Wednesday FB Notebook

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Interim head coach Everett Withers and his Tar Heels met with the media one last time on Wednesday before departing for Shreveport, La. on Thursday in preparation for the Independence Bowl on Dec. 26.

** For a program that has had plenty of opportunities to fall apart over the past 18 months due to a myriad of distractions, it should come as no surprise that Withers's message to his roster upon hearing the news that Larry Fedora would be UNC's next head coach was short and to the point: "Stay strong, stay focused, don't let it be a distraction."

Senior defensive end Quinton Coples indicated that there has been no drop off in the current coaching staff's approach to bowl preparation despite the majority knowing they won't be retained by Fedora.

"You would expect that, seeing as how they have to start over a new life, but they still come with the same energy and they're still getting after it and they're still pushing us," Coples said. "They're more worried with this eighth win than anything else."

Senior running back Ryan Houston confirmed his teammate's comments.

"The coaches coach to win and we've got one more game left," Houston said. "So the coaches are handling things with the same attitude and that's to win the game. There hasn't been any drop off that I can see."

** If there has been any consistency in North Carolina's secondary this season, it's that injuries have occurred with frequency and in bunches. Three season starters – cornerback Charles Brown (sprained knee) and safeties Matt Merletti (ACL) and Jonathan Smith (sprained ankle) – all sat out the media portion of practice on Wednesday.

"I think those guys will be at best questionable [for the bowl game]," Withers said. "We'll know more once we get down there and get going with bowl practice."

Withers indicated that Smith has practiced "a little bit" during the bowl practices to date, while Merletti and Brown have "done very limited work."

The first-team secondary during practice consisted of cornerbacks Tim Scott and Jabari Price, safeties Tre Boston and Gene Robinson and nickel back Pete Mangum. The second team was made up of cornerbacks Alex Dixon and Terry Shankle, safeties Brian Gupton and Brandon Ellerbe and Mangum serving double-duty at nickel.

** Ryan Houston suffered possibly as much as any Tar Heel during the 2010 season after being held out – not suspended – for the first five games as UNC officials worked with the NCAA to determine his eligibility. The Matthews, N.C. senior was ultimately cleared of any wrong doing, but the late return forced a lengthy decision process regarding a red-shirt year.

Houston elected to return for a fifth season with a strong likelihood of starting at running back, but freshman Gio Bernard's emergence limited the 6-foot-2, 245-pounder's production to 325 yards and seven touchdowns on 85 carries.

But Houston has not second-guessed his decision to return. He graduated with a degree in African-American Studies on Sunday and told IC that if he had exhausted his eligibility last season, he would not have had enough hours to graduate.

"It was a great decision for me," Houston said. "I got my degree and that's ultimately what my mom wanted. She was so excited for me to get my degree. My sister got her degree at East Carolina – she graduated a while back – but [my mom] has two college graduates. She's happy, and just to make my mom happy is a great feeling."

** The media's role has significantly changed over the past two decades as newsroom staffs have been slashed and social networking sites have blown up. In the not-so-distant past, media members provided an enviable view into the world of sports, but as reporters have become stretched thin, the general public have been able to increase their knowledge through a variety of online methods.

One byproduct of that shift has been rapid and often harsh criticism on topics and situations before all of the facts are available.

Senior wide receiver Dwight Jones was declared ineligible for all of 18 hours on Tuesday and Wednesday for allowing his name and photo to be used to promote his own birthday party. Media scrutiny found Jones well before UNC's decision to label Jones ineligible and it will likely continue even after the NCAA's ruling clearing the Burlington, N.C., on Wednesday.

Coples endured a similar fate back in the spring for attending a NFL Draft party. His eligibility was never in question despite media reports criticizing his attendance.

Coples discussed with reporters on Wednesday what he's learned about the media during his time at North Carolina.

"You just have to make professional decisions," Coples said. "You have to think outside of yourself and outside of the box. When you get to the collegiate level at D-I, you underestimate how much the media is actually watching you. They may not give you interviews every day, but they're always watching you. That's the perception that we have sometimes as high-profile athletes, but overall, you just have to be professional with every decision that you make."

** Withers's move to Columbus, Ohio to join Urban Meyer's staff at Ohio State was officially announced on Wednesday. Withers will serve as the Buckeyes' assistant head coach and co-defensive coordinator.

"I feel very fortunate to be a part of the Ohio State University," Withers said. "I do think the sanctions are what they are. Coming in on the front end, it gives us a chance to build a program and I think it will be a very positive thing in the long term."

Meyer also contacted Withers several years ago about the open defensive coordinator position at Florida.

Withers told reporters that he will depart for Columbus "within days" of returning from the Independence Bowl next week.


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