CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) -- New North Carolina coach Larry Fedora got the first look at his team as the Tar Heels started spring practice Wednesday. It was also the first time the players took the field knowing they won't go to a bowl game this fall no matter how many games they win.
The practice came two days after the NCAA hit UNC with a one-year postseason ban, a reduction of 15 scholarships and three years of probation following its investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct within the program. The upperclassmen on the roster have spent the past two seasons playing amid the uncertainty of the probe, but Wednesday was the first time the Tar Heels could resume work knowing it was finally over.
"It takes a lot of stress off some people," senior linebacker Kevin Reddick said. "I know it kind of hurt some of the coaches just now coming in, but some of the guys like me ... it's a little relief off our shoulders -- a lot of stress off."
Fedora arrived in January from Southern Mississippi as the permanent replacement for Butch Davis, who was fired before training camp last year amid the probe. He has a seven-year contract with the Tar Heels, with two extra years to compensate for the school's original plan to impose its own two-year probation in September.
"The best thing for these guys is that (the NCAA ruling) is out, and it's done," Fedora said. "And now they know they can move forward. Nobody has to dwell on it anymore. They know what it is. They know we're not going to play in a bowl, but they know they can still win a Coastal Division championship (in the Atlantic Coast Conference). There's still plenty of goals out there ahead of us and I don't think every college athlete plays football just to play in a bowl game."
There were plenty of changes at Wednesday's practice, the most obvious being the music blaring over speakers through the drills. Fedora said the players were allowed to choose the music, which included songs by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Foster the People, Rihanna and Bob Marley.
They're still working that part out, though. A player apparently chose a slower-paced song that played on the speakers, prompting assistant video coordinator Darryl Sanders to radio to a staffer, "Can you speed that up?"
"They enjoy the practice a little bit more," Fedora said. "It's a lot more fun but they can still focus and concentrate on what's going on. At the same time for me, it's noise. It's creating noise for them and having to watch them focus during that noise. It's the same thing as a football game, whether it's music or a crowd."
Fedora is bringing a fast offense that runs largely without a huddle to squeeze every play possible into the game. That means running faster drills in practice and wearing out the players trying to adjust.
Offensive tackle James Hurst said the Southern Miss offense typically tried to get a snap every 12 to 14 seconds. Fedora said the team moved about half the speed Wednesday that he would like normally, and he's hoping to get about 70 percent of the playbook and schemes installed this spring.
"It's very different," Hurst said. "Getting in a huddle, you get to breathe and process the play before you even step to the line of scrimmage. Now you're sitting at the line of scrimmage waiting for the play to come to you. You process that as fast as possible, then you have to think about technique and everything with the small differences we have now."
Regardless of the learning curve, it sure beats waiting for the NCAA storm to pass.
"It's loomed over us almost (two) years now," senior offensive guard Jonathan Cooper said. "I guess we're very relieved it's over with. Now we can just play football. We can truly play football."
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