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October 22, 2006

Bunting out at North Carolina

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RALEIGH, N.C. John Bunting is out as North Carolina's football coach but will remain with the Tar Heels through the rest of this season, school officials said Sunday night.

Bunting met with athletic director Dick Baddour earlier in the day and was told he would not return next season. The players were informed of the decision during an evening meeting, and school officials said Bunting and Baddour would discuss the decision further during a news conference on Monday.

Bunting, a former linebacker at North Carolina, was largely blamed for the Tar Heels' miserable season in which they have yet to defeat a Division I-A opponent.

"I am disappointed and of course I don't agree with the decision, but I know I must accept it," Bunting said. "My love for this great university has not and never will waver. I am proud of the many great things we have accomplished over the past six years. We simply have not won enough games this year."

North Carolina (1-6, 0-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) is 0-6 against I-A teams this season and was coming off a 23-0 loss at struggling Virginia. Statistically, the Tar Heels also rank among the worst offenses and defenses in I-A.

Bunting has three years remaining on his contract, which pays $286,200 annually. He is 25-42 in six seasons at North Carolina and has an overall record of 63-56-2 in 11 seasons.

"Changing coaches is never a pleasant experience, but it is even more difficult when you consider the character and integrity of someone like John Bunting," Baddour said in a statement released by the school.

The move came a week after Bunting defended the direction of his program, saying the Tar Heels' future was bright because of intangibles like recruiting, discipline and preserving redshirt seasons for young, promising freshmen.

"This is simply one of those times when it is in the best interest of the football program to make a change," Baddour said.

Former Tar Heels coach Bill Dooley, who recruited Bunting to Chapel Hill in the 1960s, said he was sure his former star linebacker would resurface in coaching.

"John is like a little brother to me. I recruited him, he played for me, was my defensive captain, but I hate he didn't turn this thing around," Dooley said in a phone interview from his home near Wilmington, N.C.

"John's a good football coach. ... I'm sure a bunch of pro coaches will probably come to him and ask him to be a position coach somewhere. He's tough-minded, he's a good person and a good coach, and normally if you're those things, you land on your feet."

Bunting's best season at North Carolina probably was his first. He took over in 2001 and lost his first three games before using an upset of nationally ranked Florida State as the springboard for a turnaround and guided the Tar Heels to a Peach Bowl victory over Auburn.

He followed up losing seasons in 2002 and '03 with a 6-6 finish in 2004, which included a berth in the Tire Bowl. North Carolina went 5-6 last year, and Bunting counted on a few new faces including offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti and former Nebraska quarterback Joe Dailey to jump-start the Tar Heels.

Instead, they lost their first three games, squeaked past Division I-AA Furman, and then lost their fourth straight game last Thursday night at Virginia.

"We've gone through great highs and disappointing lows, but John always remained focused on the next game, the next practice, the next recruit," Baddour said.

For more on North Carolina, visit CarolinaBlue.com.



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