Bunting Completes Staff Changes

Two coaches gone, two coaches in, one promotion. What does it all mean? Hal Hunter and Jim Fleming are the new faces on the UNC football staff.

When there is turnover on a football staff, the initial phase consists of the introductions, checking out the resumes of the new guys, and listening to them tell everyone how pleased they are to be part of the staff. 

That phase lasts about a half an hour – tops – before inquiring minds want to know what the changes mean in terms of the football team they will watch next fall.  Will the offense move to the single wing?  Will the defense adopt the latest NFL wrinkle in the 3-4 defense?  Does this mean UNC will throw to the tight end more or that the defense will blitz every down? 

 

Those questions enter the realm of sheer guesswork for the most part, though they have entertainment value as the possible influence of new hires on schemes and tactics is shifted through the minds of the UNC football faithful. 

 

More important than what changes to look for offensively and defensively, the hiring's that took place may say something about Coach Bunting himself.  One possible take on this round of hires is that Bunting is striving to put together a staff that is more in line with his thought processes – and with each other's – than last year's staff.  Bunting seems to be a coach in search of a staff that is "in sync."

 

Last season, the only familiar faces remaining on the football staff from Carl Torbush's tenure were Ken Browning, Gunter Brewer and Robbie Caldwell.  Caldwell was the first to add to the attrition from the 2001 staff when he departed for Vanderbilt, and is a good point of departure for discussing this year's changes.  

 

Caldwell had an excellent reputation as an offensive line coach and as a good recruiter.  His replacement, Hal Hunter, is equally well-regarded as an offensive line coach.  His previous two coaching stops were interrupted when his head coaches – Gerry Dinardo at LSU and Cam Cameron at Indiana – were fired by their respective institutions.  Hunter, however, distinguished himself at both stops by producing quality offensive lines. 

 


Hal Hunter

 

Caldwell's "good ‘ole boy" persona and homespun wit will be missed, make no mistake about it.  Hunter, however, may actually be a better fit with Bunting and his football philosophy.  Bunting has made no secret of his desire that the Tar Heel offense re-learn how to run the ball.  Hunter is a devotee of the "run first, pass second" school of offense. 

 

"Hal has had success everywhere he has been running the ball," said Bunting, "Carolina is a school that has had one-thousand yard rusher after one-thousand yard rusher up until the last two or three years and we have got to get it back."

 

Hunter, Bunting, and offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill are of one mind on this point.  It was one that Hunter drove home repeatedly at his introductory press conference.

 

"One of the things that Coach Bunting has stated, and one of the things with Coach Tranq [offensive coordinator Gary Tranquill], is that everything starts with running the football," said Hunter, "We have to be able to run the football, and when you can run the football, you take pressure off a young quarterback.  You keep him out of long down and distance situations, you stay on schedule offensively.  So by being able to run the football you open up the throwing game on first and ten and stay out of those long down situations."

 

Hunter, whose dad coached with Tranquill in the NFL, is likely to be very much on the same page as the Tar Heel offensive guru.  Caldwell, while coaching with Mike O'Cain at N.C. State, was part of offenses that leaned more on passing the football, at least in most years. 

 

After finding his replacement at offensive line, the next shoe to drop was the departure of Jon Tenuta, the defensive mastermind of North Carolina's ACC-leading defense.  Tenuta was also the defensive back coach. 

 

Bunting interviewed candidates for the defensive coordinator position who could also coach defensive backs, but in the end decided to hire Jim Fleming as the defensive backs coach and promote Dave Huxtable, who coached linebackers and special teams last season.

 


Jim Fleming

 

Fleming had a very successful stint as head coach at Sacred Heart College in the two years prior to coming to North Carolina, losing only one game during his tenure there.  Bunting was quick to express his belief that the defensive secondary will thrive next season under Fleming's direction.

 

"We have a secondary that Jim is going to do a great job coaching," said Bunting, "I think it will play better than it did last year, and I say that not knocking anybody, I say that only because I think our safety play will be better this year, I think our cornerback play will be better.  I really do. I think the guys that are back there in that group are to be a little bit experienced in this system in the secondary…for the most part, we get everybody back." 

 

Fleming also has ties with UNC assistants Jim Webster, Dave Huxtable, and Strength and Conditioning Coach Jeff Connors, who Fleming worked with while an assistant at East Carolina University.  Bunting's choice in Fleming is similar to his choice of Hal Hunter.  Fleming is likely to be on the same page as Bunting from an "x's and o's" perspective, and should be a good fit on the defensive side of the ball. 

 

In addition, Fleming comes with a reputation of being a great recruiter.  "Recruiting is a function of organization, working it hard, and then being able to go ahead and build relationships with kids in a short period of time," said Fleming. "My track record with kids, I get close to kids and I have a way to communicate with them.  I think that is something that attracted Coach Bunting in the way I presented myself….I like to think I am a good recruiter but that becomes ‘time will tell' – see which kids I bring to the table and see which kids are playing on that field. "

 

The final piece of the staffing changes came when Bunting anointed Dave Huxtable as defensive coordinator.  This hire made sense for a number of reasons, but for Bunting, it was another exercise in surrounding himself with like-minded assistants. 

 

Huxtable does not seem to be as interested as stamping the defense with his own imprimatur as much as continuing the defensive approach begun last season.  "We were very multiple last year in our defensive package, and I think from a continuity standpoint we are going to be very much the same this year as we were last year.  I think it is important to the defensive players to know they are playing in the same defensive system and to know that the terminology is not going to change and we can be able to start spring football without missing a beat." 

 

The reasons for the promotion from within were simple, according to Bunting.

"I think Dave is a great communicator, a lot of enthusiasm, and is going to help the young kids progress quickly. Two, I want to have somebody that I really trust, someone I have a good feel for, so I can continue to work some with the defense.  Three, probably most important is the continuity that Dave talked about.  Continuity in terms of our terminology, in terms of our concepts."

 

Bunting's guiding principles throughout the off-season search for assistants seem to have been twofold; 1) selecting assistants who share his own views about football, and 2) selecting assistants that are own the same page as current staff members.   Recruiting ability, continuity, and other factors played a part, but the overriding concern of Bunting appears to have been fitting in assistants who already agree on what they want to accomplish. 

 

On balance, this staff appears to be one that is more clearly a reflection of Bunting than the previous one. 



Hal Hunter, Jim Fleming, Dave Huxtable, and Coach Bunting

 

Change, in this equation, somehow equals stability. 

 

 

 

 

 


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