Tar Heel Town Moves Downtown For Miami Game

CHAPEL HILL – Downtown will be buzzing Thursday as fan get ready for UNC and Miami on the gridiron as Tar Heel Town moves to Franklin Street.

Tar Heel Downtown takes place from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. and will have a host of activities for the family. Tar Heel Town normally takes place on campus next to Kenan Stadium, with the national spotlight on the game, UNC Athletics, the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, and the Town of Chapel Hill partnered together to make the event happen.

Tar Heel Downtown is on West Franklin Street between N. Columbia and Mallette Streets.  Much of the festivities are centered around University Square with activities like face painting, live music, the Carolina Cheerleaders, bounce houses, and much more.

Some retail stores in University Square, like Fine Feathers, may see more business with so many people at the event.  Fine Feathers’ Pam Patterson says she is glad to be a part of it.  Sales manager for Fitzgeralds, Lauren Shoaf, says that the restaurant plans on a boost in business from the Tar Heel Downtown.

“Well since we’re right across the street from all the main action we definitely didn’t want to take away from that, but more embrace that being here and work with what the town is doing,” Shoaf says.

Fitzgerald’s opens at noon Thursday, instead of its normal time, 4:00 p.m. With 29 televisions and activities available for people who want to tailgate, Shoaf says she hopes some people will stick around for the game.

“We will have a band from 4 to 7 inside, we’ll be doing some outdoor stuff, an outdoor tailgate party where we will have beer tubs and tap boxes outside so people don’t have to come back inside to get a drink and they can be outside and hear the band and see everything that’s going on,” Shoaf says.

Other stores and restaurants that are outside of the event area may also see more business from the people coming for the game.  General Manager for Mellow Mushroom in Chapel Hill, Zach Lindley, says that home games bring some of the biggest crowds to the restaurants.

“I think anybody that wants dinner or beer would come by, we’re expect some overflow from that event, but just in general because it’s a home game on a Thursday we’re expecting to be busier than normal, but it definitely will help bring business to the area,” Lindley says.

Only the third home game of the season, the Carolina vs. Miami match-up should bring a sellout crowd.

Parking is available for Tar Heel Downtown in several locations around town. Stores at University Square will not have parking for customers after 3:00 p.m., but the parking spaces will be able for game day patrons.  Buses will also be available to people who park at the Friday Center, University Mall, Southern Village, and Jones Ferry park and ride lots for $5 round trip.

The Chapel Hill transit J and F buses will reroute along Rosemary during Tar Heel Downtown.

Portable bathrooms will be available to people during the event.

Click here for details on parking in downtown Chapel Hill during the event.


Bye Bye, Big 10 Terps

Amidst the chaos that has become college athletics, Carolina defeated Maryland Saturday in truly a tale of two halves. The Tar Heels played perhaps their best 20 minutes of basketball to begin the game and ended with perhaps their worst.

Depending on when they officially bolt for the Big 10 and the 2014 basketball schedule, this could well have been the Terrapins’ last trip to the Dean Smith Center as a member of the ACC. Maryland coach Mark Turgeon, a Kansas protégé of both Larry Brown and Roy Williams, took what he considered to be one of the best jobs in the country two years ago. When the Terps, along with Rutgers, join the Big 10, who knows what kind of a job it will be.

For sure, trips to Columbus, Ann Arbor and Iowa City will never match those January games in a warm climate on Tobacco Road. And the load of talent in the Metro Washington-Baltimore area will surely have second thoughts about playing in an unfamiliar conference as opposed to the rivalries they’ve been watching all their lives.

But it’s all about money these days, and Maryland’s athletic department had to stave off bankruptcy by dropping seven varsity sports before opting out for the Big 10, which has guaranteed the university at least $20 million more per year than the ACC in television revenues beginning in 2017. The Terps promptly reinstated four of those sports.

So when the near-capacity crowd at the Smith Center began cheering “ACC! ACC!” at the end of Carolina’s 62-52 victory, it was clear that Maryland is a lame duck. And Turgeon’s Terps were pretty lame in the first half, committing 15 turnovers that the Tar Heels converted into 14 points while Reggie Bullock was single-handedly outscoring them.

