It looks like I am a little late to the party. Caulton Tudor fired the first salvo in the “Fire John Bunting” war this morning. I purposely have not read it because I was in the middle of writing my own manifesto against the beleagured Tar Heel coach. I had originally planned to wait until UNC was mathematically eliminated from bowl contention to write this post but there has been a perceptible shift in the fan base to the point that I think it is better to put this out sooner rather than later. Based on the massive number of hits this site has seen just in the past two days as well as comments and emails all calling for Bunting and to a less extent Dick Baddour to be held accountable I think the time has come to examine Bunting’s tenure. Here are a few provisios. The purpose of this post is to ask questions, present what I consider to be relevant data, and ultimately set forth the premise that Bunting has tried and failed to elevate the UNC football program. I will also offer my opinion on some other relavant issues. I am seeking, more or less, to facilitate a discussion amongst Tar Heel fans and to address the current state of the program. My stance is if John Bunting is to be damned then the facts, the historical context, and ultimatelty the fan base, particularly those pouring money into the program will damn him not the opinion of one lonely blogger. So in terms of addressing this issue I ask for anyone to comment and offer their opinion as long as they keep it civil and keep the profanity to a minimum. If you think I am full of it and being disloyal to UNC then that is your opinion but all I ask anyone to do is examine the facts and be intellectually honest. I said at the start of the season that I am for a winning program regardless of the coach. If Bunting gets it done that is fine. If is has to be someone else, that is fine too. However, there comes a time when the hard questions need to be asked about a coach and that is what I intend to do here. Also feel if you want to comment directly to me instead of in full view of the public you can email me here. For this post only I will lift my “fair game” stance on incoming emails.
Also this post is long so consider yourself warned.
I think the best way to get an perspective on the performance of a coach at a particular school it is necessary to evaluate that coach against his predecessors. The presumption in this is that past coaches are a good barometer for how good or bad a program can be. In my opinion it serves as a fair measurement while bearing in mind that each coach is different and brings different skills to the table. Here is the list of UNC coaches beginning Dick Crum until present:
Dick Crum, 1978-1987, 72-41-4 overall, 38-24-1 in the ACC
Mack Brown, 1988-1997, 69-46-1, 40-35-1
Carl Torbush, 1998-2000, 17-18, 10-14
John Bunting, 2001-Present, 25-39, 16-26
There are some discernible patterns found just by looking at the records. The first is a fairly noticeable improvement in the program by the third season with every coach except John Bunting. Dick Crum went 5-6 his first season, improved to 8-3-1, and then finished his third season 11-1 and won an ACC title. Mack Brown had one of the worst starts of any UNC coach going 2-20 but in the third year he posted a 6-4-1 mark. The tie that season? Against Georgia Tech who finished 11-0-1 and claimed a share of the national title. Obviously a watershed game for UNC and a harbinger of good things to come. Even Carl Torbush how went 7-5 in his first year, found trouble in his second at 3-8, but came back to a 6-5 mark before being dismissed by the university. As for Bunting he had a successful 8-5 first season only to dip down to 3-8 and then 2-10 by his third. Why is the third year important? By the third season the coach owns the program. A third year coach has had two years to establish his system and even bring in two classes of his own players. For the most part he still might be playing with most of the cards from someone else’s hand but in the third year it is all on the coach. For Crum, Brown, and even Torbush the third year was great, good, and average. For Bunting it was a absymal and perhaps that should have been an indicator that something was amiss.
