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Year in Review: UNC football gets to bowl despite staff shakeups

On Dec. 26, the North Carolina football team will take on Missouri in the AdvoCare V100 Independence Bowl, marking the Tar Heels’ fourth-straight postseason appearance.

And after a tumultuous year that included an NCAA investigation into the football program and personnel changes, that’s a feat that many might not have imagined possible when the season started six months ago.

On July 27, head football coach Butch Davis was fired in connection with the ongoing NCAA investigation. Davis’ job was assumed by most to be safe after the NCAA’s notice of allegations didn’t implicate him in the ongoing investigation into improper benefits and academic assistance for players. UNC’s administration and Board of Trustees had previously been steadfast in their support for Davis.

But in July, that idea shifted.

“I made the decision in the fall that I was going to support Butch Davis in his efforts to improve the football program,” Chancellor Holden Thorp said at a July press conference. “But I can no longer overlook the fact that what started as a purely athletic issue has begun to chip away at this University’s integrity.”

A transition period

On July 28, just one day after Davis was fired, Dick Baddour announced his resignation after 14 years as athletic director.

Baddour, who has worked in a variety of roles at UNC since 1967, felt that it was his responsibility to do what was best for UNC.

“As someone who has hired coaches for the past 14 years, I know that it is even more imperative that my successor be able to name the next permanent head coach,” Baddour said. “Therefore, I have asked Chancellor Thorp to begin the search for an athletic director as soon as possible.”

In the following days, former UNC defensive coordinator Everett Withers was selected to be the Tar Heels’ interim head football coach, and a search committee was selected to find the next athletic director.

The 13-member committee, which was chaired by Lowry Caudill, met for nearly seven weeks before Thorp introduced Bubba Cunningham as the new UNC athletic director in October.

“The search committee’s charge was to find the best person in America for our job,” Thorp said. “Bubba Cunningham is that person.

He is the right person to lead Carolina athletics into the next chapter of its history.”

A continuing search

Cunningham hit the ground running on his first task as North Carolina’s athletic director ­— finding UNC’s permanent head football coach.

In late November, the job ad was posted online with a proposed start date of Jan. 1, 2012.

Withers, who interviewed for the position, acknowledged that there’s a chance a different coach could be in place by the time UNC takes the field for its bowl game in Shreveport, La.

In fact, Southern Mississippi coach Larry Fedora could be introduced as UNC’s next head coach as early as today.

“I plan on coaching the bowl game,” Withers said. “But football coaches are day to day.”

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