When North Carolina offensive coordinator Blake Anderson left to become the coach at Arkansas State, it was clear from the get-go that Tar Heels coach Larry Fedora would look for someone who had a similar offensive philosophy. Enter Seth Littrell, who had spent the last two seasons as the offensive coordinator at Indiana. Don't be fooled by the Hoosiers' 5-7 record in 2013: Indiana put up huge numbers on the offensive side of the ball all season long, averaging 38.4 points per game.
Littrell will be tasked with getting the most out of a UNC team that went 6-6 last year. Quarterback Marquise Williams showed a lot of promise, the skill positions have a lot of upside and if the Tar Heels can find a way to replace the production of tight end Eric Ebron, who left for the NFL Draft, they should be in a good position to make noise in the Coastal division.
SI.com got a chance to have a conversation with Littrell to discuss spring practice, his approach to offense and more.
SI: How's everything been so far, and what's your experience been like with North Carolina?
Seth Littrell: The experience has been great. It's been a smooth transition because of the coaching staff. They're a great bunch of guys and are great coaches. So first and foremost, when you come to work and you're around a group of guys like that it makes it a lot easier. The transition has been easy enough. So far it's going out and practicing and basically getting in the system, making adjustments and tweaks here and there and building around our personnel. Also for me it's learning the terminology and changing my terminology around. But it's been a smooth transition so far. The kids have been great. They've been really receptive. We just have to continue to work hard and get better each and every day. Hopefully we finish strong for the scrimmage on Saturday.
SI: Those Indiana teams you were a part of put up some really big numbers. Coming over to UNC, it's kind of the same thing. They're expecting points, lots of yards and explosive plays. What do you see out of the personnel so far, and does your style seem like it'll seamlessly integrate into that?
SL: Year in and year out each team is a little bit different, and that's from season to season no matter what team you're on. Philosophy-wise, it's very similar to what we do. I think it fits me well because it's a system I've been a part of, and there's so much carryover between both systems and what we've done in the past. The biggest thing is that it's just a different way of calling it, it's terminology. But all that fits really well. The biggest thing is making sure we know who we are, what gives us the best chance to win this year ... and how do we put [our players] in the best situations to be successful. That's what we're looking for. As we've gone through spring we've tried to find different ways to put our guys in good situations, and that's basically what you get into for the fall. What are you going to play with? What are we going to hang our hat on? What are our base concepts going to be? It may change a little bit because you're never going to have the same players from year to year.
SI: Marquise Williams really seemed like he took a jump last season. Has he been progressing the way that he should? Are you seeing things out of him that could indicate he's the starter moving forward? Or is this a situation where you guys aren't going to focus on one quarterback and you may use multiple?
SL: More than anything I want him focusing on doing his job. It's not so much about what anybody else at his position is doing. Every position ought to have some competition. I think that's what makes you better as a football player. As a family you always want to compete with each other. At the same time you are a family and you're going to help each other out along the way. Those two guys [Williams and redshirt freshman Mitch Trubisky] have both competed really well. The biggest thing is they're both growing and both getting better. Marquise is better today than he was in the last football game [of 2013]. Each and every day he gets better at something a little bit different. The more film study he gets into, and the more he gets comfortable with the full offense, he's going to continually get better. It's the same thing with Mitch. Mitch has done a great job this spring, and he had a great scrimmage last scrimmage. Both those guys are progressing very well. Coach [Keith] Heckendorf has done a great job with those guys, but each and every day hopefully you're going to have that competition at every position that will help you as a football player grow and make you a better player and person because of it.
SI: Obviously you didn't get the chance to work with Eric Ebron much, but do you guys see someone who should be able to step in and fill his role? He was so dynamic and was one of those guys you could rely on to just make a play using his athleticism. Are there guys on the team you feel like could take advantage of an opportunity here?
SL: The talent he has is pretty special. Special guys like Ebron, they come around every so often. Obviously I would have loved to have a chance to coach him. He's a special player and a great person. He's been around here quite a bit lately. I've had a chance to sit down and have many talks with him. He's been unbelievable. Again, each and every year you're going to have guys leave and have guys get injured. There's always going to have to be other players that step up around that void making sure there's no drop-off. Whether it's one guy or three. Sometimes it takes more than one to fill those shoes. That's what we as coaches have to evaluate throughout spring. There's a lot of different things that play into that – making sure what our best personnel grouping is, who are our best guys to get on the field, who we need to get the ball to – I think we definitely have guys who are very capable of stepping up and making the type of plays that Ebron made last year. The biggest thing is making sure we're balanced. When you have a guy like that, it's hard not to want to give him the ball a whole lot. As soon as guys like that go on and get to the next level, sometimes it helps you be a little bit more balanced in your offense because you're spreading the ball around to more positions. He's going to be missed obviously. We're going to see him achieving his goals and getting to the next level. I know he's going to compete at a high level there. But we have guys who can step up and make plays.
SI: You've coached some teams -- whether it was those Mike Leach teams at Texas Tech or in your time at Arizona and Indiana -- that have had those stout, dynamic playmakers. Do you see this UNC team as one that can sustain longer drives, or are you hoping to score fast and score often?
SL: You want to be able to sustain drives obviously, but sometimes at the pace you're playing you don't have a ton of long drives. At Indiana, we were one-two-three-four-pop, and it was a touchdown. We were pretty explosive. I think with tempo in this day and age -- if you're running tempo -- a lot of times that's how it happens. The biggest thing you're not wanting to do is have three-and-outs, and you've got to be able to run the football effectively. I definitely think we're capable. We're nowhere close to where we need to be this fall come game time, but we're very capable, and the players are working hard each and every day to make sure we're at the level that we need to be come the first game. The next thing is to be able to eliminate penalties and turnovers. Three-and-outs, penalties and turnovers will kill you in this system.
SI: In the ACC there's this battle for North Carolina. The last couple years nobody's been able to really take ownership of the state. Duke made the ACC title game last year. NC State has gotten its jabs in. UNC has gotten its jabs in. Wake Forest won the conference a few years ago. What have you seen from your guys since you got to Chapel Hill that would give evidence that UNC could lay claim to the "Our State" mantra? SL: To me honestly I don't worry about what any other school thinks or says or does or what they are. That's their school. Obviously everybody wants to lay claim to something. I don't really care about being a state school, I care about being the best team in the conference and winning the conference. In order to do that you have to compete at a high level each and every day. You have to continually work towards that goal. As we get in the season, we expect to win every single game. We're never going to go into a game and hope to win. That's not how you do it. We're going to go out there expecting to win each and every game. If you get on that run, you're a tight knit group and you're a family, it all kind of comes together. You start building momentum through the season, and as it goes you build that confidence up and hopefully at the end of the year you look up and you've had a very successful season.