ACC Football: UNC's Withers heads into the great unknown
By Luke Decock
Raleigh News & Observer
CHAPEL HILL —Everett Withers said all the right things, including that he still believes North Carolina can have a good football season despite a coaching change a week before the beginning of preseason practice.
There’s a lot depending on Withers now, the defensive coordinator turned interim coach in the wake of Butch Davis’ dismissal. It is not an enviable position.
If he succeeds, some will still see him as tainted by his association with the departed Davis. The odds of success will be slim, although no one would fault someone who takes over as head coach — for the first time in their career — a week before practice starts. Even athletic director Dick Baddour called it a “very, very difficult task.”
It’s a steep challenge for Withers, a Charlotte, N.C., native and veteran coordinator who had yet to even apply for a head-coaching job anywhere before Davis was fired and someone had to fill the void. Whoever ended up taking the job faced a long list of challenges starting with the staff reshuffle and, perhaps most important, finding new leaders in the locker room. That carried North Carolina through last season’s distractions, and the Tar Heels will need similar leadership to make it through this season as well.
“We won’t flinch as a football staff or a football team,” Withers said. “And when I mean we won’t flinch, we’ve been through an awful lot already. Nothing that will come at us now will bother us.”
Still, there’s an opportunity here, because if Withers does pull it off, if he can restore confidence in the way things are done within the North Carolina football program while winning a few games in the process, he will be a legitimate and viable candidate for the permanent job.
That door is open. Not wide, but it’s open. Despite the negatives, there is plenty of talent on the roster and a favorable schedule. Before the coaching change, 10 wins was a realistic possibility. It’s hard to say what the ceiling is now.
No matter what happens this season, Withers deserves credit for stepping up as a candidate for the interim post.
And Withers also becomes just the second black head coach at North Carolina, which even with the interim tag still makes him a trendsetter. Hubert West was the first, coaching track from 1982-83. The ACC had a great run of diversity in basketball in recent years — at one point, seven of the league’s 12 coaches were minorities — but football hasn’t quite kept pace. Until Withers was elevated, Virginia’s Mike London stood alone.
There’s much to like about Withers, not least his obvious passion for the job. He inherits a difficult situation. There are players and fans depending on him to turn it around, and various constituencies all demanding satisfaction.
“We want to make sure our kids are first class, doing things first class, on and off the field,” Withers said. “Making sure they’re doing the things that our faculty want them to do in the classroom. And win games. I’m not nave enough to know that winning games isn’t important in this business.”
Standing here right now, it’s hard to see how this is going to end well, but if it does, Withers will have proven he’s capable of handling just about anything.
(Contact Luke DeCock at firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/LukeDeCock.)
(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.)
The Associated Press