A Navy SEAL, NASCAR Drivers and Oakie

Larry Fedora1
April15/ 2012

On a weekend renewing old friendships, I shared a handshake with UNC Head Football Coach Larry Fedora.  (Unlike with his predecessor, I did not have to check if I still had my watch and ring.)  I was reminded of Navy SEALs and Green Berets I have met…. his staff reminds me of NASCAR drivers I have met. ……

A 24-hour period that included re-meets with The Old Trenchfighter AND The Burly BlueBleeder AND “Oakie Pickard”….. Lordy, can’t get much better than that!

This website is renown as a cyber bastion of non-partisan commentary.  Let me hose down the knee-jerking wuffs all ready to pounce.  I know that Tom O’Brien IS a Marine (no such thing as a “former” Marine) and I am quite sure TO’B has a firm handshake and looks people in the eye.  I look forward to meeting him some day.   I have met Jim Grobe and he, too, is a very solid citizen.  Hellfire, I’ve even met Steve Spurrier (and Lou Holtz) and we shared laughs on a golf tee for 10 minutes.

The positive impressions I had of Larry Fedora are not insulting comparisons to anyone else.  Jeeezzz.  To anyone who cannot grasp that concept, may God have mercy on their tortured soul.

The occasion was the Annual UNC Football Lettermen’s Weekend held each April in conjunction with The Spring Game.  I have attended each one since they began 10+ years ago EXCEPT last year.  Homeland Security could not guarantee my safety in Kenan Football Center this time a year ago.  You may recall a seismic kerfluffle going on back then and my outspoken role in said kerfluffle.  I was back this year swapping lies and wondering if I looked as old as my old Tar Heel buddies.  I don’t.

NOTE:  “Security precautions” were also the reasons I did not attend Bob Winston’s Christmas Party or The Dickie Baddour Farewell Festival.  That, and not being invited to either one.

He stands under 6’ in a world of much larger men.  He definitely has the “it” that says “Alpha Dog” amid the lofty pines of Kenan’s greensward.  Some Alpha Dogs swagger.  He doesn’t.  Some Alpha Dogs are bombastic.  He isn’t but his enthusiasm does negate the use of technical amplification.  He “worked the room” with a genuine sincerity not seen since The Right Reverend Mack Brown held sway within the same walls.

With the BurlyBlue-bleeder it was a Prodigal Son-thing.  With The Butcher it was “I’m Butch Davis; aren’t you impressed? See my rings.”

“Little Ricky” and I were deep into some silly recollection of some sort when he approached…. “Hi, I’m Larry Fedora”.   And then a handshake.  If “the eyes are the mirror to the soul” then a handshake can be the front porch to the man.

NOT a knucklecruncher you might get from some ‘roided gymrat.  Larry Fedora’s handshake is a physical connection to a man of substance.  Delivered with an easy smile…. NOT the chesire cat grin of a car salesman.

Much has been made of Coach Fedora’s high-octane offense requiring his players to be in top physical condition.  Larry Fedora sets the example in the physical condition category.  I’d guess no more than a 30-32” waist on a solid 180 or so.  Says something for a man on the backside of 40.

I beat him in the height department by 6-8” but he was able to look me in the eye while simultaneously reading my nametag.  That is harder than you might think.  Larry’s been busy since he got to Chapel Hill.   Bubba hadn’t yet clued him in to the presence of a for real Internet Legend in the room.  Understandable.

Little Ricky had coached at Southern Miss in the late 70s so that connection had to be explored.  Larry actually paid attention.  Again, a skill not shared by all Alpha Dogs.   My comments to Larry were, of course, incredibly insightful with my trademark slathering of pure BS on-top.   The wisdom I imparted will hit him at 3 AM a few months from now.  My patented “time-release advice” like I offer here all the time.

As he moved thru the room; I nailed down my “He’s like _____”.  Larry Fedora exudes the quiet strength and confidence of a Navy SEAL.   SEALs are, by design, not the biggest brawniest loudest in a room.  By size and demeanor they are suppose to blend in UNTIL the fit hits the shan…. then “Follow me men, we have work to do.”  That’s what I saw and felt with Larry Fedora.

  • Is he a play-calling genius in a game-deciding 2-minute drill?
  • Can he recruit young men with that rare combination of character AND superior athletic skill?
  • Can he “beat State”?
  • Can he manage his peers (staff?) with the proper firmness and friendship that the best CEOs can do?
  • Does he appreciate the circumstances that have brought him to UNC in 2012?
  • Can he deal with those circumstances effectively?

I don’t know those answers.  I just met Larry Fedora.

Larry Fedora’s staff looked like a pit row of steely-eyed NASCAR drivers – Young Guns with low maintenance haircuts and “yes ma’m” upbringings.  I like those qualities in football assistant coaches.  I guess Larry does too or he wouldn’t ahired them.

With the first kick-off over four months away, I’m pretty impressed with what is emerging from the rubble and ruin of The Great Unpleasantness.

My re-meets with The Old Trenchfighter (Dooley) and The BurlyBluebleeder (Bunting)??  You really had to be there to appreciate’em.  Big ol’ hugs by big ol’ men followed by lots of swapping lies and laughs.  It was good.

Then “Oakie Pickard” walked up.  “You don’t know who I am do you?”  No, I didn’t.  “I’m Oakie.” ……… Great Snakes and Little Wigglers!

In Jan 1968 I returned to my dorm room at 6 AM from a delayed flight from Miami for Super Bowl II.  There was a note to call UNC Head Trainer John Lacey.  My dad had died from an extended illness while I was in Miami.  An ice storm had knocked out communications.  At 6:30 Oakie was out front to drive me home.  A man tends to remember situations like that in his life.

I had not seen or talked with Oakie in 40+ years.  There he was 3’ from me.  I had one more bear hug left in me.  This one came with a leaky eye.  He had returned to his beloved Eastern Tennessee hills and led the life I would have imagined for him.  He was still “Oakie”.   Seeing him again was a real highlight of a special weekend

….. amid Kenan’s lofty pines.

Re: Attendance @ UNC Spring Game:  Eyeballing it, I say it was easily equal to several years ago when Butcher stacked the deck for ESPN cameras.  He forced everyone to roast in the hot sun on the North Side simply to impress future Marvin Austins who might be watching.  Butcher is gone.  Larry Fedora is UNC’s Head Football Coach.


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