By David Glenn
October 9, 2007
Almost a full year after his dismissal as the head football coach at North Carolina, his alma mater, it's obvious that John Bunting still has some hard feelings about the details of his departure after six seasons on the job.
In the course of a pair of long conversations over the last month, it also became obvious that Bunting who has stayed away from the spotlight and done only a few interviews in the last 12 months is not going to let those feelings overwhelm his famously jovial demeanor.
"I'm a Tar Heel born and bred, and I will always be a Tar Heel," Bunting said. "But there are some things, that obviously I won't get into (in detail), that I still am somewhat unhappy about. But it does no good to dwell on those things, or you'll just wear yourself out.
"Now my wife (Dawn), on the other hand? She might give a different answer than that. (Laughs.) You're probably better served not talking to her about it."
But not Bunting himself?
"I could get into all kinds of things," he said. "But it would take too long. We'd have to spend hours on it, and it still wouldn't be enough to tell that whole story. It's better to move on."
Bunting, speaking from his long-time home in Maine, his native state, laughed often and seemed to enjoy sharing his thoughts on a wide variety of topics. Included were his whereabouts this year, his health, what he misses (and doesn't miss) about his old job, a possible return to coaching, UNC's football schedule, the recent New England Patriots video controversy (he's a former NFL assistant), and the on-going battle of former NFL players (he's one himself) on pension and medical issues.
On his marriage: "Well, me and Dawn, the bride, are still together. (Laughs.) That's probably a miracle, because we've never had so much time together."
On his whereabouts: "It's just terrific. Great day up here in Maine! We wanted to come up and spend the entire summer here. How does 75 degrees and about 40 percent humidity sound as an average temperature every day?"
On his future in North Carolina: "We've done a lot of things (since last October), most of them by plan. We wanted to start building our house, down there on the coast of North Carolina. We'll be coming down there (this fall). North Carolina is still an important part of our future, absolutely."
On his health: "We wanted to reconstruct both knees, which we have done. I've been off a lot. Fortunately for me, I had a great surgeon. As a matter of fact, he's a former Tar Heel football player, Mike Bolognesi. I've been doing quite a bit of rehab up here (in Maine). It's a long, long process.
"I am probably about 80 percent of what I want to be. I'm in many ways pain-free, from what I had in the past. The arthritis had made me very bow-legged. Now I'm straight, I'm probably about a half-inch taller, and I'm even out playing golf. I rehab twice a week for two hours. I have some back issues that are probably a result of those 13 years on that Philadelphia astroturf (as an NFL player) also.
"All in all, I think in a couple more months I'm going to be really happy I did this. In the meantime, it's been quite a bit of work."
On his old job: "There's a lot of things that I miss about coaching in general. There's a lot of things that I miss about being on that job, specific to North Carolina football. I miss my staff. I miss the people in the (UNC football) building. I miss most of the players. (Laughs.) And I certainly appreciate all the support so many people gave me for such a long time there."
On his time at UNC: "I have no regrets about taking that job. I have no regrets about the way that me and my staff worked. We did the right things. We made a lot of really tough decisions. We certainly helped to build that program to where it should be successful in lots of different ways."
On what he would change about his tenure: "At times, our scheduling was too aggressive. You need time to build a program, and you need wins to build a program. And it does take time sometimes, particularly when you lose like we did in 02 and 03.
"It's the new ACC, and it's a new schedule (for the Tar Heels) this year. Finally, my scheduling along with (UNC athletic director) Dick Baddour's help has come around. It should be a much better schedule to handle."
On his future in coaching: "I'm not sure if I'm going to get back into coaching. I know I'll never coach Division I again. There was only one place (UNC) I would do it. It's a hard job. It's a really hard job. There's a lot of things that go on that I don't like in Division I football. Recruiting, in some respects, and some of the coaches."
Care to elaborate on that?: "Not right now. All coaches have some wild stories to tell. Many are worth re-telling. (Laughs.) Some aren't. Sometimes it's best to just move on."
How about a return to the NFL?: "We haven't excluded that as a possibility, in some form or fashion. We'll see. I've been to two NFL camps this year. I went to Miami's camp for about five days, and I went to San Francisco's camp for three days. We'll see about that. We're considering a lot of different possibilities right now."
