ACC Kickoff: Q&A with John Bunting

PONTE VEDRA, Fla. – Sixth-year North Carolina coach John Bunting officially christened the start of the 2006 season with the league's top sportswriters Monday during ACC Football Kickoff. Read and listen to what he had to say…

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Also see:

Q&A with Kareen Taylor
Q&A with Ronnie McGill


Would you like to do the ceremonial crumpling of the preseason predictions?
Isn't it the same every single year?

You were one point away from fourth place.
We're one point away, right Caulton [Tudor]? We are 9-7 in the new ACC; that's fourth-best. A play or two last year… And I think we would be right up there with Miami and Florida State in terms of record.

What does that mean for this year? Not much. A new team. A new year. We've done a lot of things to make this team better. There's been a culture change. I think between the growth and the momentum we have going, we have a chance to be even better in this conference. We all know how good it is. We all know how games go down to the last play or two…go into overtimes.

Our team, particularly defensively, is set to pick it up another notch and play to that level. The specialists play better than they did last year. We're missing a snapper; we don't know who that's going to be.

What's the culture change, and why was it made?
The culture change has been going on since I took over the program. Mental toughness. loving/having passion for the game, doing the right things off of the field. It's happening. It's a foregone conclusion we're doing that stuff. And now, we've taken it to another level. I'm really pleased with the recruiting we've done over the last couple of years, and I'm extremely excited about the recruiting we've got going on right now. I think people see it, people feel it, people are excited about it.

How much have you changed?
I don't know how much I've changed in terms of my philosophy or the way I do things. I think each year I've learned better how to recruit, and I've learned better how to handle the discipline; yet still try to have some patience with the players. We all know they're 18, 19 and 20-year-old kids. They can do some goofy things. I have some patience for some things, and I have absolute intolerance for other things. Some players have slipped out of this program because they couldn't do some simple things to stay on board and to become great players. Their focus was on other things. I think our team is becoming more and more focused on doing the right things.

On working better with players on an individual basis
I think recruits that get around our players, see how happy they are in our program. A big part of me – particularly when I was playing football – is how unhappy I would be when I saw slackers getting away with stuff. When I took this program over, there were a couple of real studs on offense – Ronald Curry, Sam Aiken, Kory Bailey. And after that time, we had some players who weren't excited about the game, and had interest in doing some other things off the field as opposed to on the field. I was a little impatient with that. And therefore, sometimes those players weren't as happy because I was on them. And I'm still going to demand a great deal from myself, my staff – as far as the work ethic and doing things right.

I think we're getting better character. And we're all happier, because we're not having to deal with as many big time problems off the field. You want to win. And in order to win, you need to retain your players. You know we had a class, and you all have written about it about three different times. The next time will be another time if you choose to do that. We had a class that was pretty talented according to the experts. A lot of that class is not here, simply because they couldn't do some simple things. We're getting better character in the program. That is the absolute marching order for my coaches, ‘Get players with character, and we'll have a better chance to win.'

Are you guys due for a quantum leap to contending for an ACC title?
To contend, you need to be in every game. If you look at some of the games we were in last year, including Miami. We're in that game. We're ahead in that game. Georgia Tech, Maryland. To contend, you've need to be in every game. We were in a bunch of games we didn't win last year. We had some big wins – Virginia, N.C. State, BC, Utah. After we get thrashed out there at Utah, we come back and beat them. They were still a pretty good ball club last year. I just think you need to be in contention in every game to have a great season in this ACC. I don't know if anybody is going to dominate anymore. Maybe Virginia Tech will continue. 14-2 looks like domination to me. Can they do that anymore? We're going to find out.

What could just one player, say like Vince Young, mean?
There's no doubt that having a premier player on offense or defense could make an big difference. It's still the ultimate team game. When you have other great players around Vince Young – and Vince Young really, really shines. Texas is a really great place to recruit and they've got some players a lot of people around this country would love to have. Obviously it's not just Vince Young. You can be really, really good at the game of football if you have a bunch of guys with good work ethics and have talent, but play together all the time. Stay in the games.

How was the quarterback race last spring?
There is no question in my mind it was a dead heat. We enter training camp and it's a dead heat. Each quarterback with get plenty of opportunity to win that job. They will both work with the first unit. They will sometimes work with the second. We're going to be equal opportunity employers throughout this training camp. And I feel real good about both of them. It wouldn't be a surprise to anybody if they both got some playing time early in the season.

It's important to get off to a good start. We haven't gotten off to a great start each and every year. We need to do that this year. We need to win some games. We've got three home games – we've got seven home games this season. We're 8-4 at home the last two seasons. It's important that we play well at home. It's important that our coaching staff does a terrific job managing the training camp with the running backs, quarterbacks and receivers; and we continue to build the defense.

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