Withers, Part II: Football Junkie

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. --- When Everett Withers came to North Carolina, the word was that he was the type of coach who would wake up in the middle of the night to scribble down plays that occurred to him.

Having worked for six years with Jeff Fisher of the Tennessee Titans, a defensive guru, Withers became known as someone who immersed himself in the X's and O's of the game.

Withers is still intrigued by the X's and O's, but there are other aspects to playing defense that haven't escaped him – teaching the fundamentals and recruiting the "Jimmy's and Joe's."

Inside Carolina's Buck Sanders sat down with UNC defensive coordinator Everett Withers earlier this month for a one-on-one interview. This is a five-part series running all this week from that interview session.
Part I: Fitting In
Part II: Football Junkie
Part III: Wednesday
Part IV: Thursday
Part V: Friday
"I was sitting down last night at the house looking at the (NFL playoff) games, and I was drawing and doodling and started thinking – it doesn't matter where you put them sometimes, it's how the guys you put in those positions execute," he said. "It all goes back to teaching fundamentals and technique, even though you sit around and doodle and want to come up with the perfect scheme, the perfect place to put everybody, it still goes back to getting the right guys in recruiting. First of all, getting guys who can make plays and teaching them how to make those plays."

Head coach Butch Davis has assembled a staff of "football junkies," constantly in search of new ways and means to reach their goals on the field. Like the rest of the UNC staff, Withers keeps looking for a better way to skin the cat, including borrowing ideas from other college staffs.

"I think we're all kind of looking for the better way to coach our players, to make this football team better, to ultimately reach a goal," he said. "You know we all want to win a national championship here, and the way to do that is to keep working at it every day and trying to find the right answers. People always say there's no perfect way of doing things, but you try and search for that. We really try to work at it every day and this staff is a good staff at doing that."

The search for a better way involves surveying the landscape and watching other college teams, looking for different ways to stop the variety of offenses in college football today. "I called a friend of mine this morning and left a message -- Dave Schramm, who is actually an offensive coach at Utah, but I was so fascinated by the way they played against Alabama (defensively) that I want to go visit those guys," Withers said. "I want to go visit them because they played as inspired and as fast and as physical as any team I saw all bowl season."

"I've been intrigued since watching that game about going to see those guys, see if they will let us come in and visit them and just pick up ideas. Because while nobody has the perfect answer, the perfect idea, to be able and go pick the brains of coaches across the country, that's part of it and watching bowl season kind of gets you going in that area: ‘Maybe we can go visit these guys because they obviously do a good job on defense.'"

"I've already got four or five places where I'd like to visit some people – and talk to them about what they do defensively. And it doesn't need to be about X's and O's, it can be about how they organize their game week, how they organize their practice plan. It doesn't always have to do with the X's and O's, it is how you present them to the players, how you go about your practice plan with your players."

Recruiting, investigating new ideas, devising new approaches -- all of those factors go into getting the North Carolina defense where it wants to go. There is one other factor that Withers sees as paramount – being effective teachers of the fundamentals.

"I think my fondness for X's and O's matches well with Coach Davis," he said. "He thinks a lot about what it takes to take the next step as a defense, and how to get better. But we all come back to the things we know are important in football, and that is tackling fundamentals, getting off blocks, making plays, being able to be in the right gaps."

Did you miss Inside Carolina's series on offensive coordinator John Shoop last week? Catch up on all five segments:
Part I: Acclimation, Part II: Game Planning, Part III: Play Calling, Part IV: Strategy, Part V: QB Growth.

For much more from both Withers and Shoop, be sure to read Buck Sanders' "Offseason Report" in the March Issue of the Inside Carolina Magazine.

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