Are you still following college football?: "I actually was down on the sideline of the Auburn-Kansas State game to begin the season. You know what? In my mind, Auburn was lucky to win that football game. They were outplayed for 55 minutes by Kansas State. Those rabid fans. What a place (Auburn) that is down there. If I saw 100 huge RVs, I saw 1,000 of them, OK? (Laughs.) They like their football down there, and they can turn on you in a heartbeat, too. So I'm wondering how this coach is going to survive this season unless he gets a bunch of wins down there."
Are you following the Tar Heels?: "I found myself, at the Auburn game, frequently checking the scoreboard (for the UNC game). One of my former teammates, John Anderson, was with me, by my side. I said, I don't see any Carolina scores up there.' He reminded me that they were only putting up SEC scores and Top 25 teams. So I had to learn something like that.
"I was a fan again! (Laughs.) There are some things I have to figure out. I'm going to be a fan of college football. I'm going to be a fan of pro football. I will go to some high school games this year, when I get back down there (in North Carolina). I look forward to doing that."
On the recent New England Patriots videotaping-signals controversy: "I would be outraged (as a competing NFL coach) with Bill Belichick, that's for sure. The people up here (in New England) are outraged. They really are. And a lot of high school football players have been quoted up here, on TV and in the newspaper, they're very disillusioned with what took place there.
"Stealing signals? Yes. We did that from the press box. We were always looking for the other sideline. We were always looking for things and keys. But we never, never, ever used something like that (video equipment on the sidelines).
"It reminds me of an incident right there at N.C. State, with Clemson, about two or three years ago. The Clemson coaches were coming from halftime to go back into their press box, and they walked by the N.C. State press box, and there were some (NCSU) assistant coaches watching the replay of the first half of the ballgame. You're not allowed to do those things. They're not right.
"Character still is important in life, and it's important in football, and it's important in so many other things. I'm really disappointed that this (New England controversy) took place. And it does tarnish the Patriots' image quite a bit, I do believe."
Did the Patriots' punishment fit the crime?: "I think it fits the crime monetarily. (Belichick was fined $500,000 and the Patriots $250,000.) I think the idea of taking a first- or, if they don't make the playoffs, a second- and a third-round draft choice, that hurts. That hurts that organization. That's, I think, a first, doing something like that. A suspension? That might have been something also to have been approved.
"But here's what I'd like to see. I'd like to see Bill Belichick get up there and take questions from the reporters about what actually took place and why did he do it. I think he should, he owes it to everybody. And maybe even the owner of the Patriots needs to come forward and talk a little bit about what took place."
On the on-going controversy between former NFL players and the league on pension, medical and other issues: "I was a player representative (with the Philadelphia Eagles) for seven years and on the executive committee in the 82 strike. So I have an awful lot of respect for the person that puts on the pads and plays at the highest level. It's a very risky, very dangerous game. And lots of us are somewhat injured because of either the surfaces or the collisions or whatever. And I've followed that stuff.
"I love the fact that Mike Ditka has come out to be a spokesperson for the (former) players. I'm very interested to see what's going to happen. I think (Roger) Goodell is putting the right foot forward in saying at least he's going to listen. Many times, when we spoke in years past, we weren't listened to. It fell on deaf ears. Between the players association and Gene Upshaw and Roger Goodell, something good should happen from what's going on right now.
"It's a very complicated issue. You've got players sometimes that have taken their pensions early, at 45, or taken some 20 percent buyouts, and taken that money. Now they expect to get more (money) because they've used it all up, and it really clouds everything.
"It's just important that these people are heard."
REWIND: THE NCSU INCIDENT
Below are some additional details about the Clemson-N.C. State incident referred to by Bunting. It occurred at an October 2001 game between the Tigers and the Wolfpack.
After his team's 45-37 victory at State's Carter-Finley Stadium, Clemson coach Tommy Bowden said that some of the Wolfpack's assistant coaches may have been charting the plays of Tigers quarterback Woody Dantzler via a television monitor in the coaches box.
At the end of the first half, some Clemson staffers had noticed the Wolfpack assistants watching a TV monitor. The Tigers' coaches did not have a monitor in their box, and NCAA rules prohibit coaches from watching TV replays of their own games at any point before their conclusion.
"Either they were watching it at halftime or charting (plays)," Bowden said. "There were too many people up there for it to be Casper the Ghost or something. We'll find out. That's not right, if it happened."
Asked about the situation later, Amato admitted that N.C. State had made a mistake, but he denied the accusations about charting plays or intentionally breaking the rules.
