Bunting’s Hourglass Ran Out
by Eric Gilmore

By all accords, John Bunting is a nice guy and a well-respected football coach. Midway through his sixth year, Bunting’s charisma couldn’t save his job as he was asked to resign by athletic director Dick Baddour on Sunday night.

UNC is downright awful. The Tar Heels rank last in the nation in turnover margin, 93rd in total offense and 113th in scoring defense. Following an embarrassing 23-0 blowout at Virginia, which was the sixth loss in as many tries against Division I-A opponents, Baddour had no choice. 

“I am disappointed and of course I don't agree with the decision, but I know I must accept it,” Bunting said in a press release on the team’s Web site. “My love for this great university has not and never will waver. I am proud of the many great things we have accomplished over the past six years. We simply have not won enough games this year.”

Bunting’s 25-42 record in six seasons is substandard to the program’s lofty expectations.  Succeeding Carl Torbush in 2001, Bunting orchestrated a turnaround that included blowout wins over Florida State and Clemson, punctuating the seven-win season with a 16-10 Peach Bowl win over Auburn.

He went 5-19 over the next two years, which included bad losses to Miami (OH) and Duke. Bunting provided a ray of hope by going to his second bowl game, finishing 6-6 in 2004 despite playing eight top-25 programs. With an unproven quarterback, Bunting finished a disappointing 5-6 last season. Again with a novice quarterback, one experienced receiver and a new offensive coordinator, Bunting’s team hasn’t found a rhythm in 2006.

Frankly, it’s too bad. Not everyone can win. Too often in the win-at-all-costs mentality of collegiate coaching, case studies like Bunting’s become the norm. He was a tireless worker who made upright ethical decisions, but was unable to meet expectations. With coaches like Bunting who everyone was rooting for especially at his alma mater, it makes the decision especially tough.

“Changing coaches is never a pleasant experience, but it is even more difficult when you consider the character and integrity of someone like John Bunting,” Baddour said in a statement released by the school.

He spoke at booster banquets, coddling influential alumni through luncheons and one-on-one meetings. Bleeding Carolina blue, Bunting’s passion for his alma mater emitted as he generously shook hands with fans.

Unlike his conference neighbors to his east, he was in favor of significantly upgrading the schedule by replacing cupcakes with high profile out-of-conference opponents like  Texas and Notre Dame. He was unfortunate to play programs like Utah, Louisville and Rutgers that experienced unprecedented success.  

Bunting held his players accountable, suspending players for off-campus brawls, underage alcohol possession and even excessive speeding tickets. The disciplinary actions created a void of upperclassmen, losing much of the 2002 and 2003 recruiting classes. Bunting believed in redshirting players, preferring to let the player develop mentally and physically.

Bunting was dominating the state in recruiting, inking 16 three-star recruits in the 2006 class including blue-chip linebacker Jarrell Miller. In all, Bunting’s 28 recruits ranked 25th nationally according to Bunting was poised to have a better 2007 class, having already received commitments from four four-star recruits while in the running for several more.

With the recent momentum he established in recruiting, Bunting was leading the Tar Heels towards success. Unfortunately for him, the losses shortened his coaching clock before he could get there.

Eric Gilmore