CHAPEL HILL — For one of the final times, Everett Withers stood on the Kenan Stadium field Wednesday and led North Carolina's football team through a practice. As his final days as the Tar Heels' interim coach wind down, Withers denied that he felt nostalgic.
"The life of any football team is not long," he said. "And all football teams are special to you, and this one's special because of what these kids have gone through."
Withers then spoke of UNC's senior class, one that arrived amid the hype of the beginning of the Butch Davis era and that experienced unprecedented turmoil amid a multi-part NCAA investigation and Davis' firing. The seniors, Withers said, are "my only focus."
"I don't know if I get real nostalgic and all that," he said. "But my obligation is to try to help these seniors go out the right way."
Last week, UNC announced that Larry Fedora, the Southern Miss coach, would be the Tar Heels' permanent successor to Davis. Withers, the former defensive coordinator who took over for Davis after his firing, said he couldn't remember how he received the news that he didn't win the Tar Heels' job, full-time.
He couldn't remember a day. Or a time. He said he remembered only that he knew before Friday, when UNC formally introduced Fedora.
Now Withers' time is running out. He will coach one final game, Dec. 26 against Missouri in the Independence Bowl, for the school he grew up adoring as a boy in Charlotte.
So amid the bowl preparations, Withers is also attempting to secure his future beyond UNC. Withers said he would not remain with the Tar Heels "in any capacity." Speculation has surfaced in recent days that he is a candidate to join Urban Meyer's coaching staff at Ohio State.
Meyer resigned at Florida at the end of the 2010 season but has returned to coach the Buckeyes. Withers confirmed Wednesday that he has had discussions about joining Meyer's staff.
"I have had contact with Ohio State," Withers said. "Nothing's official yet, but (it's) working that way."
Wednesday's practice marked Withers' first public comments since the university announced Fedora's hiring. And despite reporters' attempts to make Withers attach emotion to his final days with the Tar Heels program, Withers remained stoic.
"You know, like I've said, coaches are day-to-day," he said. "You're always disappointed when you don't get something. But as a coach, you learn to move on fast."
Fedora met with the Tar Heels on Friday, after his introductory press conference. It was a brief meeting, but one that made a lasting impression.
"He came in, talked to the team and he's an amazing guy," said freshman running back Giovani Bernard. "He's a real motivator. He wants to change a lot and just get ready for a great season. I'm excited, but everyone on the team, we all know that we've got to finish off one game with coach Withers."
A victory in the Independence Bowl would represent the Tar Heels' eighth win. It also would put a positive ending on Withers' first, and only, season. More than anything, UNC players said, the chance to send Withers and his staff out as winners is the only motivation they need.
"We want it really bad," said quarterback Bryn Renner. "We've had a great couple practices through exams, and I think we're ready to play for this whole staff and these seniors and send them out on a good note. Because they've done a lot for us."
For now, Withers said his focus remains here, with a UNC team he has led through a turbulent journey. After Fedora met with the Tar Heels, Withers said he held a team meeting the next day.
He didn't describe it as strange, or as out of the ordinary.
"Just like normal," Withers said of the meeting. "Just like a normal meeting. Nothing special. Just getting ready to go play a good football team in Missouri."