Bullock came out firing, hitting two “3s” and a regular field goal before Maryland could even hold onto the ball long enough to attempt a shot. Bullock had UNC’s first four field goals as his 21 points in the first half were more than Maryland’s team total (42-20) and had the fans amped for a blowout and perhaps a chance to get out into the spring weather a little early.

The Tar Heels also duplicated the aggressive defense they played three weeks before against UNLV, stealing the ball from the shell-shocked Terps nine times. Maryland made nine field goals, went 0-7 from the arc and, frankly, was lucky to be down just 22 at the half. The crowd got further aroused by an appearance from the 2012 UNC football team, which is calling itself the ACC Coastal Division champions after finishing in a three-way tie with Miami and Georgia Tech.

Having already printed up t-shirts boasting as much, it seemed a little defiant since NCAA sanctions kept the gridders out of the post-season. But there is so much unrest and speculation about the future of the ACC these days, reminding UNC that it wasn’t eligible to win anything last season seems like a waste of time and energy. Will there even be an ACC title to compete for in the next few years? If not, maybe Maryland made the right decision to get out while the getting was good. Aside from the money, the Terps can resume their once-heated football rivalry with Penn State, which has won 35 of the 37 games they used to play. Ouch.

The second half was a reversal of fortunes as Carolina made just one more three (from Bullock, his only points of the period) and missed 26 of its 34 shots. Maryland kept clawing around and turned it over only six times, allowing the Terps to make a moderate late run. In fact, if P.J. Hairston had not rebounded James Michael McAdoo’s missed free throw and fired it out to Marcus Paige for his sixth assist to JMM underneath, Maryland might have really made it interesting.

The Tar Heels are improving individually but as a team still look pretty lost on offense. When Bullock is getting his college high (24) and McAdoo is recording a double-double (19 and 11), they can be “pretty doggone good,” as Roy Williams said afterward, choosing to focus on the first half and not the second. But when the shots stop falling and the offense bogs down, the 35-second clock is their enemy and the lane starts to look like the subway at rush hour.

Freshman J.P. Tokoto hit his only shot and was the lone Tar Heel to make more than he missed. They continued their dogged defense, especially against Ukrainian seven-footer Alex Len, who was held to 10 points and five rebounds. The pivot committee of Desmond Hubert, Joel James and Brice Johnson managed to contain Len, who will be playing in the NBA some day.

The pro draft could bypass Carolina completely, which only bodes well for those regulars returning, those substitutes improving and those recruits coming. The Tar Heels are scrapping for their lives as they try to make scoring easier than hitting from outside. As the hot-cold Bullock proved, it’s still a game where the sum must be better than the parts.

Image by Todd Melet


Just A Little Bit of History Repeating

College basketball, perhaps more than any other sport, lends itself to the drawing of parallels. Whether it be in the comparison of players, coaches, or teams, fans are always looking to weigh the present against the past. This is completely understandable, especially given the highly cyclical nature of the sport. For elite programs, the difference between a successful season and a sub-par one is often dictated by how much talent can be retained from one year to the next. With the flashing lights and prodigious paychecks of the NBA serving as constant temptations, the nation’s top college players annually make a decision to stay or go that determines whether the upcoming season will be boom or bust for their respective alma maters.

Of course, as Carolina fans we all know where this season fits in the college basketball cycle. The departure of four of the starting five players from last year’s squad to the NBA has left a tremendous void to be filled on the hardwood in Chapel Hill. What’s worse, Tar Heel fans everywhere are still trying to rid themselves of the sour taste leftover from an incredibly frustrating and unfortunate turn of events in last year’s NCAA tournament.

But for Roy Williams, trying to rebuild from scratch after a mass exodus of talent is far from a novel concept. This season marks the third time in eight years that the Heels have faced sweeping on-court personnel changes as a result of migrations to the NBA. In the wake of national championship runs in 2005 and 2009, the Heels found themselves in circumstances that almost perfectly mirror those of today, boasting few experienced scorers and plenty of fresh faces.