Another telling pattern is evaluating how a coach finished up. Mack Brown is disqualified from this discussion since he left for greener pastures on his own. However the University’s handling of Dick Crum and Carl Torbush should establish a standard of what is considered a situation deemed critical enough to force the head coach out. In Crum’s case he won an ACC title and was cruising along until 1984 which began a string of three of four seasons with only five wins. The only exception was 1986 in which the Tar Heels went 7-4-1. Following the 1987 season and a 5-6 record Crum resigned with four years left on his contract. According to the New York Times this was the reasoning behind Crum’s ouster:
A statement was released jointly by Crum, Chancellor Christopher Fordham and Athletic Director John Swofford. It said that a study was conducted to determine the status of the football program under Crum. ”This study found that the program no longer enjoyed the full support of all elements of the university community,” they said. (Source: NYT)
So here we have a case of a coach who won big early on but over the course of four seasons posted a few average wins totals. The response from the administration at UNC was patience to a point and then a mutual parting of ways simply because the support for Crum had evaporated. Also consider Carl Torbush, who went 7-5, 3-8, and then 6-5. Despite 2 out of 3 winning seasons and only three years on the job Torbush was fired outright and Bunting was hired.
The importance of these two situations cannot be overstated when compared to Bunting. In Crum’s case he was a proven winner whose team then slid from glory to mediocrity. The response? Crum resigns under pressure. Contrast that to Bunting who has never had success at UNC outside of the first season and in the past four years has posted a worse record than Crum did in his last four seasons and what is the response from the AD? Faith in Bunting despite the obvious signs that the fan base no longer supports him. In Carl Torbush’s case it was apparent he was not up to the job though his record through three seasons was hardly disastarous. UNC’s response was swift and they did not even afford him the opportunity to graduate a single class. Contrast that to Bunting who wins a total of five games in years two and three, follows that up with six and five wins. UNC’s response? Patience for Bunting because they believe he still capable of getting the job done even though they cut Torbush off with a better three year mark than Bunting had at the same point.
So the question I have to ask is: What has Bunting done that permits him to receive a level of patience and tolerance which was never shown to the winningest coach in UNC history in the late 1980s or a head coach with two winning seasons out of his three on the job? What has changed in the way UNC handles its football coaches which grants Bunting seemingly full immunity while in the past UNC would have never tolerated the extended period of mediocrity Bunting had posted in his six years on the job?
The bottom line is that in almost 30 years of UNC football coaches there have been two cases were coaches were dismissed or forced to resign and in both cases it was done after only a short period of mediocrity and done so in response to a disgruntled fan base. The question that needs to be asked of Dick Baddour is why Bunting is being subjected to a completely different standard in this regard?
It should be noted that win-loss records only tell part of the story, though in this case I think that story is fairly damning on those facts alone. There is another part which lies beneath the win-loss record and that is a question of how the teams performed in those games, even if they lost. If a team goes 3-8 but four of those losses are by a touchdown or less, it can be argued that team is on the cusp of breaking through. Conversely speaking if a team is winning games but against a weak schedule and giving up a lot of points it may serve as an indication that despite a winning record the team might not be as good as people think(see Notre Dame last season and this one for an example.)
For our purposes here it is necessary to evaluate how UNC has performed as a team regardless of the final result. UNC teams that perform well and are competitive even when losing tend to tell you a great deal about the state of the program, the quality of the talent, and the coaching in general. If UNC teams are routinely getting blown out by superior opponents and show a serious lack of effort on the field it could be a sign that the coaching staff is failing to properly motivate or prepare the team for a game. I also happen to believe that surrendering huge numbers of points on defense against inferior opponents or failing to score points on offense against the same type of teams is also indicative of problems with the coaches. It is my opinion that this is the case at UNC during the past six seasons. And here are numbers which seem to support this premise. One set of statistics which is particularly interesting is how UNC teams have performed in the course of a loss.
