Bunting, Heels Move Forward

Imagine this scenario: you go to work, almost every day of the week and spend 10-plus hours in the office. For all of the effort, it's all for naught. Your employer has broke the bad news that you will be fired in a month's time. But you keep coming into the office and work out the remaining days of your lame duck contract.

This is the situation John Bunting is in currently at North Carolina. The Tar Heels head coach was informed by the school that he would be let go effective at the end of the year after a 23-0 loss to Virginia on October 19th. Bunting, a North Carolina alum, now has to coach out the remaining four contests before searching for a new job. It's a tough dilemma for any coach to endure.

"My attitude and approach every day is relative to the opportunity that exists here with the players, my coaching staff and this great university that I graduated from and have been very proud to be the head coach of," Bunting said at his Tuesday press conference. "Every day until the end that's the way I will feel. The players have been very upbeat and positive about everything that we're doing. They're good kids; it's been fun to be with them. That's a big, big piece of it. That's the way I've always been all my life, and that's the way I'll continue to be. I'm not going to change much."

The players he coaches almost pulled out an upset win last weekend in the first contest after the firing was announced. North Carolina was driving late for the tying score before throwing an interception in the end zone on the game's final play. Wake Forest escaped with a 24-17 road victory. It moved the Tar Heels record to a lowly 1-7 on the season with their only win coming against Furman.

There was a bright spot in the narrow loss. Running back Ronnie McGill rushed for 117 yards on 29 attempts. It was sixth time that the senior tailback had broken the 100-yard barrier in his career. McGill also caught three balls out of the backfield for 24 yards. He's third in the ACC for the most career rushing touchdowns among current players. This season, McGill leads the teams with 523 yards on the ground and six touchdowns. He's expecting quite the atmosphere this weekend in South Bend.

"I'm expecting the fans to be loud, expecting for it to be really cold, as it always is, and them just to come out with a chip on their shoulder because they are a really good football team," McGill said. "They've got a lot of good players. No matter who they play they always come out and go to play and play a full game."

"I'm not nervous at all," Bunting said of playing at Notre Dame. "I'm not playing. I want these kids to play well down this stretch - that's my only concern for them. Absolutely, how could they have a great deal of confidence right now, with the exception of this: they work hard, they've practiced well and, at times, they've played well. The word of the season is consistency."

On either side of the ball, the numbers aren't pretty for North Carolina. On offense, the Tar Heels are 83rd in rushing offense, 84th in passing offense, 99th in total offense and 108th in scoring offense. This is not a formula to beat a Charlie Weis-coached team. All four teams who've beat Weis have scored 34 points or more. The Tar Heels average only 15 points per game.

Defensively, North Carolina does have one bright spot. The passing defense ranks 35th nationally, surrendering 171 yards a contest. The Tar Heel secondary will be severely tested on Saturday against Brady Quinn and the Notre Dame offense. Quinn has 21 touchdowns to just four interceptions and his completion percentage sits at 63.7 percent of his passes. The senor signal caller is coming off maybe the most efficient performance of the season in the win over Navy, throwing three touchdowns and running another one in while completing 18-of-25 passes.

"He looks like a number one pick," Bunting said. "He looks like a potential top-five pick - maybe the number one pick. When you see a guy throw a ball 50 yards to a deep comeback and the receiver still has eight to 10 yards to cover when he's letting the ball loose and it's on the money? That's pretty good."

For the Tar Heels to beat Notre Dame this Saturday, they'll have to be better than pretty good. They'll have to be close to perfect. Win one for Bunting could be the rallying call. It almost worked last weekend vs. Wake Forest. The caliber of opponent is a little higher for this contest. But it's clear that the players want to send their coach out in style.

"I believe we can generate it again this week," McGill said of the emotional play for Bunting. "It's just a lot of things just finally coming together and I guess some people finally seeing that it's down to the last little bit. Coach is not going to be here next year, we've got nothing to lose and so everybody's just laying it on the line. Nobody's really sure what's going to happen next year. So this is all we've got right now. You got to make the best of what you've got."

***The North Carolina Sports Information Department contributed greatly to this report.

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