In 2006, a young Carolina team led by charismatic senior David Noel surprised just about everyone with their success. With Noel holding the reins and a tenacious freshman named Hansbrough doing the heavy lifting, the 2006 squad fought their way to a 23-8 overall record and, in my mind, will always be synonymous with their upset victory over Duke in Cameron Indoor on J.J. Redick’s senior night. What made that team all the more fun to watch was the fact that they lacked any burden of expectation. Having lost seven of their top nine scorers from the previous year, the ‘06 Tar Heels faced something that UNC fans very rarely set: a low bar. Satisfied to have a fresh banner hanging in the rafters, the Carolina faithful viewed each of the team’s 23 wins as icing on the previous year’s cake.

In stark contrast, the 2010 Tar Heels struggled mightily to coalesce into a functioning unit. Though the individual pieces were there (the team’s roster featured seven McDonald’s All-Americans), young talent couldn’t make up for a complete and utter lack of definitive leadership. The team floundered in conference play and ultimately limped to a 20-17 record. Accepting a bid to the NIT, the Heels saw flashes of brilliance from a baby-faced John Henson during a four game win streak that put them in the tournament final against Dayton. The Flyers, though, would prove too much to handle as they sent the boys in blue packing and graciously ended the need for murmured discussion of just what to do with an NIT banner in the Dean Dome.

So now the question asks itself: Will the ’13 Tar Heels emulate the successes of David Noel and company by shaking things up in the ACC? Or will they allow early conference losses to Virginia and Miami to set the tone for the rest of the season and struggle to find any true identity? Many Carolina fans are more than ready to proclaim that the sky is indeed falling and that this year represents “2010 all over again”. After witnessing the toughness demonstrated by the Heels in the final minutes of their recent win in Tallahassee, however, I beg to differ. This team has shown a will to win and a level of composure far greater than that of the 2010 squad.

This is not to say, by any means, that we are where I would like us to be. Though Roy’s boys put on a rebounding clinic during Saturday’s game at FSU, they still struggled with turnovers and poor free-throw shooting. What’s more alarming, they still seem to have no idea how to guard the perimeter or fight around a screen to close out on a 3-point shooter. But on the bright side, these are things that can be worked on.

Despite a lackluster start to the season, I’m far from panicking over this year’s Heels. As fans, we need to be patient as our team endures necessary growing pains. With what they lost in the offseason, it’s completely understandable that this group is a little rough around the edges. I still have confidence in them because I see glimpses of something the 2010 team never displayed: chemistry. In watching our team play you can’t help but sense their camaraderie and feel that they genuinely understand what it means to wear Carolina blue. I believe the Heels will right this ship. But then again, I’m an optimist. I remember 2006.

You can follow Alexon Twitter @ajcollette

image by todd melet


Art's Angle: A So-So Season Going Nowhere


Looks like it’s another Year of Living Dangerously. In other words, expending our energy rooting against Duke.

We’ve had these seasons before (i.e., 2010), although rarely. When our own basketball team is so young or weak (literally) or mediocre that it is not a safe use of our emotions to pull FOR the Tar Heels as it is to root AGAINST Duke. After losing their second straight ACC game to open 0-2, the Tar Heels obviously are not going very far in the unlucky ides of March ’13. So why not channel our frustration and anger where it can be better utilized: trying to keep the Blue Devils from winning another national championship.

Look at Thursday night’s home loss to Miami on paper, and I don’t mean the stats. The Hurricanes’ roster of 13 players has 10 seniors and juniors. And one of the seniors has been trolling South Beach for five years, another is on the six-year plan! So, as a shell-shocked Roy Williams said after the 68-59 defeat, a lively near-capacity crowd in Carolina blue at the Smith Center wasn’t going to make any waves with the well-seasoned ‘Canes. And their biggest and maybe best player, center Reggie Johnson, didn’t even suit up!

Meanwhile, if there was no such thing as the NBA, John Henson would be a senior, Harrison Barnes and Kendall Marshall juniors. James Michael McAdoo wouldn’t be lost somewhere between post player and small forward and the rest of the Tar Heels wouldn’t be so upset  after only the second time in 16 years (including the completely forgettable 8-20 season) that the Tar Heels opened 0-for-2 in the ACC. History buffs have to go back to 1997, Dean Smith’s last season on the bench, to find an 0-3 ACC start. But that team had future pro names Carter and Cota and Antawn and Shammond and seven-footer Serge who wasn’t afraid to go under the basket and throw someone around. (By the way, that team righted itself by winning 16 straight games, cutting down the ACC Tournament nets and reaching the Final Four. Footnote, don’t make your travel plans for Atlanta this season).