"We are not going to cheat here," Amato said. "We are not going to break the rules."
As it turned out, a monitor had been placed in each box of Carter-Finley Stadium for the first time that summer, because some boxes (for coaches or others) did not have a view (because of bad angles) of the stadium's newly installed $2 million scoreboard. Amato said the monitors showed only what was replayed on the large scoreboard, which everyone is permitted to watch.
Amato said that the coaches from State's first opponent in Raleigh that year, Indiana, had been asked if they wanted the monitor, and that the Hoosiers had declined, saying it took up too much space. Thus, the monitor was removed from the visitors' coaching box. The monitor in the Wolfpack's box stayed.
Amato said it was an "oversight" that the Wolfpack did not ask the Clemson coaches if they wanted the monitor before their game.
"We asked them at halftime," Amato said. "They said they didn't want one, and we took the one out in our box."
Later, a Wolfpack graduate assistant claimed that the entire incident was his fault, that he merely had turned on the monitor at halftime to check out some college football scores on ESPN. Amato had not mentioned that explanation.
During the week following the Clemson game, ACC officials told Amato that it clearly was against the rules for the Wolfpack to have the monitor in the coaches box, and Amato said he understood the rule all along. The Pack was ordered to keep the monitors out of both teams' boxes for the rest of the season.
"That's all there was to it," Amato said. "If they feel differently, I apologize to them. But I can also look them in the eye and look you (media) in the eye and look myself in the eye and know that we did not do anything wrong."
REWIND: BUNTING'S DISMISSAL The following quotes are from Oct. 23, 2006, when UNC held a press conference to announce Bunting's dismissal, effective at the end of the 2006 football season:
"John Bunting is a first-class man. I have great respect and admiration for him and his wife, Dawn. We've often used the word passion to describe John, and that is so true: passion for his family, passion for the University of North Carolina he really loves the University of North Carolina passion for football, passion for Carolina football, passion for his team, and, I would add, passion for his teammates.
"Every decision that John Bunting has made or he and I have made together have been what is in the best interest for the University of North Carolina. He has never put Carolina football over the best interest of the University of North Carolina. He has worked hard to change the culture of Carolina football, and in so many ways he has been successful at that. He has focused on academics, discipline and has operated from a strong sense of principles.
"We all need to recognize that this community holds this man in the highest regard. I just can't tell you how much I admire this man and respect what he has done for Carolina football and what he has fought through to make this program successful. I know he may think at times that we all don't understand that, but I've had the privilege to work side-by-side with him, and I value that a great deal."
UNC athletic director Dick Baddour
"I tried very hard to get this program to where it needs to be, to where it should be. I want to thank all the friends, the supporters that have been in my corner through some tough times, some good times. I see many of them here today.
"You know, last night going home and having a couple of friends sitting right there at my house at 10 o'clock when I rolled in. Half an hour later, Roy Williams at the door 10:30 at night. Those are special things. Walking in here this morning, running into Trimane Goddard coming off the elevator. He tells me he loves me, and of course I tell him I love him. James Spurling, all these other folks, my staff standing out there still in support of me and what we represent.
"We've worked so hard, tirelessly, to do the right things to get this program, and there are so many great things going on with this program right now. And of course I disagree with the decision, but I can accept it, and we're going on."
UNC football coach John Bunting (2006)
JOHN BUNTING SPEAKS OUT
"Im a Tar Heel born and bred, and I will always be a Tar Heel. But there are some things, that obviously I wont get into (in detail), that I still am somewhat unhappy about. But it does no good to dwell on those things, or youll just wear yourself out.
"Now my wife (Dawn), on the other hand? She might give a different answer than that. (Laughs.) Youre probably better served not talking to her about it."
"Theres a lot of things that I miss about coaching in general. Theres a lot of things that I miss about being on that job, specific to North Carolina football. I miss my staff. I miss the people in the (UNC football) building. I miss most of the players. (Laughs.) And I certainly appreciate all the support so many people gave me for such a long time there."
"I have no regrets about taking that (UNC) job. I have no regrets about the way that me and my staff worked. We did the right things. We made a lot of really tough decisions. We certainly helped to build that program to where it should be successful in lots of different ways."
"Im not sure if Im going to get back into coaching. I know Ill never coach Division I again. There was only one place (UNC) I would do it. Its a hard job. Its a really hard job. Theres a lot of things that go on that I dont like in Division I football. Recruiting, in some respects, and some of the coaches."
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