Under Dick Crum(41 games)
Average Margin of Defeat : 10.9
Worst Losses: 41-7 Oklahoma, 52-20 Boston College, 31-0 Ga Tech, 28-0 Oklahoma
Most Points Allowed: 52 against Boston College
Worst Margin of Deafeat: 34 against Oklahoma
Average Points Allowed in a Loss: 24.2
Average Points Scored in a Loss: 13.2
Under Mack Brown(46 games)
Average Margin of Defeat : 16.0
Worst Losses: 48-3 NC State, 41-0 Duke, 38-0 Maryland, 40-7 Clemson
Most Points Allowed: 50 against Virginia
Worst Margin of Deafeat: 45 against NC State
Average Points Allowed in a Loss: 28.7
Average Points Scored in a Loss: 12.7
Under Carl Torbush(18 games)
Average Margin of Defeat : 17.6
Worst Losses: 63-14 FSU, 45-7 Maryland, 39-13 FSU, 28-3 Furman
Most Points Allowed: 63 against Florida State
Worst Margin of Deafeat: 49 against Florida State
Average Points Allowed in a Loss: 33.1
Average Points Scored in a Loss: 15.5
Under John Bunting(39 games)
Average Margin of Defeat : 19.6
Worst Losses: 69-14 Louisville, 52-7 Clemson, 59-7 Maryland, 59-21 Maryland
Most Points Allowed: 69 against Louisville
Worst Margin of Deafeat: 55 against Louisville
Average Points Allowed in a Loss: 37.7
Average Points Scored in a Loss: 18.0
The numbers seem to indicate that John Bunting teams have posted some of the worst losses in UNC history. In fact the 69-14 drubbing at Louisville in 2005 is the worst single game loss in UNC history in terms of points allowed. You can also add to that the fact UNC has surrendered 59 points twice and 52 as recently as Saturday all under Bunting. Only the 63-14 loss to FSU under Carol Torbush rates in this range.
On average UNC loses games by 19 points under Bunting versus 17.6 under Torbush, 16.0 under Brown, and 10.9 under Crum. In other words UNC losses under Bunting tend to be bad no matter who they are playing. In fact if you compare Bunting and Brown by tossing out the their worst two seasons the contrasts becomes even more stark. The margin of defeat under Brown sans the first two 1-10 seasons drops to 13.8. If you take the three plus Bunting seasons sans the 3-9 and 2-10 marks in his second and third years the margin of defeat for those 20 losses is actually higher at 19.75 than the 19 other losses which comes in at 19.59. In other words the 20 losses UNC has suffered in Bunting’s better seasons are actually worse by the margin of defeat than the 19 losses in his second and third years. The point is that Bunting is into his sixth season and UNC continues to lose games by almost 20 points a game on average. This is a stark contrast to the Mack Brown era which saw UNC lose by 19 points a game in the first two seasons but in the remaining eight seasons only lost games by an average of 13 points a game.
Another point of interest is the number of games where UNC has given up more than 45 points. According to another UNC blog, Carolina March, Tar Heel football has given up over 45 points on 24 occassions. An astonishing nine of those instances have happened on John Bunting’s watch. In fact there have only been 12 such instances in the past 30 years, two under Brown, one under Torbush, and nine under Bunting.
Another startling statistic is comparing overall points scored versus points allowed. Under Dick Crum UNC was outscored by its opponent over the balance of the season a total to two times out of ten years, his first and his seventh. Under Mack Brown UNC was outscored only twice, those coming in the first two seasons. Under Bunting UNC outscored its opponents in Bunting’s first season and since then have been outscored every single season and appear to be on the way to the same result in 2006. This seems to indicate that UNC cannot stop other teams from scoring or in some cases are incapable of putting points on the board. In fact Bunting teams through the Clemson game surrender an average of 30 points a game while only scoring 23 points per contest. Under Mack Brown the offense was only slightly better at 24 points a game but the defense was an astonishing 11 points a game better than the past six years. In fact the Carl Torbush teams only gave up 24 points a game but were more anemic on the offensive end at 21 points a game. I also am painfully aware that this is also a little simplistic since winning is based on scoring more points than your opponent. That being said it is a huge red flag when you see that UNC gives up 11 more points on average than they did under Brown while maintaining a similar offensive output.
