Mack Brown took the UNC football program to the top with 21 wins in his last two seasons before exchanging a talent-depleted roster for some Texas tradition in 1997. Then came Carl Torbush, who for several reasons outside of his control and a couple inside his control couldn't keep the Tar Heels where Brown left them. Now it's John Bunting's job to return them to the top 10.
Will it happen? No one knows. One thing is certain, however, and it's that Bunting will need some time. UNC has a schedule for the 2001 season that isn't exactly conducive to piling up a bunch of wins.
That first game, in the Hispanic College Fund Football Classic? It's against Oklahoma, the defending national champion, and it's on the road. Also on the nonconference slate are a grudge match with Brown's Longhorns and a game against East Carolina, which might have been the best team in the state last year.
Oh, and one more thing: The Bowdens are still in the ACC.
Thus, it's safe to say that 11-1 or 10-2 is out of the question. But if the Tar Heels can win the games they're supposed to and perform well in the toss-ups, 6-6 or 7-5 is within reach.
A 7-5 record would likely mean a bowl game, which would be a nice way for Bunting to cap his first year and build for the future.
Although he has a better situation than Bunting, Doherty is also looking a couple of years down the road. Sure, he's a believer in "the Carolina way" to play basketball that Smith preached, but he wants to put his own spin on it.
Doherty wants athletic players who can, as he often says, "pass, handle and shoot." It was obvious to anyone who watched UNC this season that many of the team's players didn't fit this mold.
Still, the Tar Heels beat Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium, won 18 games in a row at one point, earned the No. 1 ranking and grabbed a share of the ACC title.
Not too bad, even considering the
5-5 finish and early NCAA Tournament exit.
But this year's team returned all of its important players except one. Next year's team could return as few as two of its top seven.
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Haywood and sharpshooter Max Owens are graduating. Guard Joseph Forte is likely headed for the NBA, and power forward Julius Peppers is a first-round prospect for the NFL Draft. Ronald Curry will have to survive the 12-game (13 if there's a bowl) football schedule -- no small feat for a quarterback these days -- before he can even consider coming back to play point guard.
Rebuilding is never a word mentioned on the same page as UNC basketball, but it might be necessary if the Tar Heels have to replace all five of those guys.
So even though Doherty coached for the first time at UNC this year, the real transition will come next season. He still won't have the kind of players he wants at every position, and he also won't have the experience on his roster that he had this season.
But one thing is certain. As Doherty showed this season, he won't back down from any challenge. Even if the Tar Heels struggle next year, they're in good hands.
Bunting hasn't yet proven himself at UNC, but the fact that he wanted to schedule Oklahoma for his first game says volumes. It means that he and Doherty are from the same school of thought: no nonsense and no fear.
It also means that when Haywood comes back to Chapel Hill for his
10-year reunion, the football and men's basketball coaches might be the same guys as when he left.
The Sports Editor can be reached at email@example.com.