That Tar Heel team also had a couple of guys who went out early (Vince and AJ) but not until the next year. When was the last time Miami lost someone prematurely to the NBA? Hell, the Hurricanes’ greatest player ever — Rick Barry — not only stayed four years, he married the coach’s daughter!

After the game, ol’ Roy continued his flimsy reasoning about his players not transferring what they do on the practice court to the game floor. Listen, if your first seven or eight aren’t up to Tar Heel standards, they are in jeopardy of building false confidence trying to get better against worse players. So, it’s like a cat chasing its tail. Whatever success McAdoo has against Joel James and Jackson Simmons in practice isn’t going to help much when Miami’s 6-11, 242-pound senior and future pro Kenny Kadji is shooting his herky-jerky jumper over them or steamrolling down the lane for a slam. Or keeping guards Deron Scott, Rion Brown and Shane Larkin (The U’s only sophomore) from making 6 of their team’s other 9 treys.

And when the pressure of a tight game over the first 30 minutes grabs them by the throat, their three best players — McAdoo, Reggie Bullock and P.J Hairston — fire up enough bricks to start a small house and wind up missing 23 of their 37 shots that contributed to the fatal five-minute stretch in which the Tar Heels managed only three points and went from a tie game to watching the crowd head for the Chapel Hills early. This was such a bad ending that the team gets penalized with one practice before a quick trip to Tallahassee where the Seminoles smacked a much-better Carolina club by 33 just about a year ago.

As ugly as the numbers were, they do show HOPE for the future, but probably not this season that will be fortunate to end with a low seed to the NCAA Tournament. In fact, I now have to agree with some Duke dufus who called a local talk show Thursday and said the Heels aren’t going dancing in March. Maybe he’s not such a dumb Duke dufus after all. While senior Dexter Strickland was struck with a zero line in 26 minutes (check the box score if you dare), skinny but skilled freshmen Brice Johnson, Marcus Paige and J.P Tokoto put together their best collective game and helped the Heels stay alive until the dreaded drought down the stretch. Brice’s basket, Tokoto’s tap-in and Paige pretty three from the top of the key kept Carolina in it before it began to counter pressure-packed clangers with Miami’s wide-open 3’s born from defense that hopefully did not translate from practice. Surely they don’t work on staying with the double team so long that the pass recipient gets the ball, looks down at the three-point line to make sure his toes are clearly behind the stripe before draining one of five treys that buried the Heels in the second half.

No, they did not have the injured Lesley McDonald, which gave more minutes to Strickland, Bullock and Hairston, who were all either near tears in the locker room or non-communicado with the media. They all know they have a lot work to do before the flight to FSU and so little time to do it. Meanwhile, two hours prior to the Saturday 2 p.m. tip-off, No. 1 and undefeated Duke plays at No. 20 and offensively gifted N.C. State in Raleigh, a game pitting clearly the two best teams in an otherwise-average ACC this season.

The Blue Devils will be without starting senior forward Ryan Kelly (injured foot), so the Year of Living Dangerously could actually be fun since the Wolfpack should be favored in the game. And State might win, which wouldn’t be a bad way too start would could be another terrible afternoon in Tallahassee.

You can follow Art on Twitter @ArtChansky

Image by Todd Melet


Life on the Road in the ACC

Until at least Fall 2013, the Atlantic Coast Conference won’t include any members from landlocked states.

Before more variables are introduced, let’s rank the best (and the worst) of the ACC’s road venues.

In full disclosure, I’ve only experienced these seven schools as a traveling student-athlete; this is an assessment of each town’s overall college environment, not necessarily just the basketball or football stadiums of each university. Furthermore, these are the only seven I’ve been to. (Apologies to the fine folks of Tallahassee, Atlanta, College Park and Winston Salem) Though I might not be able to give you any advice on road trips to any of the “Artists formerly known as the Big East”, I’ve got some pointers on how to have a good – and horrible – time up and down the coast.


Town: Raleigh, NC

Why visit?

Before you jump all over me, pups, I’d like to preface this ranking with the disclaimer that I have high praise for many of Raleigh’s attractions, chief among them a certain Laser Tag/ Mini Golf attraction called “Adventure Landing.” State has top-notch athletic facilities in Carter Finley and PNC Arena, access to a Cookout, and plenty of parking. The problem isn’t what the town does or doesn’t have – the problem is where everything is.

