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** Withers stepped up to the podium on the fifth floor interview room and spoke candidly about growing up in Charlotte, N.C. He talked about watching UNC greats Amos Lawrence, Matt Kupec and shared that he always wanted to be a Tar Heel.
In other words, he quickly hit home with a fractured fan base still reeling from the week’s events.
Withers stressed the importance of accountability within the program and indicated that his goal was to create an atmosphere where players can succeed past football. The 48-year-old first-time head coach mentioned Texas head coach Mack Brown, former Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher and former UNC head coach Butch Davis as individuals that have shaped his football acumen.
And in wrapping up an impressive opening statement, Withers spoke directly to the fan base in hopes of rallying support.
“We’re going to be a good football team,” Withers said. “We’re going to have a good football team because we’re got great football coaches on our staff, we’ve got kids committed to playing hard and being an exciting football team on the field. We won’t flinch as a football staff or a football team. And what I mean by ‘we won’t flinch’ is that we’ve been through an awful lot already.”
** Linebackers coach Art Kaufman was formally announced as the new defensive coordinator, and other adjustments were forecasted for the coming weeks.
The coaching staff met on Friday morning and Withers indicated that he has no plans of getting in the way. He indicated that the transition is made easier by letting the coaches do their jobs, while sticking his head in on occasion.
“There’s no finer assistant coaching staff in the country,” Withers said. “I’m going to need those guys and I know they’ve got my back.”
Withers’ primary focus will be to motivate and lead the team and getting the players back on track. He also emphasized that a major shakeup in how the program is run is not warranted.
“I don’t think there needs to be a style change,” Withers said. “I’m going to be Everett Withers. I’m not going to try to be anybody but Everett Withers.”
** The players took a short break after the second session of summer school ended on July 22, but will return to campus no later than Aug. 4 to report for training camp. Withers stated that he was “anxious” to get the players back into Chapel Hill.
“Everyone I’ve talked to on the phone has been truly excited to get playing football,” Withers said. “They want to play ball. They want to get back to being on the field, being with each other and getting that cohesiveness back to this football team.”
When asked about team leadership in the player ranks, Withers expressed little concern. He pointed to veterans like center Cam Holland and defensive tackle Tydreke Powell as examples of strong leaders.
But those leadership qualities aren’t just reserved for upperclassmen.
“Today I was sitting in my office and [sophomore quarterback] Bryn Renner came in and sat down in my office and said, ‘Coach, we’re getting ready to get this thing going,” Withers said.
** When Withers walked into the Kenan Football Center on Friday morning, he couldn’t help but to feel sadness for the absence of Butch Davis. He referred to his former boss as a great football coach and a much better person.
“I know Coach Davis is going to be fine,” Withers said. “I do. I know he’s going to be fine, which helps me move forward in this job because of the other assistants that are here.”
Withers is confident that working for Davis over the past three-and-half years will help him through this transition period. He also shared a text message that Davis sent him after his was named interim head coach – “Be yourself.”
** Athletic director Dick Baddour confirmed in his opening comments that Withers could possibly stick around after the 2011 season.
“I believe that he will be a very successful coach, and if that happens, then he will definitely have the opportunity to compete to become the permanent head coach,” Baddour said.
That appears to be Withers’ goal, who waxed poetic about the joys of living in Chapel Hill.
“Carolina is a special place,” Withers said. “[There’s] a lot of resources, a beautiful community. My family loves it here. My kids adore being around and playing the recreational sports and being in the middle schools. They enjoy their friends here in town. I want to tell you it’s been a special place for us so far and we hope to be able to stay a long time.”