UNC wrapup: Tar Heels are now Butch's team
CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina’s season began with the “New Blue.” It ended with a new coach.
And in between, there were plenty of the same old struggles that plagued the Tar Heels during the past several seasons and wound up costing coach John Bunting his job.
Now, the Butch Davis era in Chapel Hill begins Monday, two days after North Carolina wrapped up a 3-9 season with a 45-44 win over rival Duke.
The Tar Heels closed the campaign with consecutive victories against two big rivals after also beating North Carolina State in just the kinds of inspired efforts that — had they been put forth earlier in the season — might have kept Bunting employed at his alma mater.
“If we played with this type of energy and consistency all year long, we’d probably be heading to a bowl game,” quarterback Joe Dailey said. “But it’s a great springboard for next season.”
Hopes were high back in the preseason when Dailey, a Nebraska transfer, was named the starter and the seniors chose the “New Blue” motto to reflect a renewed commitment to reversing North Carolina’s woeful fortunes.
Instead, it was more of the same old results for the mistake-prone Tar Heels, who opened with a loss to Rutgers that in hindsight looked better as the season developed, then were dominated by Virginia Tech before beating Furman for their only victory until late November.
By that point, it had become evident that the Tar Heels would have trouble taking care of the ball, keeping other teams out of the end zone and generating yards. North Carolina finished the season ranked 101st nationally in total offense, 104th in scoring defense and tied for 111th in turnover margin, and no ACC team threw more interceptions than the Tar Heels’ 18.
Bunting was fired Oct. 22, midway through a seven-game losing streak that dropped the Tar Heels’ record to 1-9 before their two season-ending victories over the Wolfpack and Blue Devils.
The former North Carolina linebacker and 1971 co-captain coached the team’s last five games while school officials searched for his replacement, creating an awkward final few weeks once Davis was named Bunting’s successor.
In his final post-game address to reporters, Bunting seemed bitter about his treatment during the 72-second diatribe in which he took no questions and announced his exit by saying, “Goodbye. It’s been swell. I’m gone.
“It’s been really trying over these last five weeks, and nobody’s ever done that, I don’t think, before, so my hat is off to all of (the assistants) and I will do whatever I can to help them in the future,” Bunting said.
Now Bunting’s beloved North Carolina program will be in Davis’ hands. The former Miami and Cleveland Browns coach will be introduced at a news conference Monday, signaling the start of a new era in Chapel Hill.
But before then, the Tar Heels repeated their desire to send Bunting out with a victory, then came through on their promise.
“We wanted to win for him,” Dailey said. “He deserved it more than anyone else.”