HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - The last 2 minutes of any close game were always Larry Fedora's favorite.
It struck the future Southern Miss coach at a very young age that those final ticks were filled with freewheeling abandon and footballs thrown about willy-nilly. Even the most conservative coach was forced to throw caution out the window - right along with the I-formation.
Why, he would ask his dad over and over and over, can't you do that for an entire game?
The answer from Herb Fedora was always a little testy: ``You just can't.''
Instead of stopping the debate, Herb Fedora's answer always sent little Larry into deep thought as he swept up hair and did chores around his father's barbershop in Bryan, Texas.
What if you took a fullback out of the backfield and replaced him with a slot receiver? And instead of a tight end, why not split another receiver out wide, almost to the sideline? Better yet, why not split a 260-pound tight end out wide? There seemed to be so many possibilities.
``That's when I remember it piquing my interest,'' Fedora said. ``I guess that's probably the first time I started thinking about no huddle and up-tempo style and those kind of things.''
Over time Fedora discovered that not only was dad wrong - but so were most football coaches. He discovered he had a gift for offense early on in high school.
``Larry would come out of the game and he'd say, 'Hey, coach, play so-and-so will work if you run it.' So he was helping call plays because he could see on the field what he was doing,'' Herb Fedora said. ``He had a very sharp mind.''
Little by little Fedora's been rolling out his version of the spread offense in stops as an offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State, Florida and Oklahoma State. Fans will get their first peek at the 45-year-old's retooling of Southern Miss' conservative offensive attack April 12 when the Golden Eagles hold their spring game.
Once everyone's got things figured out, Texas Tech defensive coordinator Ruffin McNeil expects sparks.
``I think when they see how he flings the football around and mixes the run they're going to be excited,'' McNeil said.
McNeil became Texas Tech's defensive coordinator last October when the Red Raiders' previous coordinator resigned a day after Fedora's Oklahoma State offense produced 49 points and three 100-yard rushers.
The Cowboys averaged 486 yards and 34 points a game last season and were perfectly balanced with 3,161 yards passing and 3,161 rushing.
``They had the ability to throw the football in a variety of ways and distribute the ball to any one of the receivers through the long pass or a screen to the backs,'' Ruffin said. ``He used a lot of receivers, inside guys, outside guys, and also if you are not sound inside he can take advantage of you with the run game.''
It's not that Fedora's system is totally alien. It's built on concepts that are becoming more familiar. Even the New England Patriots ran a version of the spread offense last season. But there are new assignments, new ways of thinking and everything has to be done at a fast pace and with no huddle.
Players got their playbook about a week before spring practice started and they've been puzzling over it since.
``Each time I've gone into a school to put this offense in, it was a conventional huddle, two-back offense every place,'' Fedora said. ``So it's a big change. There'll be some head scratching and some 'I don't understand.' There'll be a learning curve definitely.''
Quarterback Austin Davis, one of four players fighting for the starting job, thinks fans will be impressed.
``It's definitely different, but I would say in a good way,'' Davis said. ``It's been real fun. It's wide open and they keep using the analogy that (the quarterbacks are) like a point guard in a fastbreak offense. So we're trying to work hard with Larry right now, but we're getting there.''
Fedora hopes that excitement spills over into the fan base. He was brought in by Athletic Director Richard Giannini to fill seats. The spring game seems like the perfect place to start and he's set a goal of 30,000 fans, far more than the Golden Eagles drew for any home game last season.
``People are saying, 'You can't do that.' Well, why can't you?'' Fedora asked. ``You've got to ask. You've got to expect it. If we don't expect much out of our players then they won't be much. People will usually meet your expectations if you give them a reason to.''

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