CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- The losses kept mounting during North
Carolina's miserable season, and so did the frustration. So a few
days after a lackluster performance in a nationally televised game
against Virginia, athletic director Dick Baddour knew he had to
fire coach John Bunting.
"It's in part been an evolution, and in part crystallized over
the weekend," Baddour said Monday.
"I don't want to get into a public evaluation of all of this,"
he said. "Not everything John and I agree on. We are a bit -- or a
lot -- in a numbers game, wins and losses and productivity and
assessment of where things are headed. Suffice it to say, I felt
like we needed a new direction."
Bunting's dismissal, which is effective at the end of the
season, came Sunday night after the former North Carolina
linebacker and team captain was blamed for a season in which the
Tar Heels (1-6, 0-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) have yet to defeat a
Division I-A team.
"Unfortunately, the wins and losses this year don't justify
what we've done," Bunting said.
Bunting's ouster means Baddour is looking for a football coach
for the third time in 10 years. Baddour promoted Carl Torbush to
succeed Mack Brown when Brown left for Texas in 1997, then fired
Torbush in 2000 and hired Bunting.
Baddour didn't discuss many specifics about the upcoming
coaching search out of respect to Bunting, but said the university
will formulate a plan and will seek help from advisers. Then, he
defended his qualification to find the next coach.
"I am at peace with the fact that John Bunting was here to lead
this program for six years," Baddour said. "My job is to lead
this athletic department and that is what I will do in the most
effective manner that I know how."
Baddour also bristled at suggestions that finances played a
role, saying "the motivation here has to do with an assessment of
the strength of the program and direction of the program. It can't
operate in a vacuum, but I don't think it's proper to say finances
drive this decision. ... The willingness to come support this
program and the unity of this program is important, but it is not
always demonstrated in a financial way."
The Tar Heels hit a low point last Thursday night during a 23-0
loss at Virginia, where they have not won since 1981.
He was fired with a record of 25-42 at North Carolina but was
asked to remain as coach for the final five games of the season.
"It was clear to me that we needed to go in a new direction but
absolutely allow John Bunting to finish what he started this
year," Baddour said. "There was no other option. He is the best
person to keep this program together right now, keep this team
together right now, and for us to have a chance to keep the
recruits together. John's focus will be on the next five games. Our
focus will be to support that, and to turn our attention to hiring
a new coach."
Bunting promised to keep his players' focus on the field and
prevent them from worrying about the future.
"We're going to finish as hard as we possibly can," Bunting
said. "That's what I'm about. That's how I was raised. That's what
Carolina taught me."
Offensive lineman Brian Chacos, a sixth-year senior who was a
member of Bunting's first recruiting class in 2001, said he and his
teammates should accept the responsibility for the team's failures.
"If anyone's going to be at fault for what's happening in the
season, it's the players," Chacos said. "The coaches can only
prepare us and take us so far. Obviously, we've been frustrated
this whole season."
The fates of Bunting's assistants, including three who are in
their first year in Chapel Hill, remain unclear. Five are signed
through the 2007 season and two of those are signed through 2008.
Under the terms of their letters of appointment, they would be paid
by the university until they find other jobs.
Bunting will make $286,200 a year through the 2009 season. If he
accepts another job that pays less than that, North Carolina must
compensate him the difference.
But in the wake of being fired from his alma mater, Bunting
wasn't sure where -- or if -- he'll resume his coaching career.
"I'm not sure how much football I'll coach, if any," Bunting
said. "This is the place I wanted to be."