CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Larry Fedora says he's excited to help North Carolina's football program move forward.
Fedora was introduced as the Tar Heels' coach Friday, a few hours after the terms of his seven-year contract were approved during a meeting of the school's board of trustees.
With men's basketball coach Roy Williams among the hundreds attending his introductory news conference, Fedora proclaimed it "the first day of a new era of UNC football."
"You'd better buckle your seat belts and you better hold on," Fedora said, "because it's going to be a wild ride."
The former Southern Mississippi coach received a deal worth more than $1.7 million annually. It includes several bonuses, including for winning a division or conference championship, reaching a BCS game and high graduation rates.
Fedora, who said he planned to meet with his new team after the news conference, will receive annual retention bonuses ranging from $100,000 to $350,000 beginning in 2015, as well as a one-time payment of $400,000 in the first year and an annual expense allowance of $30,000.
"I think we got the absolute perfect fit for us at this time," athletic director Bubba Cunningham told trustees at the meeting.
The former offensive coordinator at Florida and Oklahoma State went 33-19 in four seasons at Southern Miss. Fedora led the 22nd-ranked Golden Eagles to the Conference USA championship and extended two impressive streaks — 10 straight bowl appearances and 18 consecutive winning seasons — in his final year in Hattiesburg, Miss.
The 49-year-old native of College Station, Texas, is perhaps best known for his aggressive coaching style and wide-open, no-huddle offenses. He became a hot commodity this offseason after he led Southern Miss to an 11-2 record and a dominating upset of then-No. 7 Houston in the C-USA championship game.
Fedora said he met Williams earlier Friday morning and said he welcomes the challenge of coaching football at a school with such a highly visible basketball program.
"I understand the prominence of our basketball program, and I embrace it," Fedora said. "UNC's history of success on the basketball court is a huge part of the UNC brand, and again, that can only enhance our football success."
The Golden Eagles this season rolled up a school-record 6,123 total yards under Fedora, whose Twitter page included the Southern Miss' eagle logo wearing a fedora — a play on his last name.
"We have moved across this country," Fedora said, listing the stops during his coaching career. "We're looking for a home, and we're ready to stop moving, I can assure you."
North Carolina offered him a longer contract because it has put itself on two years of probation in the aftermath of an NCAA investigation into the program. That probe into improper benefits and academic misconduct led to the firing of Butch Davis days before training camp after the NCAA alleged nine violations, including that a former assistant coach had worked to steer players to sign with an NFL agent.
Hiring Fedora inches the school closer to resolution of that probe, which also led former athletic director Dick Baddour to step aside so that his successor — Cunningham — could hire the next football coach. The school is still waiting to hear from the NCAA whether its self-imposed penalties — including 16 vacated wins and scholarship reductions — are enough punishment. The school appeared before the infractions committee in October.
"This is an important milestone in this whole story and we're very happy we're getting a positive response to it and that we've reached this point," chancellor Holden Thorp said after the trustees meeting. "It's a great day for Carolina."
Defensive coordinator Everett Withers served as interim coach this season and will coach the Tar Heels (7-5) against Missouri in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 26. Withers interviewed for the permanent job last week, one of four people Cunningham said he interviewed for the job.
Cunningham has said Withers will coach the Tar Heels in the bowl, but his future beyond that is uncertain. Whether he remains on the staff is a football question Fedora will have to address, Chancellor Holden Thorp said. Fedora said he hasn't made any decisions on his staff.
The Tar Heels' bowl game comes two days after Fedora will coach the Golden Eagles for the last time, against Nevada in the Hawaii Bowl.
Fedora took over the Southern Miss program in 2008 from Jeff Bower and never won fewer than seven games. His signature victory at the school was his most recent — that 49-28 rout of the Case Keenum-led Cougars that gave the Golden Eagles their first league title since 2003.
Thorp said Fedora first arrived here Wednesday. After meeting with Thorp at the chancellor's home, Fedora was confined to a car during his tour of campus to keep a low profile and avoid media scrutiny. Fedora returned to Southern Miss on Thursday to meet with players and coaches there, calling that meeting "probably the hardest thing I've ever done."