The interview took place on Thursday, July 11 while Bunting was on vacation in Maine. Here is the interview:
AJ- Right now, I'd like to welcome our very special guest, as promised, John Bunting, head football coach at the University of North Carolina. Welcome to the show coach.
JB- How are you doing today?
AJ- Doing great. Are you enjoying your vacation?
JB- Yes I certainly am. I've got about three or four days left.
AJ- How's the weather up their in Maine?
JB- We've had some of that heat you've had down there, but today we're in the low 70's, high 60's with a lot of wind. It's been kind of Maine-iacish. You get all kinds of weather up here.
AJ- You get any fishing done?
JB- My brother's a big fisherman, but he's left and gone back to Cleveland. He does all the fishing in the family and I like to do all the eating.
AJ- Before we get to this year's team, I wanna talk to you about the culture of football at UNC. When you were hired you said you wanted to change the culture of football at UNC. Do you feel you've begun to do that?
JB- I certainly feel an awful lot of excitement when I travel around the state, and when I get into some of the bigger cities that have big alumni fans bases down in Atlanta and Washington, D.C. and New York City. I feel real good about what we're doing. I go to Greenville/Spartanburg (S.C.) and we have a tremendous turnout down there. So, I feel like we have started something. I think we have scratched the surface. I think we have a long, long ways to go. When I say changing the culture I am talking about the team and the fans. And I think our team overall understands a lot more of what it's gonna take to win in this league that we play in and be a national contender again. It's not just talent. Carolina has had a lot of talent in the past but has failed to win some of the big games. We've got a lot of big games on the schedule, and we need to have talent, but more importantly we need to have the mindset that is unafraid of playing the big boys and willing to make the sacrifices and commitments to follow through on strength and conditioning. To do the right things in the classroom to make sure you're eligible and to do the right thing on and off campus, because it's hard to win when I have to suspend players for doing the wrong thing.
AJ- When you were recruited to play at Carolina, one of the things that attracted you was Dean Smith's basketball program. That has been a recruiting tool a lot of kids that played for Coach (Bill) Dooley, Coach (Dick) Crum, Coach (Mack) Brown and Coach (Carl) Torbush) listed as one of their attractions was Carolina basketball. Is part of changing the culture maybe not so much as eliminating that factor but focusing solely on the football and academic side?
JB- I think we may eventually reach that. I still have an awful lot of ballplayers that when we recruit them they are still very interested in our basketball program. Last year we had several that visited with (basketball coach) Matt (Doherty) or someone on Matt's staff, and have had a couple already this year. I think eventually, and I see it in our recruits – the guys we have now verbally committed – they wanna put football back on the map at Carolina, and I think that we will, again.
AJ- Another part of changing the culture is game day at Kenan Stadium, where the fans are kind of laid back and don't make a lot of noise, but that began to change some last year, and I noticed that the band also began to change their approach during game day. Did you have something to do with that and are you planning on more things at Kenan in the future?
JB- I have certainly spoken to that frequently and will continue to do so. I wanna have fans in there packing that stadium. I don't want to have 45,000 or 50,000 or 55,000. I wanna have 60,000 (fans there). I want people clamoring for that ticket. My intention is at some point to build another 10,000 seats into that east end and enclose that end zone and get 70,000 in there. In order to do that we (team) have to prove ourselves, and the fans have to prove themselves. I think that our idea to have the Old Well walk this past year was a new tradition, we'd never done that before. I think our players at first were like, ‘What are we doing this for, extra steps?' Our fans were there. Each game we had more and more there. It was quite an exciting thing. When we do things like that and we get more people there earlier, tailgating earlier, and into the stadium earlier, it is better. I worked a lot with our video people to get the music better acclimated with all the various age groups in there and make it more attractive to get there early. When we get the new video board, a new sound system, maybe get some interaction with the fans. I also have my players go out individually (by position) so the fans can look at their players, who are gonna do battle in uniform. getting ready to go. So, those things that I have been exposed to in the past, like at Kansas City and to an extent St. Louis, I'm gonna bring some of that to our stadium. And in time our fans will get there earlier and stay for the duration of the game, because they wanna applaud what these student-athletes that become warriors on Saturdays do.
AJ- The ACC needs to improve its football image, and with new coaches like yourself, Jim Grobe, Al Groh, (Chan Gailey) Chuck Amato and Ralph Friedgen, does it seem like it is? Is that the impression you get?
JB- That is certainly the impression I have. I know a number of these coaches and have coached against some of them in the past, and those guys are doggone good football coaches. They know what they are doing. Jim Grobe was tremendously impressive to me. Amato has things going at State. Obviously the Bowdens have things going. I think it is an exciting time to see what's going on in ACC football. And I think it's a great year coming up here. And it's the 50th Anniversary for the ACC, so I think it's an exciting time for all of us.
AJ- Lets go ahead and talk about your team. Of the seven guys that started up front in the Peach Bowl, none of them are back. I know Will Chapman was the starter until he got hurt at Clemson. What's his status?
JB- Will is on target to be ready for the opener. We had a lot of progress on the inside part of our defensive line. We played at defensive end a lot of young guys last year. We got Isaac Mooring on the field. We got Jermicus Banks on the field. We did not redshirt Jocques Dumas so he could be ready to play this year. So, those three guys at the defensive end position are key components. Tommy Davis is a reshirt freshman, who moved from linebacker to defensive end, and I am expecting something out of him. We have two freshmen coming who I think are gonna be great players, and one of them has got to get on the field this year. The interior, Donti Coats, I am expecting a lot out of this young man. He's got talent. He's been injured some. He's still learning how to play the game and he's still learning what it takes to win. Eric Davis is an experienced player and has been on the field a lot and will play a lot. Chase Page, who we switched over, we burned his redshirt last year to get him ready for the speed of the game and what it's gonna take. We moved him from offensive guard, where he did in fact play last year. He started training camp at tight end, and now he's gonna play on the shoulder of the guard. He's got tremendous explosion. He's got great quickness. What he doesn't have is experience at that position. He has played a lot of football in a lot of different positions the last two years and we're expecting him to be ready to play for us. Carl Smalls, the transfer from South Carolina, I'm expecting something out of him too.
