CARY There were some light barbs, some witty banter, some one-liners and, at the end, there were a lot of uneaten pieces of cake, which sat alone on a long table where area college football coaches had gathered on Thursday at the annual Bill Dooley Chapter Pigskin Preview.
It seemed nobody – not Duke’s David Cutcliffe, or N.C. State’s Dave Doerenor North Carolina’s Larry Fedora – wanted to be known as a dessert-eater. So they skipped the sweets and, mostly, skipped saying anything too inflammatory, too.
This was the 12th annual Pigskin Preview, an event that brings coaches together – East Carolina’s Ruffin McNeill and N.C. Central’s Jerry Mack were there, too – to preview the season and, at times, answer off-the-wall questions from Don Shea, the regular emcee.
One of Shea’s first offerings Thursday was to ask coaches what was on their bucket list.
“I really haven’t gone there yet,” the 59-year-old Cutcliffe said, “because I’m only just beginning my career of coaching.”
There were laughs then, and more when Fedora sarcastically thanked Shea for mentioning Duke’s two-game winning streak against the Tar Heels. The Blue Devils, the reigning champions of the ACC’s Coastal Division, are seeking their first three-game winning streak against UNC since the late 1980s.
“Thanks for bringing that up,” Fedora said. “I appreciate that.”
The Pigskin Preview, like the ACC media days in Greensboro that preceded it, is another sign the season is near – it won’t be long now until practice starts, and games begin. This was the first Pigskin Kickoff in a while, too, that didn’t include a new face among the area ACC schools.
Doeren, entering his second year at N.C. State, was a newcomer to the event last season. The year before that, in 2012, Fedora was entering his first season in Chapel Hill.
Now they’re all practically regulars, though not necessarily regular pals.
“We interact whenever we bump into each other, but I’m not hanging out with Dave or David in the offseason,” Fedora said after the event ended. “We don’t go out to dinner. But obviously we’re at a lot of different things together, and know both of them and know they’re dang good football coaches.”
They could all relate to one another, too, balancing anticipation of the season ahead with apprehension about all the work that’s to come during the next month. At N.C. State, Doeren is still in the midst of trying to change the culture. The Wolfpack didn’t win a conference game last season but he expressed hope Thursday.
“(I) feel great about some of the returners that we do have,” Doeren said, “... and (about) knowing who our starting quarterback is going into fall camp, which is different than where we were a year ago.”
Jacoby Brissett, a transfer from Florida, will enter the preseason as the Wolfpack’s starting quarterback. That position, meanwhile, is up for grabs at UNC – at least according to what Fedora has said publicly.
Shea tried a familiar tactic in attempt to squeeze some information out of Fedora. If the Tar Heels had to play a game tomorrow, who’d start at quarterback – Marquise Williams, the fourth-year junior, or redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky?
“First of all, we don’t play tomorrow, so you won’t get an answer to that one,” Fedora said.
After the chuckles died down, he said, speaking, “We’ve got two guys we feel very good about.”
Along the way, Shea asked another one of his deeper questions. He asked the coaches if they had a secret talent. When it came time for Fedora to answer, he said, “I have no talents, actually. That’s my secret.”
And more laughs.
In Raleigh and in Chapel Hill, Doeren and Fedora are both trying to elevate their programs. Cutcliffe and McNeill, meanwhile, will try to maintain their team’s success following 10-win seasons.
Cutcliffe and McNeill had another thing in common, too, in addition to their team’s win totals last season: Both of their teams beat UNC and N.C. State in 2013.
Asked after the preview ended to describe how much those victories against the Tar Heels and Wolfpack improved his program’s reputation – and its ability to recruit successfully in North Carolina – McNeill took a diplomatic approach.
“They’re great programs,” said McNeill, whose team will be playing in its first season in the American Athletic Conference. “Larry’s a great football coach. I’ve known Larry for a long time, and Dave’s an outstanding football coach. Those guys are getting there, and it’s early …
“I felt fortunate to win (those games), and pleased by the (wins), but at the same time I have the utmost respect for both programs.”
Fedora accidentally broke his microphone Thursday – moments after being reminded of his losing streak against the Blue Devils. Cutcliffe happened to be talking when Fedora’s mic crashed down onto the table.
“Look, he’s throwing microphones around now,” Cutcliffe said. “I made him mad.”