Was John Bunting Swift-boated?

January18/ 2000

… No, John was not “swift-boated” and there is no pun intended in using “dawn” of a new era. … Ron Zook, ECU’s John Thompson and John Bunting were all “fired” prior to their season endings and coached under a lame duck cloud. … Is this a new trend in college athletics? … if so, why and what creates these mid-season rush to judgements? …. You are not going to like the answer. (SPECIAL BUTCH COLUMN ON TUESDAY … BLS LIKES HIM A LOT!)


   I visited with John Bunting in his office (yes, the one with Sallie Brown’s fish tank.) several months after his triumphant return to Carolina in 2001.  There was a laptop computer on the credenza behind his desk.  It was not turned on.  I joked about the bottle of Wite-Out sitting beside the laptop screen.  John joked “I guess I need to learn how to turn that darn thing on”.

Bobby Bowden lamented last week that his son Jeff was done in by “those people on E-bay”.  Apparently Jeff was bought and sold via on-line auction.  What Bobby was telling us is that he, like John, hasn’t bothered to get on board the Internet.  The mind reels at what Joe Paterno might say on the subject.

That John Bunting, Bobby Bowden, Ron Zook and Chuck Amato don’t know much about “the Internet” is akin to Joan of Arc not realizing that “a bonfire has many uses beyond marshmallows”.

How many of you saw the picture three weeks ago of the American troops in Iraq holding a sign lampooning John Kerry’s “joke” about our soldiers being dumb?  You know the one with all the misspelled words, etc.  Where did you see that picture?  WashPost? … NYT? … N&O? … CBS? … NBC? … CNN?  Nope on all these “mainstream media” (“old media”) sources.  None of “them” ever ran that picture.  You ONLY saw that picture “on the Internet”.  

   I received at least a dozen e-mails with it myself.  Since each of you are “Internet-savvy” or you would not be reading this, you likely saw it too.  Why “the mainstream media” did not choose to run it is a question you should ask them.  It is 2006.  There are info-streams your daddy never dreamed of.

Remember “the Swift boat controversy” also, coincidentally involving John Kerry.  Where did that first germinate and thrive?  If the Viet Nam veterans (the Swifties) that started that campaign had simply sent their information to “the mainstream media” do you think it would have ever seen it’s way to print or screen?  Once planted, it grew way beyond Kerry’s ability to contain it.  Likewise, once the Internet “death dance” began, John Bunting was toast.

OK, point made.  Before you think this is an “about politics” column, let’s get back to why John Bunting’s coaching future at UNC was “resolved” in mid October rather than in late November.

I have had a daily newspaper delivered to my residence essentially my entire life.  We will not renew our subscription to the N&O when it expires.  That decision has nothing to do with the “non-partisan” decision-makers on South McDowell Street.    Reading “a newspaper” is passé in our household.   I have not watched “the 6 o’clock news” on any “major network” for so long I can’t recall if Huntley or Brinkley said “good night” first … or was it “John Boy”?

So without “reading a paper” or “watching the news” I can still kick butt on Jeopardy and contribute incredibly insightful tidbits to most any conversation I choose to enter and/or am drawn into.  It’s 2006 and I use “the Internet”.

On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being “very”, the influence of “fan sites” and “message boards” as sports media was about a 3 or 4 “way back in 2001” … just six years ago.  Today, arguably, their influence is an 8 or 9.

There is one sportswriter for the N&O who apparently never interviews coaches or players and maybe never attends games.  His articles are simply one and two day old regurgitations of “message board” prattle.  In other words, his “sources” are fuzzy-cheeked dorm rats and 45 y/o Little League right fielders.  …… yes John Bunting, you probably should have familiarized yourself with “that darn computer”.  

“Dean Smith was hung in effigy” back in the early 60s.  Duh! When’s the last time you saw that antiquated expression of fan dissatisfaction?  Today it’s firecoach______.com.  The stalking and cyber execution of Ron Zook at Florida was the first time that cute little techno-phrase entered mainstream sports reporting.  Three years later and mad high schools fans are using it.

Here’s a sobering thought 24 hours before Butch Davis is introduced as Carolina’s new football coach.

Firebutchdavis.com is already taken by some enterprising Internet fan.

    If you pick any five of my 900+ columns at random, you’d get “a feeling” that I have a rather low regard for “the Internet loonies”.  I do indeed.  I also don’t much care for spiders, cockroaches, Islamofascists, and hot air blowers in public restrooms.  I, however, acknowledge that all of the above will outlive this not-so-humble columnist.

 Interactive sports fan forums are here to stay.  The slander, libel and anonymous character assassinations that comprise the bulk content of these sites just reflects the general loss of civility within our culture in general.  “Very poor taste” has yet to be outlawed.

In “the old days” (4-5 years ago and earlier) there were legitimate sportswriters and broadcasters who might have harbored personal prejudices for/against certain coaches, players, and schools.  Those individuals however had editors and producers who monitored their comments to minimize their overtness.  Loonies prone to terminal conspiratorialitis could “read between the lines” of course and knew so-and-so was “out to get us”.  Mickey McCarthy’s Hall of Infamy status in WuffWorld being a prime example.  Any writer/broadcaster worth his media pass is loathed by the “beady-eyed” faction of every fan base.

So then along comes the Internet and every goggle-eyed wacko worth his slobbering slander can stand on his cyber soapbox and say absolutely anything he pleases and somebody will likely read it … and one or two of similar ilk will believe it and repeat it … and one or two more will pick up their droppings … and Voila!  It becomes “fact” that Chuck Amato has mafia connections or Mike Kryzewski is a practicing Satanist.  The odds on any “fact” on a board being factual is about the same as a garden snail winning The Kentucky Derby.

