Went down to the coast last week, to Hamstead, not too far from Wilmington, to spend some time with John Bunting, the former North Carolina football coach. He was inducted on Sunday into the Greater Wilmington Sports Hall of Fame.
You can read the story right here. It's one mainly about Bunting's journey to peace and fulfillment nearly a decade after his dismissal at UNC.
As always is the case when you spend any decent amount of time reporting, though, there were some interesting things that didn't make the final story. Here are 10 of them:
1. Bunting was “not very happy” for a while after his tenure at UNC ended and it took him a while to heal. He said Joe Miller, the beloved longtime football coach at New Hanover High who died in 2014, was instrumental in helping him heal. Bunting said Miller “was absolutely in my corner.”
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“And he watched out for me,” Bunting said. “He really helped me get through the first couple of years. Because I wasn't doing very good.”
2. Bunting likes to say that Bill Dooley, the former UNC coach recruited him twice. Once when Bunting was in high school, making his college decision. And then again when Bunting moved down to the coast. Dooley recruited Bunting then to become involved in the Greater Wilmington Sports Hall of Fame.
3. Bunting often described the coaching profession as being in “the cave.” That's what it's like, he said. He shared a conversation about it with Larry Fedora, the UNC head coach, when the two spoke during UNC's pro day. When Fedora goes on vacation, and it's rare, he goes to the beach Florida so that he can escape for a bit. Bunting used to go to Maine (and still does, annually). Said Bunting: “When you live in that cave, you need a break. You need to get away from everybody for a while.”
4. Bunting didn't blame anyone else for how his tenure at UNC ended. Not his assistant coaches. Not his players. Yet it still bothers him, in some ways. He understands that, at the end, there was a tremendous amount of pressure on Dick Baddour, the former UNC athletic director, to make a coaching change. Yet, said Bunting: “But that's the athletic director's job, is to take the pressure.”
“And as much as I'm still friends with Dick, it was hard. Because I think his job was to protect us. I'd just signed an offensive coordinator for three years to a contract. Let him coach.”
5. After he'd been fired Baddour and Bunting told the team. Bunting tried to be enthusiastic about the opportunity ahead. He remembers what he told his players after he broke the news: “We've got five more weeks together. How do you feel about that?”
Bunting said his players jumped out of their chairs and gave him an ovation. It was a moment that still means a lot to him.
6. The night of his dismissal, Roy Williams came by Bunting's house to offer support. So did Joe Holladay, Williams' longtime assistant.
7. Bunting has a boat, as is mentioned in the story, but he doesn't take it out very often. He said “it's tricky” navigating the Intracoastal Waterway where he is.
“And,” Bunting said, “that's a powerful boat. Dawn went out with me and she thought the dog was going to jump out of the boat. And was holding onto it for dear life. And when she came back in, she goes, I'm never going out again. She hasn't.”
8. Funny story how Bunting and his wife named their dog Bella. In part it's because at one point Dawn's favorite brand of vodka was made by Belvedere. But, Bunting said, “She has weened herself off of vodka now.” More for Bunting. Just about every day he makes himself a martini and sits in his favorite chair by the window, overlooking the waterway.
9. In his living room Bunting keeps a commemorative ball from the Philadelphia Eagles' victory against the Cowboys in the 1981 NFC Championship. Dick Vermeil, the Eagles coach, gave out the balls to his players and wrote a note on them. The note says: “No squad has paid a greater price of success than you guys. Hard work, discipline, mutual respect and love have put you in the Super Bowl. Thanks for taking me with you.”
10. A couple years back, Dawn “put my shoulder pads in the trashcan,” Bunting said.
“Tears in my eyes as I throw away my shoulder pads,” he said.
A friend who owns a bar came to the rescue, and now the pads are a part of the bar's décor.
And one more, just for the heck of it: Bunting’s rivalry and relationship with Chuck Amato, the former N.C. State coach, was well-documented when they were in their respective positions more than 10 years ago. There weren’t exactly warm and fuzzy.
A decade later, Bunting carries fond memories of those days. He was hoping some pictures of him and Amato might surface for Bunting’s hall of fame induction on Sunday night. There’s one picture of Bunting and Amato in Bunting’s house.
The picture is from a recruiting trip. Bunting is at a high school somewhere, and there’s a cardboard cutout of Amato in a football office. Someone took the picture after Bunting put a UNC hat on the cardboard version of Amato. Bunting is smiling widely.
When Amato in 2009 was diagnosed with neck and throat cancer Bunting gave him a call, offering some encouragement.
“He was surprised,” Bunting said.