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July 20, 2008

Fedora having a ball at Southern Miss

» MORE C-USA MEDIA DAY: Notebook: UCF's O'Leary not backing down

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – It's all about "ball" for new Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora.

"Ball" this, and "ball" that. It's Fedora short-talk for "football."

And he is loving life right now because he's talking a lot of "ball."

Fedora is a fan of grilling and action movies.

FAMILY: Wife and four kids (three daughters aged 6, 10 and 13, and a son who is 16).

FAVORITE FOOD: Steak. I grill anything, but steak is my favorite. I even grill vegetables.

FAVORITE MOVIE: I like action. Anything with action. I love "D-Day" and "Gladiator."

RECENT VACATIONS: I took the family to Atlantis in the Bahamas. And my wife and I spent some time in Santa Monica, Calif.

FAVORITE MUSIC: I like alternative stuff, like the Talking Heads and B-52s. I also like the Outfield. Classic rock also is in my library.
"This is it," says Fedora, who was the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State before landing the Golden Eagles' post in December. "This is what I had been building toward since the seventh grade. I knew back then I wanted to be involved with football in some way. And I knew I wasn't good enough to play in the NFL, so I wanted to be a coach."

There he was Sunday, at his first Conference USA media days, in a black Southern Miss shirt and fresh-pressed khakis. Fedora rambles on about the spread-'em-out, pass, pass, pass offense he has brought to Hattiesburg.

He reaches into a bag and pulls out a book he's reading: "One Yard Short," by former NFL coach Les Steckel.

"I just got this when I saw Les recently," Fedora says. "I also just read 'The Energy Bus.' Great book. I wish I had more time to read. When I do read, I finish a book in one or two days."

The one book Fedora always finds time to snuggle up with is the "Art of War," a Sixth Century B.C. work by Sun Tzu. Fedora reads it every offseason to prepare for the coming season. The book is composed of 13 chapters, each devoted to an aspect of warfare. Many feel it is the consummate book on military strategies and tactics.

"Why do I read it every year?" Fedora says. "Because I learn something new every time. I don't mean to say football is as bad as war, but many of the strategies are the same."

Fedora, who turns 46 in September, takes over a Southern Miss program that, for all intents and purposes, isn't broken. Credit former coach Jeff Bower, who resigned (many say under pressure) at the end of last season despite leading the Golden Eagles to 14 consecutive winning seasons, bowls in 10 of the past 11 seasons and five league or division titles.

But many around the program felt Southern Miss had grown stale under Bower, who finished with a 119-82-1 record and suffered just two losing seasons—1991 and 1993. Ironically, the job Bower had before taking over Southern Miss in 1990 was as offensive coordinator at Oklahoma State.

Make no mistake about it: If Southern Miss has success, it'll be because of Fedora's offense. As an assistant at Air Force in 1997-98 under Fisher DeBerry, Fedora visited Tulane. That's where he fell in love with the spread attack that now is becoming more the norm in college football.

"From what I could tell, no one was doing what (coach) Tommy Bowden and (offensive coordinator) Rich Rodriguez were doing," says Fedora, who also has been an assistant at Baylor, Middle Tennessee State and Florida. "They were going no-huddle all the time and doing different things with tempo. I thought it was great and I knew that was what I was going to run when I became a coordinator.

In touch with Tebow
Florida fans should be forever grateful to Larry Fedora. Why? He played a huge role in helping the school land Tim Tebow.

As a Gators assistant under then-coach Ron Zook, Fedora recruited the Jacksonville area, where he developed a close relationship with Tebow, who became the first sophomore to win the Heisman last fall. Each has a strong Christian faith.

"I found Christ when I was at a FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) event in seventh grade," Fedora says. "It's a big part of my life."

Fedora became a trusted source and a guiding hand in Tebow's recruiting process even after he left Florida for Oklahoma State. Tebow and Fedora continued to have long conversations on the phone, and during that time, Fedora still pushed Tebow to be a Gator.

"We even talked right up until the day he picked Florida," Fedora says. "Tim is a great kid who talks the talk and walks the walk."
"I always have been intrigued by the hurry-up offense. You'd see teams do it near the end of games and move the ball with ease. I wondered why you couldn't do it all the time."

Fedora got his first chance to run an offense for Andy McCollum at Middle Tennessee in 1999. For the next three seasons, the Blue Raiders' attack soared, setting 43 school records and averaging 424 yards and 31 points.

Fedora then landed a job working for Ron Zook at Florida. Fedora was running game coordinator in 2002, perimeter game coordinator in '03 and offensive coordinator in '04. Fedora also was in charge of running backs and receivers while in Gainesville.

"Larry is a bright mind," Zook says. "He's one of the best I have worked with. And he saw what it was like coaching at a school with big expectations at Florida. He'll have some of that at Southern Miss."

Fedora enjoyed great success during a three-year stint as offensive coordinator under Mike Gundy at Oklahoma State. The Cowboys finished in the top 10 in the nation in rushing each season and also had a top-20 offense. Fedora's 2006 offense may have been his best, as the Cowboys were one of just two teams in the nation to average more than 200 yards rushing and passing.

Fedora will be challenged to make things fly in his first season at Southern Miss, as the offense lacks a seasoned quarterback. Redshirt freshman Austin Davis and sophomore Martevious Young will battle in camp for the job. But the spread attack should clear ample room for talented junior tailback Damion Fletcher. He ran for 1,586 yards and 15 TDs in 2007 and needs 622 yards to become the school's career rushing leader.

"This is exciting," says Fedora, who had feelers in the past from New Mexico State, Baylor and Rice. "We can win big here at Southern Miss. I can't wait for the season to start."

» MORE C-USA MEDIA DAY: Notebook: UCF's O'Leary not backing down

Tom Dienhart is a national senior writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dienhart@yahoo-inc.com.

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