John Bunting, and every other high profile public figure, should learn about “the Internet” for, like the sword of Damocles, it hovers above their head 24/7.

John Bunting was ultimately “done in” by too many losses.  Like Jim Hickey in the mid 60s, there was no noticeable scoreboard  improvement over several years.  As I said two months ago, his lack of “peer management” experience doomed him six years ago to needing every good bounce and favorable ref call in order to overcome his “management” shortcomings.  Much the same can be said for Chuck Amato plus, in his case, losing too often to the wrong opponents.  But why was Bunting fired in mid-season? … and why can we expect to see more such strategy with coach terminations in future years?

Coaches have been fired for losing too often from time immemorial.  CEOs need to produce profits … coaches need to win games.  Building character and having an engaging personality may be secondary factors … but “winning games” is the ultimate measure.  But why did Florida and UNC fire Zook and Bunting as they did?  What was different from firing Jim Hickey in 1966 or countless others.  The Internet is the difference.

The Internet creates a false notion of scope and immediacy.  Think of piranha in an Amazon stream.  Drop a struggling coach (or a crippled cow) in the stream and it is reduced to blood and bones within minutes.  The favorite term on “the boards” is “those morons should do something RIGHT NOW!”

John Bunting was “on the hot seat” going into this season.  The first quarter of Rutgers showed this team’s shortcomings athletically, fundamentally and from a coaching standpoint.  Before Rutgers had established itself as a top team, “the Clemson game” hit like a kick in the teeth and John was “99% a goner”.    John Bunting’s career died that day in Death Valley and Dickie’s infamous post-game “Absolutely not!” was the lethal injection.  “The boards” were a raging inferno calling Bunting every degrading term imaginable, even some normally reserved just for Dickie, Amato and Coach K.  Of course many of the angriest lynch mob members have now petitioned the Pope to make “blue-bleeding John” a Saint.  That’s another issue altogether. (NOTE: We predicted, of course,  the 5-week evolution of John Bunting from “stoopid coach” to “Blue-bleeding classy guy”.)

   Ron Zook was fired mid-season because Florida AD Kevin Foley saw “the cyber lynch mob” and envisioned them breaking his door down any second.  Likewise Dickie and Meezie feared the raging loonies.  Hiding behind keyboards using fictitious names, a bunch of mice can roar like a pride of very angry lions.

The theory that the lame duck timing permitted negotiations to begin with Urban Meyer and Butch is bunk.  Back channel negotiations go on all the time in these cases.

As soon as the firings are announced, the mood of the mob changed.  Swords were not hammered into plowshares but merely set in the corner to be grabbed the next time “those morons should do something RIGHT NOW.”

As we point out regularly … “a board” tends to be characterized by 40-50 anonymous loonies with way too much time on their hands who lash out at every authority figure in their orbit for their woeful plight in life … it doesn’t matter if those “idiots” in control are Athletic Directors, City Managers, politicians, bosses, teachers, traffic cops, or ex-wives’ divorce attorneys. Now several 1,000 “lurkers” may read these profane rants and interpret their rage as in any way legitimate.  It’s the theory of one raging nitwit tells two raging nitwits tell four raging nitwits and 5,000 otherwise quite rational  “lurkers” passing through think there is a bandwagon loading and they better jump on.

The raging board inferno in early October attracted passerbys who were not even experienced “lurkers”.  I know because I heard from many of them.  “BobLee, I was reading some comments on such-such Carolina fan site and it sounds like “those people” are mad enough to “do something”. 

My standard reply was “Yes, the loonies are quite angry even by their normal standards but all they can really do is get normal fans agitated, which they have successfully done.”  Loonie lynch mobs are like “the gay community”.  Incapable of reproduction, they must rely upon recruiting outsiders to give them the necessary numbers to have influence.  ALL CAP RAGING is their weapon.

John Bunting and Ron Zook both failed to meet arbitrary performance standards for their positions.  A “change” was doubtlessly called for.  It was done WHEN IT WAS DONE to appease the loonie lynch mobs.  “Loonie lynch mobs” exist within every fan base and they all react in quite predictable fashion.  The Internet is “free range”.   That is not likely to change.  You will see more and more “coaches on hot seats” getting mid-season terminations simply to appease the angry mobs “on the boards”. “Anything to shut up those crazies” is a seminar taught at AD Conventions.

I don’t mean to alarm anyone but I bet Ol’ Roy does not “surf the net” either.  That’s OK for now with the occasional Gonzaga hiccup, but let him hit a 3-game losing streak and the piranha will be swimming.

Not to worry.  I plan on being around a while yet to remind you who, what and why … but like The Orkin Man … I can’t get rid of all of’em.  Man’s use of technology to amplify his rant and rage in an uncivil fashion will outlive yours truly.

I have this image of BobLee, like Davy Crockett at The Alamo, out of bullets but swinging my musket like an axe handle as the bodies pile up like cordwood but the sumbitches keep acomin’ over the wall …… cue the overture, fade to black so you never see the hero fall …

… but you know how it ends. 


  Who was in command at The Alamo?


   Am I the only one who thinks “leftover Thanksgiving” for weekend noshing is “as good as eating gets”?  Microwaves were invented to zap stuffing and green bean casserole for two minutes.

   Back in mid-August, Rick Steinbacher tried to arrange a time to have me do “an Internet seminar” for John Bunting and his staff.  In retrospect, would it have mattered?  Probably not as much as an experienced QB and some stud LBs. 

   LOWF looked darn good vs Maryland.  LOWF being the first NC-based school in the ACC Championship game … a fella coulda won big bucks betting that one, huh?  How many “stars” was Riley Skinner coming out of high school … just curious.

      Want to e-mail BobLee? ….   [email protected]

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