- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 25, 2006

It’s been a few days since college football’s first coaching casualty of the season learned he would no longer have a job at the end of the season. That would be North Carolina’s John Bunting, a man whose six-year tenure in Chapel Hill did little more than lend support to Leo Durocher’s famous quip about nice guys.

Need proof? This first in this series of reactions out of Raleigh asserts a preference for “a class act like coach Bunting, who couldn’t win his way out of a paper bag” over a certain program in south Florida with a nearly 25-year rap sheet.

There is no glee in Carolina, not when a likable guy who maintained his integrity loses his job. Still, he’s 25-42 and hasn’t finished above .500 since 2001. Worse still, the Tar Heels surrendered half a hundred to Clemson and were simply inept on national TV against Virginia last week.

Already, the names are flying about as local members of the fourth estate formulate a list of possible replacements. Navy coach Paul Johnson, college football’s MacGyver, could probably win more than he lost even if a couple guys on each side of the ball were held together by pipe cleaners and Twizzlers. Tulsa’s Steve Kragthorpe, whose Dust Bowl reclamation project has gone nicely, would also be a fine choice.

Former Miami coach Butch Davis, who is interested in the gig, seems to be the flavor of the month. Hiring Davis would help a school desperate to prove it fields a big-time program, while simultaneously showing the mid-1990s were not an anomaly and that it is possible to win frequently without Mack Brown’s players.

It might well be the underlying fear — that three 10-win seasons in five years, including two that netted final top-10 rankings, were simply a tease. But anyone familiar with Chapel Hill knows there is no reason the football team can’t be competitive.

The campus is gorgeous, the school’s academic reputation impressive. Kenan Stadium is nestled among pine trees and is among the most picturesque stadiums in the ACC. The facilities are solid, and money is not a problem in the land of the bell and the well.

Of course, that hasn’t meant success in the nine years since Brown departed for Texas, where his excellent recruiting finally netted a national title last season. First, Carl Torbush failed. Now Bunting has also, and it’s going to cost a lot to clean up the mess.

Bunting has three years left on his contract, and some assistants are owed a year or two as well. A new coach in the ballpark some at Carolina dream of will demand far more cash, and want the freedom to hire top-notch assistants.

Then there’s the question of how to balance throwing money at the football program when Roy Williams is sitting across campus in the Dean Dome. Ole’ Roy won a national title two years ago, could win another this season and has every right to be the highest-paid coach in Chapel Hill. To use one of Williams’ homespun phrases, basketball is Carolina’s bread and butter.

What’s interesting from a conference-wide angle is that Bunting took over in the midst of a conference-wide coaching overhaul, and that many of those men have faced some grumblings of their own in recent years. N.C. State’s Chuck Amato, hired a year earlier, has heard howls from fans unhappy with a 15-15 record APR (that’s After Philip Rivers).

Meanwhile, Virginia’s Al Groh and Maryland’s Ralph Friedgen have both endured some tough times after relatively smooth starts. And Miami’s Larry Coker, who was hired the same year as Bunting, Groh and Friedgen while the Hurricanes were still in the Big East, is taking the heat for The U’s inability to be model citizens or a top-10 team.

It’s wise to have at least one of those facets going for you, as Bunting did. (There will be no similar jeremiads for Coker should he find himself unemployed

at the end of the season.) Bunting insisted his program was thisclose to breaking through. Laughable as it may seem, there’s no reason the right coach can’t prove Bunting correct.

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