“Hi Coach Dooley, this is John …..”

John Bunting
August26/ 2010

BobLee will provide an analysis of most recent events around noon on Friday. True Blues should hunker down and avoid the company of rival fans for “a while”.  Don’t try to alibi or excusify.  This is all quite “not good”.  The degree of “not good” is yet to be determined.  …. BL

August 26:  As another Autumn of color & pageantry queues up, we reflect on a “might have been” that has fascinated me for a decade.  As with all might have beens its pointless, but fun, to speculate.  At least I think its fun to speculate – and THAT is what matters here.

Ride the WayBack Machine to December 2000 – to the Skipper Bowles Hire’em & Fire’em Room in Dean’s Dome.  UNC Director of Athletics & Designated Blamee Richard “Dickie” Baddour introduces John Bunting as Carolina’s new Head Football Coach.

A handful of Carolina Junction Boys recalled John from his playing days of the early 70s.  Most UNC fans were still pissed over Affair de’Beamer.  Those managing to get over that were hoping Dickie would hire the “Butch Davis of 2000”.  There WAS  “a Butch”  in 2000. There is always  “a Butch”.  There will ALWAYS BE  “a Butch”.  Loonytic Fringers LIVE for quick fix coaches and blue-chippers labeled “The Answer” aka Mike Paulus …. burp.

The burly ex-linebacker was introduced to a dazed media.  His career as a player/coach was printed out and Dick Vermeil’s phone rang for background.

By his opening remarks it was obvious that John Bunting was in a very different situation from any he had experienced.  Cracking NFL heads in front of 60,000 in Veterans Stadium is one thing.  Coherently conveying both enthusiasm and a sense of confident competence as the Head Football Coach of a major university is another all together.

Immediately following his introductory, John made a telephone call.  That call a decade ago woulda coulda shaped the John Bunting Era of Carolina Football leading us to where we are today.

The call went to James Webster at East Carolina.  James & John were linebacker teammates on the front end of Bill Dooley’s successful Era of Tar Heel Football thru the 70s.  James & John had seen each other once since graduation and their familiarity was based on shared experiences 30 years prior.  John offered James the position of Asst Head Coach.  James said “YES” as he sped to Chapel Hill to sign a contract before he woke up from this dream.

From the hiring of Webster, John Bunting proceeded to cobble together his first staff.  That cobbling, uncobbling and recobbling never ended for six years.  While it would be argued that Bunting’s lack of recruiting expertise was his Achilles Heel, I differ in opinion.

that cobbling, uncobbling, recobbling never ended.

Where John’s Football CEO inexperience showed in the most disastrous fashion was the hiring and management of his staff.  Managing one’s peers is a challenge in any business.  For a 50 y/o rookie Head Coach it was a terminal cancer.  From John Tenuta in Year One to Frank Cignetti in Year Six, the door of the Kenan FB Center was forever revolving in turmoil with personalities all across the spectrum all dancing to different drummers.

A number of prominent Tar Heel footballers really wanted John Bunting to succeed.  It was a terrific Prodigal Son storyline that mighta made it – but for

Brothers Bill Dooley (left) and Vince Dooley pose with the Gator Bowl championship trophy before their teams played Dec. 31, 1971. Vince Dooley coached Georgia and Bill Dooley coached North Carolina. Georgia won the game 7-3. Photos should be credited to the Gator Bowl Association.
Brothers Bill Dooley (left) and Vince Dooley pose with the Gator Bowl championship trophy before their teams played Dec. 31, 1971. Vince Dooley coached Georgia and Bill Dooley coached North Carolina. Georgia won the game 7-3.
Photos should be credited to the Gator Bowl Association.

that first phone call.  What might have been …. if that call had been to Wilmington …. had been to Bill Dooley:

RRRRING ….. “Hello. This is Bill” …..

Coach, this is John Bunting.” …..

“Well hello John and congratulations.” ……

“Thank you. …..  Coach, I need you.” ……

“Huh?  Need this old trenchfigfhter?  For what?” ……

“Coach, I’ve got the opportunity of a lifetime.  I don’t want to blow it.” …..

“Huh?” …..

“Coach, I don’t know squat about assembling a staff.  How to recruit assistants – what traits and skills to look for – how to weed out the bull-shi**ers – what sort of personalities to bring together – and a 100 other tricks of building a staff.  Coach, I need you in Chapel Hill for the next month at my side as I build my coaching team.  I’ve cleared it with Baddour.  I can pay you $20,000 and all expenses.  I need you as my Jiminy Cricket if I have a chance for success as Head Football Coach at Carolina.” ……

“John, you don’t need an old warhorse like me.” ……

“Coach, you are THE one ol’ warhorse I absolutely need with me this next month.  There are 1,000,000 things I have to learn but without a solid staff I can trust, I will be forever rearranging deck chairs on The Titanic.  I can’t afford learning curve mistakes.  Give me a fighting chance to succeed here, Coach …. Don’t let me screw up picking my staff.” ……

“John, I’ll be there day after tomorrow.  I’ll stay as long as you need me and leave when you don’t need me.  Let’s figure three weeks then re-evaluate …..

“Thank you Coach” ……

That conversation never took place.  Would it have mattered in the long run?  Impossible to say.  So many of the issues that would define John Bunting’s tenure were staff-related from recruiting decisions to play-calling to the everyday sense of order in the UNC Football Office.

No one ever doubted John Bunting’s high intensity “Want To!” but the practical “How To” could never catch up.  Ultimately the dream became a bitter nightmare for all concerned.

Is UNC Football better off the way it has turned out?  Who’s to say?  Would a decade of 8-9 Ws seasons under Bunting The Prodigal be better than the same under Butch The Merc?   Who’s to say?  The former did not happen.   The latter has not happened yet.

Success has happened amid Kenan’s fabled pines under Bill Dooley in the 70s – Dick Crum in the early 80s – Mack Brown in the 90s.  On that we could all agree if  ‘twere possible that we could all agree on anything.  :>)


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