Why Not?

To get anywhere at State, it seems you have to hit another I-40 exit. Students without cars have to bus to their off-campus football and basketball stadiums, and while all the space proved convenient for my moonlighting as a human snitch for State’s Quidditch tournaments, it’s a complete task getting anywhere on time as a pedestrian. What’s more, the aesthetics get old fast. I’m not sure even Scott Wood could lay more bricks in a Carolina game.


Town: Blacksburg, VA

Why visit?

The snow. Somehow these Hokies get feet of it every year. Just be warned – this can be a blessing or a curse. In 2010, as UNC’s basketball team was limping to an NIT berth, our track team had the misfortune of rolling into town just 24 hours after our hardwood Heels had thrown the game away in Blacksburg. Easily identifiable in our powder-blue sweats, we were pelted unrelentingly with snowballs by a few undergrads.

“Heels,” they’d yell. “Your basketball team sucks!”

“Can’t argue with you,” we’d yell back.

The next year, I had the pleasure of watching members of the Duke team subjected to the same abuse – so worth it.

Don’t let the cold Blacksburg weather fool you, though. Hokies are one of- if not the most, warm, sportsmanlike fan bases known to NCAA sports.

Why not?

This campus is essentially an even grayer architectural version of Duke’s neo-gothica sprawl. While the dining halls are national award-winners, there are practically no “Franklin Street” alternatives for food or entertainment.

#5: DUKE

Town: Durham, NC

Why visit?

Perpetuate what stereotypes you want about Durham, but this city is not what it was even five years ago. Ninth Street has always had record stores, book shops and restaurants to match any campus “Main Street”, but now downtown is renovated, vibrant, and downright quaint. Chic restaurants and boutiques grow in the very shadow of the old smokestacks and fires of industry. It’s almost to the point that Duke won’t need that protective, 3-foot stone wall to keep those poor New Jersey kids safe.

Why not?

If you’re drawn to tradition, prestige, and other bourgeois affectations, this campus is a real treat. If you’re put off by the prospect of watching a modern football or basketball game in an over/under-sized, 70’s-era venue, don’t make the trip. In Cameron, the likelihood of you being drooled on by proximity is inversely proportional to the probability you could spit in Wallace Wade and hit anyone.

#4: Clemson

Town: Clemson, SC

Why visit?

This town has it all – great busing, incredible dining, dream weather, and a sparkling set of athletic facilities right in the middle of campus. This is small-town Americana at its finest.

Why not?

Short and sweet, there’s not much else to do here. Also, I’ve learned the hard way that the mosquitoes have a particular taste for out-of-towners.


Town: Chestnut Hill, MA

Why visit?

While I briefly saw the campus as a football recruit in high school (before shipping to the other side of town to visit Harvard), I can safely say that this university retains its persona and charm while not secluding itself from Boston’s urban sprawl. Think “Harry Potter” meets “Fever Pitch”. The Conte Forum (basketball) and Alumni Stadium (football) are completely obsolete, but like any gruff Bostonian, they’ll affably win you over.

Why not?

Boston will probably continue to have the poorest weather of any ACC location until Syracuse comes into the picture.


Town: Charlottesville, VA

Why visit?

I’ve been to UVA for football combines and ACC track championships many times, and each time this town seems more and more like a more historical version of Chapel Hill. Everyone knows Jefferson’s architecture is plastered all over town, but every time you make this trip north you’ll find some new colonial-era gem you had previously missed.

The blocks between Main Street, Ridge McIntire road and East Market Street have a worlds better bar and restaurant selection than the Franklin – Rosemary swath we’ve come to accept as God’s gift to earth, and the campus itself looks downright regal. Even their athletic facilities, while slightly undersized compared to other ACC venues, pull off the “Jeffersonian” look.

Why not?

The Wahoos – I still don’t know what that means – aren’t the most hospitable, down-to-earth crowd.


Town: Coral Gables, FLA

Why visit?

Will Smith describes this magical place so much better than I. Still, I’ll give it a shot. This campus is essentially a tropical-themed Disney resort if you don’t look carefully enough.

