California game. They didn’t turn the ball over and though they did commit seven penalties, that number was down from 13 the week before.
No, they just simply got outplayed by East Carolina, which is a true kick in the teeth. The old bugaboo of poor rush defense returned, as the Heels gave up 220 on the ground. Pirates quarterback Reid Herring threw for 290 yards, so the pass defense wasn’t any better.
Here’s the really bad news for Fedora: now things get really tough. Three of the next four opponents are ranked in the Top 25, starting with UCF this week. The ACC Coastal, while not loaded with powerhouses, features quality teams that are better than UNC at this moment. The Heels will gradually get those suspended players back, but 3-9 is looking like a real possibility once again.
Larry Fedora is still the head coach of the North Carolina football program at this point in time. But if Carolina doesn’t start winning games soon, Gene Chizik can tell him how things will end.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.