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July 19, 2012DURHAM -- Sitting at a table with four other Division I head football coaches and a ballroom filled with fans of the five universities, Larry Fedora managed to silence the crowd and maybe even his colleagues on Thursday.
The reason: He ventured into sacred territory for college football coaches. He spoke candidly about the bowl system when Don Shea, the MC for the event, asked him how he planned to deal with the bowl ban UNC is facing this fall.
"They were upset, but you play the game for so much more than to go to a bowl," Fedora said. "There are a lot of bowls out there, but there aren't a lot of great bowl sites."
Fedora was speaking at a Cary hotel during the 10th annual Pigskin Preview, which assembles the head coaches from Duke, East Carolina, NC Central, North Carolina and N.C. State.
Afterward, the media asked him about his candid statement.
"Well, I'm pretty honest, so I'm going to tell you what I think," Fedora said. "Sometimes I may put my foot in my mouth because I'll tell you the truth and not what you want to here."
Fedora also provided some other answers that should surely excite Carolina fans.
Fedora's predecessor, Butch Davis, never did seem to grasp the importance of the rivalry between the Tar Heels and N.C. State. The Wolfpack has beaten UNC five consecutive times.
Shea asked Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien about that streak, and O'Brien responded with the usual coach speak.
When Shea asked Fedora if he understood the rivalry,
Fedora kidded with Shea at first. Then he struck right at the heart of the matter on whether he planned to take the Wolfpack seriously, down to the number of days until the two will play.
"Don, that is the first time I've hard that," Fedora said to great laughter. "I didn't realize that is what happened the last five years.
"I'm real excited to be a part of this rivalry. It's a great rivalry. I think all rivalries are what make college. I know we're 99 days away, so we'll see what happens."
Ninety-nine days. It appears there is a new attitude in Chapel Hill about the Wolfpack football team.
Fedora said no one can be sure what exactly will happen with a new football team until events unfold on the field, but he says he likes what he has seen thus far. And given his candor throughout the afternoon, there is no reason not to take him seriously.
"I do like their attitude," Fedora said, "the way they have bought into what we're preaching, what we're going to do and how we're changing the culture. But you never really know until you have adversity. How's your team going to respond to adversity?
"We're talking about looking it in the eye, grabbing it by the throat and choking it every day. It's coming. We're either in some situation, or we just got out of one, or there is one coming around the corner. I've never been through a game where we've never been through adversity. So why blink? Just get going and go."
As far as that bowl ban goes, he said that he has seen no side effects among his team.
"We talked about what the issues were and what was going to happen when it happened," Fedora said. "We told them they had choices: They can choose to cash it in, or we can choose to win football games.
"They've all bought in, including all the seniors. The seniors are probably more excited about this season than anybody."