Another point of consideration is what UNC does not tend to acquit itself well even when it wins. A win over William and Mary in 2004 came at the cost of 38 points to a I-AA team. The same thing was true more than a week ago when UNC gave up 42 points and 521 yards of offense to a Furman team which did nothing more than run some unusual offensive looks. In that respect there is very little joy in winning because even wins are marred by such substandard play on the field it feels like a loss. The failure to win big games is also a sticking point with UNC recording only a handful of significant wins in Bunting’s tenure, the Peach Bowl win over Auburn in 2001, the win over Miami in 2004, and wins over NC State in 3 of 5 meetings. Then again, not to offend Wolfpack nation, wins over NC State are not high quality wins at this point.
Numbers do not lie and the question that begs to be asked here is why do UNC teams under John Bunting routinely get the living daylights kicked out of them? What is so wrong in the UNC football program that so many losses end with UNC 20 or more points behind their opponent consistently for six years? Is there any explanation for giving up 30 points a game for over five seasons? Since Bunting is a former linebacker it was expected that defense would be a priority which does not seem to be the case. And while total point averages do not account points scored off turnovers and special teams, the issue is relative because the averages for Brown and Torbush teams are still better on the whole.
There are basically two questions to be asked in regard to the players. The first concerns what caliber of player is Bunting bringing in through recruiting. And the second is an issue of discipline. I actually will tackle the latter question first and commend Bunting for having the guts to suspend players who break the rules and kick lawbreakers off the team. I cannot think of many people who prefer the Miami/FSU model of lawbreaking players who suffer no discipline. Bunting has been very good at kicking players off the team who commit crimes in general and for that he should be held in the highest regard. My only question in regards to this policy is how does Bunting account for such issue in the recruiting process. Are trouble players identified and passed on in recruting or brought in hoping they will behave? Does Bunting have a good system setup to help keep these kids out of trouble as much as possible off the field? I actually do not have the answers to these questions I just toss them out there for speculation. Obviously Bunting is doing the right thing by suspending these players but at the same time he is under obligation to win football games and needs to make sure he is working to avoid these issues in an effort to keep the best players on the team and winning games.
On the question of recruiting, Bunting has done very well. Everyone knew that it would take two years or so for Bunting to get a recruiting apparatus in place. Since that has been established UNC has brought in quality players. According to Scout.com UNC has had Top 25 recruiting classes three of the last five seasons. The two seasons they were outside the top 25 they were ranked 35(2002) and 34(2005) The three yeas in the top 25 included rankings of 13(2003), 18(2004), and 25(2005). Based on this the recruiting has been adequate and in theory the personnel has been present in Chapel Hill since 2003.
The looming question is why hasn’t UNC won more with good recruiting classes? I agree injuries are a factor as is the aforementioed discipline issues but I have to think there comes a point where someone needs to stand up and ask why these top 25 recruiting classes have failed to produced anything more than a 6-6 season? On top of that, it is not like the other two years were horrible since UNC was just outside the top 25. Now I do understand there can be a world of difference in between recruiting predictions and realistic development of any player. That being said I also think that if the coaching staff is halfway decent they should be able to parlay a few top 25 recruiting classes into something more than we have seen in Chapel Hill. If UNC is recruiting the athletes then how is it the defense is so bad, the offense is mostly in effective, and the losses are coming faster than the wins? Has John Bunting and his staff mismanaged and failed to develop talented players or worse yet turned a bevy of good players into perpetual underachievers? I think some account must be given for seemingly bringing in the right personnel and then not producing on the field. Then again there is also something to be said for coaches who seem to get every ounce of effort and talent out of the players they have regardless of ranking. Good coaching can overcome a multitude of player deficiencies and also develop good players from limited talent. In Chapel Hill this kind of coaching seems to be absent.
