So now it begins.
John Bunting, with all the other problems he has, also fell prey to one of the classic football blunders. Never lose big going into a bye week. Losing big before a bye means you are stuck talking about how bad your team was and in this case fielding questions about your future about six days longer than you would if you had a game the next week. If UNC was scheduled to play this week, the subject would shift to talking about the next game and depending what happens in that game there is an opportunity to shift the conversation away from you employment status. No such luck for Bunting. The one factor that makes this whole situation more dire for Bunting is the fact the media has jumped into the mix and in at least one case, that of Caulton Tudor, has called for a change in Chapel Hill. Tudor is a veteran at the News and Observer and though I disagree with him 99 times out of 100, he is still very well respected. So if Tudor has called your number in a column then your survival chances just got really slim simply because Tudor does not need to write mindless drivel for the purpose of enflaming a fan base to stoke his own ego. Tudor's opinion carries a lot of weight and reaches a lot readers. If this was simply a case of the message board fan base and a few bloggers screaming for Bunting's head then the situation would be more manageable for the administration. This does not appear to be the case based on the emails and comments this blog has seen. It is more than just the message board crowd that is clamoring for a change. And If the media has turned it's very big circulation of papers and web site hits against a coach it shapes the public opinion very much out of your favor.
As for Bunting himself, he has responded to the calls for his ouster by giving us most of the same comments we have heard before. We are being told that a good team is coming soon and fans just need to hang in there. On one hand, what else can he really say? It is not like we expect him to cop to six years of bad defense and medicority on the field. So in the absence of actuall results Bunting gives us plenty of platitudes which promise results. The issue is that promises have an expectation of fullfillment. This is the struggle Amato is facing in Raleigh because he made promises of national prominence that briefly appeared but have since vanished. In Bunting's case the promises have not been nearly as grandiose but each and every year we are told this season will be better and even following another humiliating loss Bunting tells us how he knows he has good kids, good coaches, and a fabulous waterboy. Unfortunately what Bunting does not have is wins in the pocket and confidence from the fan base. Of course the question that is being bantered around is whether is it a player problem or a coaching problem. There are some, who admittedly are more knowledgeable than I am about football, saying it is clearly a player problem. We are told the players are inexperienced or lack the talent. There is some indication that they lack the effort and agressiveness. And while this things may be true I also think the UNC defenses are not properly prepared when they hit the field. And while experience is one thing you have to wait out, player intensity and player quality fall on the coaches to recruit and motivate. In my opinion a good coach can compensate for those factors to some extent and also get every ounce of effort and talent from an average player. So while some of this may fall on the players, I find it hard to believe that has been the case for six years and if so then poor recruiting and a failure to develop players is reason enough to consider a change.
Of course the other factor in this situation is a reluctance on the part of the administration to make a move of any sort simply because of the finances involved in buying out Bunting and his staff. Two different N&O articles, here and here, mention that the cost of dismissing Bunting and his entire staff could be upwards to $2 million in buyouts. This may impact the ability to put the kind of money on the table you need to attract a good replacement if Bunting is let go. The other financial consideration is how much money can the athletic department stand to lose if interest in UNC football wanes and the 12,000 empty seats at Kenan Stadium becomes 15 or 16,000? Football and basketball account for huge portions of the UNC athletic department revenue which essentially funds the other non-revenue sports. So the money issues may do more to decide Bunting's future than disgruntled fans and stats on a sheet.
The bottom line is that the bell has been rung and really cannot be un-rung. I have racked my brains to try and remember any situation where a coach was in a similar situation and not only survived another year but went on to be successful. I am not aware of any coach who has reached a point where the fans and media were actively calling for his dismissal, his team was in the midst of a losing season which had been preceded by only one winning season in five years, and whose teams were in the habit of being humiliated on the field but managed to parlay it into a successful, winning future at that school. The problem here is there appears to be no upward trending for the program. There is little evidence that the program is moving forward and blowout losses like the one on Saturday are consistent occurences. There is an expectation of progress which states that after six years you are better off than they day you were hired. In Bunting's case this was the expectation since by firing Carl Torbush it was presumed the program was not where it was supposed to be at. So Bunting was hired to move the program from the undesired position Torbush had it at and move it up to a different level. I think following Saturday's loss we can safely assume that the program is pretty much in the same place as it was when Torbush was dismissed. So it is only logical to assume that if this present state was justification to show Torbush the door after three seasons, then the same justification can be applied to Bunting after six seasons on the job.
So begins the John Bunting Watch.