North Carolina interim football coach Everett Withers added some heat to Saturday's game against N.C. State with some verbal jabs at the Wolfpack during a radio interview Wednesday.
Withers, who has openly embraced the importance of the rivalry to the Tar Heels, questioned the "academic environment" at N.C. State and the motivation of the Wolfpack in games when it isn't playing the Tar Heels, during a taped radio segment with Joe Ovies of Raleigh's 99.9 "The Fan."
Withers, who assumed the coaching duties nine days before the season after Butch Davis was fired in the fallout of an academic scandal and an NCAA investigation of the program, mentioned North Carolina's graduation rate, compared to N.C. State's during the interview.
"When you have as many schools in this state as we have, and the recruiting base gets watered down a bit, I think the kids in this state need to know the flagship school in this state," Withers said.
"They need to know it academically. If you look at our graduation rates, as opposed to our opponent's this week, graduation rates for athletics, for football, you'll see a difference. ... If you look at the educational environment here, I think you'll see a difference."
According to data provided by the NCAA, for the freshman class of 2004, North Carolina's football team had a graduation success rate of 75 percent, compared to 56 percent for N.C. State.
North Carolina's federal graduation rate, which does not count transfers or players who left early, was 58 percent, compared to 50 percent for N.C. State.
Withers, who started working at North Carolina before the 2008 season, did not mention the academic violations asserted by the NCAA in its investigation of the football program.
North Carolina is awaiting word from the NCAA on possible penalties; university officials were in Indianapolis on Friday for a hearing held by the NCAA Committee on Infractions.
Four football players were suspended for the 2010 season for what the NCAA defines as academic fraud. Jennifer Wiley, a former university tutor and employee of Davis, was accused of three of the nine major violations.
One of the four suspended players, former defensive end Michael McAdoo, was ruled permanently ineligible for his work with Wiley.
McAdoo subsequently sued the NCAA and the university, which in July led to the revelation that he plagiarized numerous passages of a paper for a Swahili course that the professor, the school and its honor court did not catch.
Withers, who has the Tar Heels at 6-3 and bowl eligible heading into Saturday's game at N.C. State, also spoke during the interview about motivation in the rivalry.
In the course of a four-year losing streak by the Tar Heels, some of their players have admitted the game seems to matter more to N.C. State.
Withers seemed to be taking a swipe at the Wolfpack with his comments.
"I don't know why they're more motivated for us than any other game that they play," Withers said. "I hope they were motivated last week vs. Florida State, we were vs. Wake Forest."
North Carolina beat Wake Forest 49-24 Saturday, and N.C. State lost at Florida State 34-0.