Well that was exciting.
In the wake of Everett Withers' Wednesday comments during a radio interview regarding the differences between graduation rates at UNC and NC State, Wolfpack coach Tom O'Brien stopped sniffing long enough to deliver a heated response following Thursday's practice.
“As far as the flagship, here was a guy (Withers) who was on a football staff that ends up in Indianapolis," O'Brien said, “You have an agent on staff, you are paying players & you have academic fraud. That's a triple play as far as the NCAA is concerned."
O’Brien also had a response to the academic questions that Withers raised on Wednesday by saying, “At our school, number one, all classes have a syllabus. Our guys go to school, they are not given grades, and they graduate.”
Whatever O'Brien has been saying on the recruiting trail to prospects came out today in a public setting. Either that or he spent the better part of last night coming up with a clever turn of phrase in the "triple play" line. Of course everyone knows John Blake was not an agent nor did UNC actually pay any players. Why should the facts get in the way when you have cruise missiles locked in? Anyway, it should be noted that all Withers did was reference something(graduation rates) that is factually true and referring to UNC as the flagship university which wouldn't be a first. Obviously these remarks were too much for O'Brien to pass on without breaking out very specific shots at UNC's situation which, by the way, has very little to do with current members of Tar Heel football team.
So to review, Withers says something that is true but at a time where the credibility of academics for the UNC football program is, shall we say, a bit strained. O'Brien took exception to this and decided to issue a very detailed response hitting all of the Pack Pride talking points which such precision you would swear he has an account there. Of course no one seems to want to talk about the fact O'Brien has been poking the bear for years now with his "best program in the state" comment or claiming following last year's game his players never lose control like UNC players do. O'Brien has never been afraid to take a shot at UNC yet when Withers does it(again on something factual) the Wolfpack coach gets bent out of shape. That is what we call being able to dish it out but not take it.
Anyway, following O'Brien's little outburst, all eyes turned to Withers and his media availability prior to UNC's afternoon practice. The anticipation was Withers would continue the back and forth. That is, until it was revealed UNC Chancellor Holden Thorp had called NCSU Chancellor Randy Woodson to apologize followed by Withers downplaying his comments as not being aimed at NC State. It also turns out that Woodson had also apologized for his coach's remarks and the whole ordeal ended with a whimper.
While Withers says his remarks were out of pride for UNC and not a shot at NCSU, I am not totally convinced. He could have talked about UNC's graduation rates and being the flagship university in the state without referencing the Wolfpack which he did. In fact it would not surprise me to learn Withers had baited O'Brien into his response for the purpose of raising the intensity level for the Heels. While NCSU is now pretty pissed about the whole thing which could work against UNC, O'Brien did provide more in the way of bulletin board material, assuming that really matters.
Regardless how the exchange between the coaches ended it is clear this rivalry is back to the point it was when Chuck Amato and John Bunting roamed the respective sidelines. That, my friends, is a good thing.