Perceptions and Expectation
UNC football is a laughingstock. I will grant this may be more opinion than fact but I see no way around the idea. Take for example the comment made by SI’s Peter King a few weeks ago when he called out the UNC coaching staff for being stupid in regards to Willie Parker. On this blog I refuted the premise because I believe it was intellectually dishonest but there is on inescapable fact in that there must be a foundation on which to build such a premise. That foundation, more or less, is that the UNC coaching staff is not very good. Let’s frame it this way: Had Willie Parker lanquished under Mack Brown, not seeing the field, and then left to succeed in the pros would that same statement been made about Brown? Possibly but not with the same vitrol. Given Brown’s success, Willie Parker would have been a footnote and in fact you probably could find apologists left and right to give you 100 reasons why Brown failed to play Parker. With Bunting the underlying perception is he is not a good coach and while there may be some disdain from King towards Bunting from the latter’s NFL days it does not change the fact that the public and media see Bunting as mediocre at best. I also think some of Bunting’s in-game decisions lend to this perception. I know I have questioned Bunting’s decisionmaking countless times, the most fervent being his decision to kick a field goal on 3rd down to tie the game with only second left instead of taking another shot at the end zone to try and win the game against Maryland last season. This season the decision to run the ball into the line on 4th and goal from the 1 only to be stuffed killed almost any chance UNC had of coming back against Rutgers. The play calling is continually cautious and the lack of serious player development as well as the poor play of the defense as cited above all add to the perception that Bunting simply is not a good coach nor does he seem to have good coaches in his employ. Marvin Sanders was allegedly an up and coming coaching star but to this point his defenses have been pourous. The defensive efforts this season have reeked of poor coaching and insufficient player preparation. What other explanation is there for allowing Furman and Rutgers to run over your defense like a bus. Bunting’s comments after those games where he spoke of being “surprised” and that the players were “confused” indicate to me the coaches dropped the ball even if the players are missing tackles like they did on Saturday.
As for the fan base, I honestly believe the fans are entitled to expect as least as much as they have seen out of the program in the past. In this case I will even lower that expectation to say that if UNC can play football like they did in the early to mid-nineties winning seven to nine games and go to a decent bowl(not the Tire Bowl) that would be sufficient. Of course I do not think there is anything wrong with expecting UNC to occasionally break the 10 or 11 win mark either but I can live without that. The point is the fans deserve more that they are getting at present. The apathy in the UNC fan base has crescendoed to the point that the opening home game of the season against a decent opponent shown to the entire east coast garners 12,000 empty seats at Kenan Stadium. This is a tell-tell sign than UNC football simply does not matter to people enough to fill the stadium. The fans have lost confidence and see little hope he turned it around like Bunting keeps promising to do. The point here is the fans are embarassed. The football team is represenative of the university and while I think Clemson is a very good team, it is not like it was the first time UNC had been whipped to a bloody pulp in a game under Bunting. The numbers above are very clear that UNC is an easy mark for an opponent plus they are routinely humiliated. Is it too much to ask that we keep the humiliations to a minimum? Is it too high an expectation to say that we prefer to have only one blowout loss a season instead of multiple ones as we have seen?
John Bunting and the Media
This is actually should be a minor point but I think it bears mentioning. In a previous post I dissected a John Bunting press conference partly as means of criticism and partly for humor. In that press conference it was clear Bunting is not a capable communicator and is also predisposed to say things which are best left unsaid. His persistence in saying Joe Dailey will play even though there is no plan on the board to play Dailey is not only dishonest but downright asinine to think that anyone is buying it. His answers to questions can be convuluted and most of his comments are simplistic observations everyone already knows. His mantra when addressing the concerns about his program have been the same worthless platitudes for six years straight now. Telling fans to “hang in there” and promising that the program will eventually get to the next level over and over and over without any real results has become trite and worn out. Bunting is the public face on the program and the manner in which he addresses the media adds to the perception he is inadequate for the job and casts a very confusing picture. And while I do not expect Bunting to be Steve Spurrier behind the microphone it would be nice if his comments and press conference banter with the media at least inspire the casual fan as well as those of us who pay close attention to such things a tinge of confidence that he actually knows what he is doing with the team.
