Flying blind: Coaching changes present a scouting challenge

Jeremy Brevard—USA Today Sports
North Carolina Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora speaks to the media during the ACC Football Kickoff at Westin Charlotte.

The University of North Carolina plays Pittsburgh on September 24 and at Florida State the following week.The Panthers were a surprise Coastal Division contender last season, and many prognosticators expect them to finish near the top again this year. Florida State is always packed with NFL-quality talent, and playing in Tallahassee is always a tough task.Quality of opponents aside, the two games are significant for another reason—they’re the only teams Carolina plays before November who have the same head coach as last season.Six of UNC’s first eight games are against teams with new coaches. The Tar Heels’ entire non-conference schedule consists of teams who went through a coaching change. In addition, the Coastal Division has three teams—Virginia, Virginia Tech and Miami—with new coaches.Carolina coach Larry Fedora said that the new faces on the opposing sidelines add some difficulty to game planning.”But luckily when you’re playing in-conference, usually for us it’s like the fourth game of the season, you get on into your season,” he said. “You actually have some film to study. Where it hurts us in these early games, our first three are brand-new head coaches and new staff. That makes it much more difficult when you’re trying to prepare for them without any film.”Carolina opens with Georgia, who hired Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart as their head coach over the offseason.”What do we look at for them,” Fedora asked, throwing up his hands in answer. “We’ll look at some Georgia film to see personnel. We’ll look at Alabama film. Their offensive coordinator (Jim Chaney) came from Pitt, so we’ll look at them. But we don’t know.”While Florida State is a conference foe with an established head coach, there’s also extra work involved in playing the Seminoles. Carolina hasn’t played FSU in six years, long before Fedora took over as head coach.That’s the task facing Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets have four opponents with new coaches (the three Coastal foes and Georgia), and their first three foes of the season are new to Tech.It’s always difficult, I think,anytime you do that,” head coach Paul Johnson said. “We have played with Boston College (the season opening opponent). We played against their offensive coordinator, who comes from Virginia Tech. The defensive coordinator was at Virginia for a couple years. So we do have some familiarity with those games. The next two (Mercer and Vanderbilt), we’re completely blind, but we’ll have some film to look at.”How does a team prepare to “fly blind” against an opponent with no history? One option is to just focus on execution.”We’ve done it for a long time,” Johnson said. “We get ourselves ready. We’re not worried about what the other team plays. We’re dialed in. Doesn’t make a difference whether they’re a three-man or eight-man front. It makes a difference whether they have really good players.”Other than that, it’s just a matter of in-game reaction.”They obviously have the advantage, where they know what you’re going to do, and you’re going to have to do a great job of adjusting during those games,” Fedora said. “Hopefully with a mature team that we have, we’re going to be able to make those adjustments early on.”