Where UNC has a Walgreens, Miami has a shopping mall.

Where we have the Davie Poplar family, they have palm trees.

Where Chapel Hill has a busing system, Coral Gables sits on a monorail line.

Where our campus has Polk Place, theirs has a lake big enough to go jet-skiing.

Even the Hurricane-proof, jail-slit, stucco-roofed dorms play into the beach theme. Their swim team practices in an outdoor facility that looks like it’s something straight out of Baywatch, but I digress.

After failing to make the finals in my track events in 2009, I (along with two other individuals who are – per usual – protected under anonymity) set out for South Beach. If you don’t do anything else in Miami, go swim. There’s nothing like a beach with water so clear you can see your feet waist-deep.

Why not?

Don’t plan on getting any work done. At all.

You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @JT_Gerlach.

(photo by fliegender via flickr)


"Don't Mess This Up"

My one-day stint as a Carolina and Duke Football Recruit

It’s no secret that UNC and Duke squabble over basketball recruits. From Michael Jordan to Jason Williams, each school has coveted its neighbor’s latest gem.

But that’s old news. What about the other side of the equation? What about a prospect’s fight for the affectations of a revenue sport at either school? That I can tell you, because I’ve spent a day in the life of a football recruit for each program. Literally. One day.

In the fall of 2006, John Bunting and Ted Roof’s football programs at UNC and Duke, respectively, entered their death throes. Bunting would be axed at the end of the year despite prevailing in a 45-44 classic over the Blue Devils, while Roof would follow suit soon after falling to Butch Davis’ Heels the next fall in Chapel Hill.

Amidst this chaos, I quietly blipped onto a few area radars, and even more quietly bowed out. Asking an unpopular coach’s staff to recruit you is akin to playing in the band aboard the sinking Titanic; it’s a nice gesture that you’re interested in smoothing the transition, but no one’s really got time to hear you out.

Especially if you’re a kicker in the Barth era.

Specialists aren’t exactly a prized gem in a college scout’s recruiting board. We are allegedly entrusted with putting a ball through two long pieces of metal, but the job is really about what you aren’t supposed to do. Unlike quarterbacks, wide receivers or returners, we aren’t given measurable goals of yardage or points. Our goals are negative and contingent upon opportunity: don’t get it blocked; don’t kick it out of bounds; don’t mess this up. Imagine being a spot basketball player whose only job was to shoot other people’s free throws. High pressure, no reward.

So, why even try to kick? Moreover, why even try to kick at long-struggling programs continually playing second fiddle to their respective basketball juggernauts?

Like so many drawn to admire the athletic prowess of these two schools, the answer was convenience.

Personally, picking up the art of placekicking as a soccer player was an almost pre-destined trope. A lifelong witness of Triangle-oriented rivalries, the thought of playing for either shade of blue was beyond appealing. Kenan and Wallace Wade being 13 and 27 minutes from my house, respectively, was too good to pass up.

While I began kicking between two trees in my front yard, I honed what little skill I had in these two historic venues. I inched my first 60-yarder over the bar from just a few feet to the side of the Gothic “D” logo; I hit my first “spiraled” punt with my toes dug into the crisp white paint of the iconic, interlocking “NC”. I even had my first brush with the law in Chapel Hill, being chased out of the stadium after being caught climbing over a locked gate. (To all you looking to find a point of entry, there’s still a weak spot under a small Maple, between the Northwest gate and the University Health Building; it’s a rectangular-but-hospitable gap between the railing and the roof of a sidehouse used to store concession equipment.)

Yet for all the desperate antics, hoping each time that a coach would catch me instead of a DPS official, I only made a brief appearance on each school’s recruiting board through an unorchestrated coincidence.

For Coach Bunting, I was just another face in the crowd at each summer football camp; just another tape at the bottom of the video pile. I was never called back to the end-of-camp meetings where the top prospects were notified of the staff’s interest; never called to talk about the film I’d sent in. About the closest I’d ever come to a placekicking spot on the roster was standing next to Tampa Bay standout and former Carolina great Connor Barth (he of Miami-beating, 2004 field-storming fame) for a quick picture and handshake.

Needless to say, I was lucky to find that an assistant coach (whose privacy I’ll respect) for my high school knew a special teams coach at Carolina. He had a scout sent out to see me in action against that August. For all the fence-jumping, my best chance at an in with the program had been barely ten feet away from me each summer, grimacing at my every shank.