This is the case against John Bunting as this fan sees it. I think numbers are a very powerful argument. It is easy to sidestep fan complaints and the perceptions of others. However the win loss record and the performance of the defense and the team in general as well as the blowout nature of many of UNC’s losses should be an immediate warning sign that the program is on thin ice. I do not think fan expectations at UNC are unreasonable. Granted UNC is a basketball school but many fans also think it is permissable to have a good football and basketball program at the same time. Florida does it and so does Texas. There is no reason why UNC should not be in the business of putting a bowl winner on the field in the same year as a Final Four team in basketball as was the case in 1996-97. It also should be noted that Bunting does not enjoy the good will NC State’s Chuck Amato has enjoyed for make significant headway with the program off the field. There is no body of accomplishment Bunting apologists can point at to say, “Hey the wins have not been there but at least the facilities are better and the stands are full.” I just do not think this is the case and that leads to two questions:
1. Is UNC football better off than it was six years ago?
2. What has John Bunting done to make UNC football better?
If you cannot answer the first question with solid evidence both in terms of stats and public response then the time has come to consider a change. If the list of items in response to the second question is short then you have a reached a point where change must be debated.
The facts before us indicate that UNC has never shown the level of patience and tolerance in the face of such mediocrity with past coaches. The numbers indicate that UNC is more likely to get blown out on the football field while giving up a humiliating number of points more so than any time in it’s football history. It is clear that despite some good rated recruiting classes, the off the field issues as well as a failure to develop players has hindered any progress. The perception of UNC football by the general public is that the program is an also ran and perpetually destined for the middle to lower tier of the ACC. The feelings of the fan base are ones of apathy and the empty seats at Kenan Stadium are a huge indicator that people would rather spend their Saturdays and the money on other things than attending UNC football games. Bunting has failed as a coach on the field and his efforts to build the program despite his passion and loyalty to the school have been below average at best.
The fans have been patient. The fans have heard the promises every preseason and seen them broken by season’s end. The program is not moving forward and in light of the Clemson game it is clear that the program is in exactly the same place as it was when Carl Torbush was shown the door, in fact it may be worse. Yes there is a season to be finished but barring an astounding turn around on UNC’s part there is no hope left in the hearts of Tar Heel fans that this season will be anything other than a complete disaster. One more year is simply not going to fly. One more year only delays the inevitable. Bunting says “everything is not broken” but will all due respect I am not sure Bunting can fix it.
So that is the case against John Bunting. What say you Tar Heel Nation? What say you Dick Baddour?
1. I am not advocating a return to Carl Torbush. Any implication I have made that things were better under Torbush is simply to illustrate how bad things are now. I also think that the AD’s handling of Torbush is a total reversal from the way Bunting has been handled. With Torbush it was swift justice but with Bunting we are told to be patient when Torbush had a better record after three years than Bunting did.
2. I am a loyal and long time UNC fan. By own admission I am a basketball fan first but I still take a passionate interest in everything UNC does athletically. So please spare me any diatribes about my support for the football program. I will confess that I am not a donor nor am I able to attend games due to family and financial constraints. I am for winning football at UNC and if Bunting can get it done fine, I just have seen too much to think that is true anymore.
3. Please feel free to correct in wildly inaccurate statements I may have made or tell me I am flat wrong. I tried to research as much as I could and in some cases I relied on my memory which is human in every respect so I may have missed something.
4. I did make one comparison to Chuck Amato simply as a comparison to someone who had a body of accomplisments off the field. I tend to think the best comparison for any coach is within the context of the school he is at since that is the enviroment in which he must do his job. In other words if Dick Crum and Mack Brown can win at UNC then (A) we know it is possible and (B) we should use that as an expectation.
5. As for sources to write this I got a lot of information from Tar Heel Blue and Wikipedia as well as some articles at the New York Times, Tar Heel Daily, News and Observer, and Carolina March. Most of the stats came from past UNC media guides. It also should be noted that I have not read any other articles written within the past two days about Bunting other than factual ones quoting Dick Baddour and John Bunting concerning his future. I have not seen the Tudor column other than that I know it exists and I linked it. All of the above material is original unless quoted or sourced by me in the article. Any resemblance to other works out there at present is conincidental. However, if it appears something is not properly credited on my part please let me know so I can correct it.