The Daily Tar Heel

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Sunday June 4th

UNC Hires Bunting to Replace Torbush

Baddour, North Carolina's director of athletics, joined Chancellor James Moeser in introducing John Bunting as the school's new football coach Monday.

The announcement at a 5 p.m. press conference in the Bowles Room signified a homecoming for Bunting, who was a standout linebacker at UNC from 1969-71.

"I owe an awful lot to North Carolina," Bunting said. "It's been 30 years since I've been here. I am really glad to be back, and I want to give something back."

It was that attitude that helped Bunting, linebackers coach for the New Orleans Saints, land the job. Bunting actively pursued the UNC position, which became available when Carl Torbush was fired Nov. 20.

Bunting called Baddour shortly after the job became available to let him know he was interested. Baddour was trying to hire Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer at the time, but he got in touch with Bunting after Beamer turned him down on Nov. 28.

Baddour did so after receiving calls on Bunting's behalf from Dick Vermeil, whom Bunting served under as an assistant with the St. Louis Rams, and Ron Jaworski, an ESPN analyst who played with Bunting on the Philadelphia Eagles.

When Baddour flew down to New Orleans to interview Bunting, he liked what he heard and set up another interview that Moeser would attend.

Baddour and Moeser were impressed with Bunting's passion for UNC and its football program.

"This is a man who truly loves this University," Moeser said. "This came through, and I can tell you that it was a strong factor in our decision. This is not just a job for John Bunting."

Instead, it's the life Bunting has always wanted. He wants to be the man to turn around a program -- his alma mater's program -- that has gone 16-18 in the past three years. He wants to fill up Kenan Stadium, a task that has gone unfulfilled during that span.

"I took a look through the window from the head coach's suite up there (in the Kenan Football Center), and my blood ran hot," Bunting said. "I got goosebumps. I feel that it is a privilege to run out and go play on that field."

Even though he might be willing to do it, Bunting won't coach at UNC for free. His contract is a five-year deal worth $160,000 per year, Baddour said. Torbush made $152,000 per season.

Bunting will have separate contracts with Nike and Learfield Communications in addition to his base salary. He will also benefit from two incentive clauses that will award him a month's salary if he fulfills them, Baddour said. One of the clauses kicks in if the Tar Heels qualify for a bowl game, and the other -- yet to be finalized -- will be based on how many of his players graduate.

Bunting is somewhat removed from the college game, having worked the last eight years as an assistant coach in the NFL, but he has been successful in his work in the pros.

The Saints have the fifth-ranked defense in the NFL this season and lead the NFC West Division. Bunting was the co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach in St. Louis from 1997-99 and earned a Super Bowl ring with the Rams last season.

"This ring is very, very important to me," Bunting said, pointing to the huge rock on his right ring finger. "It represents a lot of hard work and a lot of good people sharing in one common goal to get something done that's important.

"But I can tell you this," Bunting continued, pulling a smaller ring out of his coat pocket. "This ring right here is just as important to me: my 1971 ACC championship ring that I won with a bunch of hard-working guys who had one common goal. And that's what we're going to look to get done here."

Bunting was successful in doing that at his only other stop in college football: Division-III Glassboro State. He helped turn the Profs into a small-college power during his five-year stint as head coach, from 1987-92. He guided them to a 38-14-2 record and led them to the NCAA playoffs in his final two seasons.

Bunting said that effort showed him that he knows how to recruit, something that is always a concern when a pro coach takes a job in college football. He said he will waste no time in contacting the 12 players who have committed to play for UNC next season.

"We're going to work tonight, we're going to work tomorrow, and we're going to work the next day," Bunting said. "We're going to work. And then we're going to do some more work."

It is unknown which coaches Bunting will be working with when he gets down to business. Baddour has given him the autonomy to bring in his own assistants, but Bunting said he will talk to all of the holdovers from Torbush's staff before deciding anything.

Even if he keeps all of the coaches who are still around -- which would be a very unusual scenario -- he will need to find a new offensive coordinator. Mike O'Cain, who filled that role for the Tar Heels this season, is the new quarterbacks coach at Clemson.

Bunting, who has a defensive background, emphasized a desire to run the football.

"I don't want to put it all on the quarterback's shoulders," Bunting said. "I'm not going to bring in a four-wide receiver run-and-shoot offense because that's going to make the defense soft."

Bunting's goal is to have balance and flexibility on both sides of the ball. The Tar Heels will resemble their new head coach, who has shown versatility of his own in moving from college football to the NFL and back, if they can pull it off.

And nothing would make Bunting happier.

"This is my dream job, and I want to do the very best that I possibly can," he said. "I will work toward that end."

The Sports Editor can be reached at sports@unc.edu.

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