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September 22, 2011Watching Everett Withers' face during his weekly news conference on Monday spoke volumes about the man's attitude.
Making any assessment of Withers at this point is tricky because it is so early in his move to head coach, but he has established a pattern of being straightforward when he wants to be, regardless of what anyone else may think.
When a News & Observer reporter whimpered that perhaps Withers should not have presented former head coach Butch Davis with the game ball following the Tar Heels' opening-day victory against James Madison, Withers smiled and said he didn't really care what anyone thought.
Davis is his friend. Davis brought these players and coaches to Chapel Hill. He constructed this program, and he deserved to be recognized. I believe Withers rose several notches in many people's eyes that day because he took a clear risk at his chance to become the permanent head coach, given Chancellor Holden Thorp's obvious dislike for Davis and the sport of football.
In discussing Georgia Tech's remarkable offensive performance against Kansas during his weekly news conference this past Monday, Withers took an obvious shot at Virginia Tech. Then he made sure you knew he was taking a shot.
"[The Yellow Jackets] broke the NCAA record with 12.1 yards per carry," Withers said. "That record was set back in '73 by Alabama against Virginia Tech.
"I thought I'd throw that in there."
Now if you are a Carolina fan and cannot appreciate that, then something is wrong with you, in my opinion. Withers has an obvious understanding from his years of experience that poking a little fun at the Hokies isn't going to make a difference on game day. The Tar Heels will be ready to play or they will not. The same can be said for Virginia Tech.
What I believe Withers cares deeply about is the players on his team, the coaching staff who works with him and the university they all represent.
Once again, it's early in this whole process and I'll admit I could be getting conned, but my experience with people tells me I'm not.
Withers' future is not totally within his control, of course, because whoever the next director of athletics turns out to be may determine he has to bring in a so-called name coach to make an impression, especially given the damage the chancellor has inflicted on this program.
Withers, the assistants and the players do have a chance to make a strong case for themselves. This is a genuinely gifted football team. The talent is spread across the board and is more than adequate to win on any Saturday, or Thursday night.
That is part of what makes this week's game so interesting. Georgia Tech has a unique offense with its option attack because so few teams run it in this age of passing the ball. Carolina is a prime example of the modern collegiate team with its pro attack, its balance between running and throwing and the explosive plays that have become a trademark under Davis, offensive coordinator John Shoop and now Withers.
Another interesting tidbit this week is the school announced its "self-punishment," so that is a potential distraction for the team as it prepares to travel to Atlanta.
Withers' has a genuine opportunity by overcome it all: Tech's powerful offense, the school's self-flagellation and playing on the road. As usual, he does not seem to flinch.
There is an aura about his composure that makes him appear genuinely confident and eager to play the game.
"I kind of like going on the road," Withers said, smiling. "And I hope our team does. I like it when it's just us."
Middle linebacker Kevin Reddick agreed wholeheartedly.
"It's about time for a road to challenge us, to see where we really are with this football team," Reddick said.