Future in limbo for UNC

Eight days.

That’s how long North Carolina has to name an interim head coach, get a plan together and develop a new identity before the Tar Heels line up on the field for the first time as a team during fall camp.

For the second straight summer, North Carolina’s football program has absolutely no idea which direction it’s headed. Just two days after Butch Davis sat at a table at ACC media days and talked to reporters about the support he had from the university, he was fired.

And fans were concerned about the October date with the NCAA.

They should be more concerned about their leadership at the university, or lack thereof.

Because of the timing of this decision -- a move that could have and should have been made months ago, if not the very minute the NCAA announced UNC was charged with nine major violations -- North Carolina will enter the 2011 season in very much the same way it entered 2010: in limbo. There is little choice now but to hire an interim head coach for the entire season -- an unstable, temporary fix that will only put the team in a similar situation next season.

Last Friday, North Carolina announced the promotion of offensive line coach Sam Pittman to associate head coach. Pittman was expected to continue his role with the offensive line, but does that promotion now make him a frontrunner for the interim job? School spokesman Kevin Best said not necessarily, and that the future would be addressed at an 11 a.m. news conference on Thursday.

It feels like UNC has held more news conferences than it played games last season.

Ask almost any player on that roster about last season and he will tell you how it motivated them, how they rallied together for an impressive bowl season, considering the circumstances. The coaching staff, including Davis, deserved a lot of credit for managing the team through what could have been a season-destroying NCAA investigation that derailed the careers of 13 players. About two weeks before their season opener against LSU, nobody within the program knew who would be eligible to play and who wouldn’t.

Now, less than two weeks before the start of summer camp, nobody within the program knows which players will accept this latest roadblock and who won’t.

The good news?

UNC starts the season off with three home games against teams it should beat: James Madison, Rutgers and Virginia. Up front, the Tar Heels are one of the most talented teams in the ACC. Davis was expecting the best offensive line during his tenure in Chapel Hill. The defense, which was hit hardest last season by the NCAA investigation, will reload, especially where all four starters return on the line.

There is enough talent on this team to contend for the Coastal Division title, especially during a season in which three of the opponents in the division will also have a first-year starting quarterback.

The question is whether there is still enough motivation on this roster to overcome another summer of discontent.