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Published: Oct 22, 2006 09:51 PM
Modified: Oct 22, 2006 10:16 PM

Bunting out at end of UNC season
CHAPEL HILL - John Bunting � beloved as a former player at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill but beleaguered because he couldn't win as its head football coach � will be relieved of his duties at the end of the season, the school announced Sunday night.

"Changing coaches is never a pleasant experience," athletics director Dick Baddour said in a statement. "But it's even more difficult when you consider the character and integrity of someone like John Bunting." Bunting is 25-42 at Carolina.

It was not a surprise move despite the fact that he has three years � for a total of $858,600 � left on his contract. In six seasons in Chapel Hill, he managed only one winning record � 8-5 in his first season, using players left by his predecessor Carl Torbush. Perhaps most telling: Carolina lost a dozen games by 30 points or more during the Bunting era.

The decision means this will be the third time Baddour will hire a head football coach. Baddour's last two football hires have failed to live up to Mack Brown's success in the 1990s. Torbush was 17-18 in three seasons.

It was not immediately known whether there was a negotiated buyout of Bunting's deal, or the fate of his assistants. Five have contracts for one or two more seasons. Carolina plans to hold a press conference at 11 a.m. Monday.

Bunting, 56, was a star linebacker for UNC coach Bill Dooley on the ACC championship team in 1971, a tenacious linebacker with Dick Vermeil's NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles in 1980, a savvy defensive assistant coach under Marty Schottenheimer in Kansas City in the mid-1990s, and a talented co-defensive coordinator for the Super-Bowl winning Rams.

But he never found the same success on the field when he returned to Chapel Hill � the only place he would have left the pros to coach, he said when he was hired.

In 2001, his team lost its first three games before its defense led the Heels to the Peach Bowl, and a victory.

After seasons of 2-10 and 3-9, respectively, Bunting was in danger of losing his job again in 2004 � until a game-winning 42-yard Connor Barth field goal upset No. 4 Miami and turned the season around. UNC finished 6-6 after a Tire Bowl loss that season, but it was enough to earn Bunting a contract extension through 2009 � the one the school must now pay off.

In 2005, the Tar Heels finished 5-6 despite one of the toughest schedules in the nation. This season, Carolina expected it all to come together � but instead, it fell apart.

The Tar Heels are 1-6, and have yet to beat a Division I-A team.

Bunting never got consistent quarterback play out of freshman Cam Sexton or transfer Joe Dailey. The offense, under new offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti, never lived up to its high-scoring billing.

But the Tar Heels' biggest downfall has been one of Bunting's most consistent problems -- his defense. Carolina is now allowing 33.8 points per game.

Another problem is that several key players from the much-heralded 2001 recruiting class were either dismissed or transferred.

Bunting's legacy will be his losses, but also his love for his university.

When he played in the pros, he decorated his locker at Veterans Stadium in Carolina blue, and he wore nothing but light blue T-shirts underneath his shoulder pads during practice and games with the Eagles.

When he returned to Chapel Hill, he instituted the pre-game "Old Well Walk" during which the team walked through campus to the stadium, as fans lined their path.

"This has always been his dream job," his wife, Dawn Bunting, said the day John was hired. "It's the only one he's ever talked about."

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