After two blocked field goals and an embarrassing kickoff returned for a touchdown, I can’t say I blamed Bunting’s staff for not calling after a train wreck of a first date. Neither can I argue with Davis’ call to go with Connor’s younger brother, Casey, a fantastic competitor who eventually eclipsed even his older brother’s star (despite several injuries).

Roof’s limited period of interest seems even more far-fetched. I met him the day after his (eventual) last game in 2007 while dining with a friend at the Red Robin on 15-501 near New Hope Commons. He’d just been sabotaged by his own special teams, relying on two different kickers who provided two makeable misses in an overtime loss. Needless to say, I caught him in the most perfect of circumstances.

Keeping my powder-blue Schadenfreude behind a façade of conciliation, I offered my services, and he offered terms: if I sent in my film (and he was still the coach the next day), he’d offer me an opportunity to try out as a walk-on the next year.

The next day, just as mysteriously as he had entered the Triangle coaching game, Roof was gone. Again, I was on the outside looking in.

After deciding to run track for Carolina, these two opportunities have more and more seemed far less notable as points when my life could have improved. Having the honor to run with another “renaissance athlete” who also wanted to kick in college, I’ve seen that picking your battles can prove strangely venerating despite seeming like conceding defeat. Ranked even higher on the national high school recruiting sites than I was, this individual (now a coach for Syracuse’s Track and Field team whose privacy I’ll also respect) chose to run track at Carolina over kicking for one of the few schools in the nation – Penn State – whose football program is recovering from more turbulence than ours.

Despite all the grief the football programs at Duke and UNC have gotten – Duke for its losing and UNC for its NCAA issues – these programs will always attract more recruits than they have time for. Want to make it past a one-night stand with either program? It’ll depend on much more than your own capabilities. Take it from me – if you want it badly enough you’ll get a chance at least, no matter how improbable it seems. Instead, your success will hinge on the connections you make, and how you handle the opportunities you’re presented. I haphazardly stumbled across the contacts, but needlessly squandered the chances.

The trick is simple, yet oh-so-difficult, like any kicking coach will tell you:

Just don’t mess it up.

You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @JT_Gerlach.


A New Blue Dawn

Senior Day against Maryland was a pretty typical game for the 2012 Tar Heels. The Terrapins, perhaps motivated by the decision to leave the ACC in favor of the Big Ten, served as a mediocre but spirited opponent. Carolina fans had obvious reasons to be frustrated, as the Tar Heels repeatedly allowed big plays on the defensive side of the ball. The special teams performed particularly poorly, fumbling a kickoff return just before halftime to allow Maryland to take a 28-21 lead, and then gave up a touchdown on the kickoff to start the second half because they only had ten men on the field. The Tar Heels fought back in gritty fashion, though, with Bryn Renner throwing for two big touchdowns in the second half, leading to a 45-38 win. Overall, the defense was pretty bad (excepting one big interception on Maryland’s first drive), the offense was pretty good, Gio Bernard was brilliant (27 carries for 163 yards and a touchdown), there were some troubling mental mistakes…but the Tar Heels managed to emerge victorious. Sounds pretty familiar.

The inconsistency of the Tar Heels in any given game modeled their season as a whole. There were some clear highs this year: Gio Bernard’s late punt return touchdown to beat NC State for the first time in six tries, setting the record for points scored in a single game by a UNC squad in the 66-0 win over Idaho, four Tar Heels making 1st Team All-ACC (Bernard, Jonathan Cooper, Sylvester Williams, and Kevin Reddick), and winning the ACC’s Coastal Division on a tie-break over Miami (had either team actually been eligible to win anything). There were also some obvious lows: Losing to Duke for only the second time in 23 years, giving up a record 68 points at home against Georgia Tech on Homecoming, and getting blown out in the first half against Louisville come to mind most easily. It has been a season of unpredictability, to say the least, its meaning hard to define because of the postseason ban and the implementation of a totally new coaching scheme.