AJ- How about linebacker where you're gonna have three new starters there with kids who don't have much experience?
JB- Very, very, very shaky. Somebody is really gonna have to step up. I've got a redshirt freshman that is starting at the middle linebacker position and he is competing with a more experienced player there but (who) is a walk on player, and that's Sean Williams. Clarence Gaddy was one of the most highly recruited linebackers in the state a couple of years ago, and we're hopeful that he can stay healthy and focus in and become the kind of player he can be. And I am really, really expecting great things out of Malcolm Stewart. We are wanting another Goldsboro great thing to happen just like it happened to David Thornton last year. Malcolm has never started. He's been a special teams player and a backup player. And now he's going into his senior year never having played a game and he's gonna play. He's gonna play a lot. He's gonna be a guy that has the athleticism and he has a tremendous mindset going into this training camp to be a great player for us. Hopefully we can stay healthy there because we don't have depth. Clay Roberson will back up, Jeff Longhany will backup. We will need probably one or two freshmen to get on the field and play. Victor Worsley, Xavier Rainey need to step up and play as freshmen.
AJ- As questionable as the front seven is, the secondary looks to be in pretty good shape.
JB- Feel good about that part of our defense. We have experience coming back. Kevin Knight's been on the field and played wonderfully for us as the nickel back and now he's gonna start. Michael "The Rabbit" Waddell goes into his - he's either gonna be a junior or a senior depending on what he does scholastically this year. We hope he's going to be somebody that comes back and play again. He's got great speed. He's gonna play at the next level. Kevin Knight's a candidate to play at the next level. These guys are tough, quick, they're fast. Dexter Reid, I'm waiting to see have a breakout season this year. He's really grown up as a young man and has great athleticism and is a tremendous competer. He loves to hit and loves to think and play the game. At the strong safety position will either be manned by Defonte Coleman, who has experience on the field, or possibly Chris Curry, and we burned his redshirt last year to get him ready for this year.
AJ- Lets switch over to offense where you have two quarterbacks. C.J. Stephens is No. 1 on the depth chart, what do you like about C.J. and Darian Durant?
JB- There's also Matt Baker, he's in that mix to an extent too. He is gonna be a fine quarterback for us at some point. C.J. has got everything you want in a quarterback except game experience. He's smart. He's tall. He stands tall in the pocket. He can run. He's athletic. He can escape. He can throw all the throws. He's got a tremendous arm. He's got a really, really live arm, and he can throw deep with anybody in our conference. The one thing he lacks is experience and he got a real dose this past spring. (He) ran most of the snaps for most of the spring until Darian returned. He was getting a lot of snaps and was getting exposed, and we had an awful lot of blitzes with new defensive coordinator Dave Huxtable. We wanted to see how our guys could cover and how our linebackers and defensive front could zone dog and also have some man blitzes. And C.J., therefore, saw an awful lot, and at times he struggled. He had a great spring game. He was kind of up and down in terms of his overall performance, but I think he'll be ready to go.
Darian, on the other hand, has tremendous exposure to our offense. He has a real keen sense of where to go with the ball and where to go with it fast. He doesn't make very many bad decisions. He makes fast decisions and he makes good decisions. He has a real, real upside and has a leg up on C.J. because of experience with the offense. And, I'll say this about Darian, he's a good enough to escape, he knows he needs to be in better shape so he can run a little bit more. I know that he has worked hard to get stronger so he can throw the deep ball better. He has an unusual throwing motion and is a little shorter than you'd like, but the guy is a winner, and can throw on the run. He is really a fine, fine decision maker.
AJ- You have depth pretty much everywhere on offense and built some depth on the line last year. At wide receiver you lost Bosley Allen a few months ago, but it appears you have enough players to make up for his loss, including Jawarski Pollock, who totally impressed me in the spring game.
JB- I love Jaws. He's a good player, is a playmaker and he is fast. Danny Rumley, a freshman, we're expecting to play for us, Brandon Russell may or may not play based on how he's doing with the wrist he injured last year late in the season. He's had one surgery on it and it didn't quite take the injury that he had, and it's hard to get blood into it, and therefore we have to re-graft. We're hopeful he'll be back, but if he isn't we'll just redshirt him. A couple of freshmen coming in, Daunte Fields, Ian Firestone, those guys are gonna play. Michael Gilmore. Derrelle Mitchell, who was athlete of the year in the state two years ago and then prepped at Hargrave (Military Academy), will be ready to play. We lost a good player in Bosley Allen, who has done things to let himself and his teammates and the program down and I wish him the best now. But we'll go on. Sam Aiken will have a great year and will be drafted high. Chesley Borders is fast, can catch it and make big plays.
AJ- Okay Coach Bunting. I appreciate you taking the time out of your vacation to join us. Enjoy your next four or five days and then it's getting back to work time.
JB- It's about time to go. I am fired up. I am excited about it. I know that the rest of our staff is probably like me right now chomping at the bit to get started in the preseason. Thanks for your call and will be talking with you again.
Andrew Jones is entering his seventh year covering football and basketball for Inside Carolina. He is also in his fourth year as a copy editor and staff writer for the Wilmington Star-News and hosts a drive-time radio show on ESPN Radio, WMFD AM630 in Wilmington. He has also written for ACCNews and once published The College Game and the former Total Sports. He can be reached via e-mail at: AndrewJones@AM630.net.