Thoughts of Marital Bliss

As the University of North Carolina football team nears its first summer practice, fans' thoughts of the past are replaced with thoughts of the immediate future.

In other words, the time is is now. The John Bunting era, one showing promise to be filled with intensity, discipline, intensity, enthusiasm, intensity, intelligence, intensity, diligence and – yes - intensity, may take Tar Heel football to heights never before experienced, or it could be a total flop.

Bunting has made clear his love and affection for his alma mater since being hired last December and proudly wears Carolina Blue on his broad sleeves. The former NFL player and coach has said all the right things regarding the direction he wants to take UNC and has made believers out of most Tar Heel fans—and even some who aren't.

Heed this caution: Every new coach excites fans during the honeymoon period, but a smaller number end their tenure in marital bliss.

Bunting's honeymoon may well end some time around 11 p.m. EST on Saturday, August 25. Defending national champion Oklahoma could give the Heels such a beating that folks will wonder why Bunting agreed to play the game, why he would risk derailing UNC's train of confidence and general good feeling, especially so soon into his regime.

Perhaps it will end at a later date in the season or maybe not at all. After all, Chuck Amato is still officially on his honeymoon at N.C. State, so it is possible the fans' harmonious nature toward the new coach may last a while.

Mack Brown, ever the diplomat, was able to talk his way through a pair of 1-10 seasons. Both were dreadful campaigns he was more responsible for than many have acknowledged. Folks, the Heels were 5-6 the year before Mack and in a bowl the year before that. Sure, the program was stumbling under Dick Crum, but 1-10 seasons hardly seemed around the horizon.

Brown eventually built Carolina into a viable national program only to leave months after his "dream" office was completed in the Kenan Football Center—not to mention that colossal fish tank!

Carl Torbush, a popular choice by the players and staffers around the university, was honored to replace Brown. He made everyone believe the Heels' recent ascent into the top ten wasn't an aberration. After UNC's 42-3 drubbing of Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl in Torbush's first game at the helm (well sort of), many felt the best was yet to come.

Fast forward nine months and recall—as unpalatable as it may be—the image of Miami (OH) celebrating at midfield in Kenan after knocking off AP preseason No. 13 UNC in what was really Torbush's first game. To assure the sudden doubters their senses weren't dulled, C.T.'s gang managed to lose (at Stanford) on a last-second field goal the following week – again to inferior talent – and were suddenly 0-2.

End of honeymoon!

The rest of Torbush's tenure was marred mostly by failure and downright embarrassment on the football field. In just three years, the Heels not only fell off the radar screen but also became somewhat of a joke. Few UNC football fans have forgotten the 28-3 loss at home to Furman in 1999, and likely never will.

Hence, it only slightly matters what a coach says during the honeymoon days. Like the newlywed who showers his or her mate with "I love you's," the real test is the trek through daily life.

For Bunting, the test is in places like Norman, College Park, Austin, Raleigh, Atlanta, Death Valley, and Chapel Hill – his trek through daily life.

As everyone is immersed in excitement over the Bunting era—as they should be—it would be wise to remain open-minded and even-keeled about the future. Yes, Bunting is so motivating that reporters and radio talk show hosts feel like running through a wall after speaking with him. And yes, he has a fascinatingly impressive resume. And yes, he has proven he can do it as a college player, a pro, and an assistant coach, which leads many to believe he can do it as a head coach in major college football. And yes, his love for all things Carolina blue give Tar Heel fans the warm fuzzies. So, sure, optimism is certainly warranted. But so is caution.

While UNC fans who said their "I do's" and walked down the aisle with Bunting are blissful right now, they mustn't put increased pressure on this head coaching novice (Glassboro State isn't forgotten). He has a difficult task ahead of getting UNC back into the Top 25 and doing so against a brutal schedule. If he makes a few mistakes early, cut him some slack. If the Heels get upset somewhere along the way, relax.

After all, no marriage ever ended because one of the partners left the top off the toothpaste.

Andrew Jones is in his sixth year covering Carolina football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He is also a staff writer and copy editor for the Wilmington Star-News covering the ACC and hosts a sports talk show weeknights on WAAV-AM980 in Wilmington. He has also written for, the former Total Sports and once published The College Game.

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