I’m really at a loss for words to describe how I feel about this team and this season. It happened. I was there, and I experienced the good, the bad, the ugly, all of it. Sure, we didn’t go to a bowl game or the conference title game. We didn’t go undefeated. But it was still special. Every season has its moments and memories that you will always carry with you, and this one was no different. Ultimately, I’m glad we’ve completely closed the door on the Butch Davis Era and can finally move forward as a team and university. There will be no bans, no asterisks, no drama as we look to next August. A new Blue Dawn, at last.


It Would Be Hog Heaven!

The University of Arkansas has a perfect solution to its problem with philandering football coach Bobby Petrino. Fire him and hire Butch Davis.

Think about it. Davis is an Arkansas grad and former player there (until injured early in his career) and has since been a coaching “fixer” for problem college and pro football programs.

And Davis has some recent history with Arkansas, leveraging an alleged opportunity to return there after his first season at Carolina (2007) to get a $291,000 raise and contract extension. Some people said it was a head fake by Davis’ new agent Jimmy Sexton, but nevertheless it proved effective enough to extract the contract bump following an inaugural 4-8 record with the Tar Heels.

And the head-coaching careers of both men run strangely parallel.

Petrino was 41-9 in four seasons at Louisville, then hired by the Atlanta Falcons where he quit in the middle of his first season, which star quarterback Michael Vick missed after being suspended for his role in an illegal dog-fighting ring in Virginia. He bolted the Falcons to take the Arkansas job, and left a livid locker room behind.

Petrino was hailed as the savior of Razorback Nation and has challenged Alabama and Auburn in the murderous SEC West, going 20-5 the last two seasons. But his career is in serious jeopardy after covering up that he had a 25-year-old woman employee of the football program on the back of his motorcycle when it crashed in rural Arkansas last weekend. Petrino, 51 and married with four children, has since apologized for an “inappropriate relationship” without elaborating further. The story seems to get more damning for Petrino every day. 
Davis’ first head-coaching job was at Miami, where he cleaned up a probation-laden program left to him by predecessor Dennis Erickson. By the time he fled five years later, Miami had been ranked as high as No. 2 in the country, played in the Sugar Bowl and had a roster of stars that would win the national championship in 2001 under his successor Larry Coker. Davis then went to Cleveland in the NFL and left midway through his third season amidst a maelstrom, his players saying the same uncomplimentary things about him as the Falcons heaped on Petrino. In 2006, Davis arrived in Chapel Hill as the savior of Carolina football, and you know the rest of that story.

Davis did not have the success on the field that Petrino has had at Arkansas, but he signed great recruiting classes and won eight games his last three seasons. His controversy, the NCAA scandal that led to his firing last July, also involved a woman in her 20s, the infamous tutor Jennifer Wiley who wound up in the middle of UNC’s academic fraud while also employed by Davis and his wife as a private tutor for their teenage son Drew. At worst, you can call Davis’ relationship with Wiley as “professionally inappropriate” and nowhere near what could turn out to be the case with Petrino and former Arkansas volleyball player Jessica Dorrell.

But Arkansas AD Jeff Long may find himself in the position where he has to fire Petrino if, according to a clause in the coach’s contract, he “negatively or adversely affects the reputation of the (university’s) athletics programs in any way.” I would say Petrino wiping out on his chopper with a girl half his age riding shotgun and then apologizing to everyone in sight violates that contract.

What is it with these multi-million-dollar coaches who do such stupid things? And I do not include Davis in that group, because his sins may have been more of omission than commission in overseeing a program that is now on a three-year NCAA probation.

How can they be so dumb to put themselves in a position that could not only jeopardize their careers, but their families? From the late Joe Paterno to the still very-much-alive Rick Pitino, errors in judgment occurred that makes you wonder whether some coaches believe they are either above the law and/or rules or oblivious to them.

Google “coaching scandals” and the list runs from household names to less-known coaches who were no less stupid. Petrino is the latest, and whether he keeps his job or not the respect he has built in Arkansas will be largely eroded. How many times will he have to confront the question in the homes of recruits?

That could cause Long to fire him, after all.

If Long then hired Davis, who has since taken a nebulous job with the Tampa Bay Bucs because he wants back in college coaching someday soon and would be a hero coming home to rescue the program, it would be a win-win for him and his old school. As the new head coach at his alma mater, Davis would let UNC off the hook for the $1.8 million in severance pay he is still owed.

Hog heaven for everyone except Petrino.