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The worst coach in UNC football history

With maybe the best ever Tar Heel football coach currently in charge, let’s learn about probably the worst.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at North Carolina Pool Photo

While there are some other strong candidates, there’s a good argument to be made that Mack Brown is the best coach in North Carolina Tar Heels football history. He has the most wins of anyone in school history. Of everyone that’s coached at least 100 games, he has the second best winning percentage, trailing only Dick Crum. Of the seven 10-win seasons in school history, he was at the helm of three of them. Crum is the only other person with more than one.

As we’re thankful to have someone at the helm who has done all that, for a bit of fun, let’s look at the other end of the spectrum.

The worst winning percentage of any coach in UNC history is William P. Graves. However considering that it was 1891 and he only coached two games, it’s unfair to call him the worst. Next on the worst winning percentage list, however, is another story.

Gene McEver was a legendary college football player for Tennessee from 1928-31. He was twice named an All-American. A 2008 Sports Illustrated article which tried to name possible Heisman Trophy winners from before the award existed listed him as the 1929 favorite. Robert Neyland, of whom the Volunteers’ stadium is named after, said McEver was the best player he ever coached.

At the end of his playing career, he went into coaching, becoming an assistant at Davidson. After four seasons there, he ascended to the head coaching job in 1936. McEver led them to a 5-4 record in their first season, including wins over NC State and Wake Forest.

Things turned south the following year when they went 2-8 and averaged less than a touchdown per game with just 5.6 points. Other than a 5-5 year in 1940, all of McEver’s Davidson teams finished below .500. In his last two years there, they went a combined 2-11-1. His final record as the Wildcats’ head coach was 21-47-4.

Despite all that, he was hired as UNC coach ahead of the 1944 season.

If you’re wondering, “maybe they hired him because he owned Carolina while at Davidson, if you can’t beat him, join him,” I can say that’s not it. His teams played UNC every year from ‘36 to ‘42. Carolina won every meeting. The average final score was 29.7-3.8. Four of the games were shutouts.

I assume the reason he was hired is this: it was during World War II and he was around. UNC’s previous two coaches, Jim Tatum and Tom Young, had spent just a year each in charge. While it was hard to find why Young left, Tatum had left to serve in the military. Bigger stuff than football was happening. That’s probably a large reason why a coach who had struggled at Davidson ended up moving upwards.

McEver’s tenure started with a 7-0 loss to a Wake Forest team they had beaten the previous year. Next up was a 46-0 loss to Army. While the margin wasn’t ideal, it was an Army team that won the national title. The following week, they again failed to score, falling 28-0 to Georgia Tech.

McEver and the Tar Heels finally got on the board and in the win column in their fourth game with a 20-14 win. That was against the Cherry Point Marines.

Over the rest of the season, UNC scored just 13 points total in five games. The only non-loss came in 0-0 tie against William & Mary. They finished the season with a 1-7-1 record.

That would be the only season McEver had in Chapel Hill. He finished his tenure with a .167 winning percentage. The worst of anyone other than Graves’ two games.

This dip wouldn’t last too long as his replacement, Carl Snavely would bring in Charlie Justice and turn the program around. McEver never got another head job, but did spend three years as an assistant at Virginia Tech. Despite one bowl appearance in that time, the team went 9-15-3 in the three years he was there. That’s about in line with the rest of his coaching career.