Open mouth, insert foot

Published 11:12 am Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Do you know the difference between a veteran football coach and a first-year skipper?

The first reference is Tom O’Brien; the latter title belongs to Everett Withers.

Never mind the fact that O’Brien’s NC State Wolfpack posted a 13-0 win on Saturday over the UNC Tar Heels under the interim direction of Withers.

Pay no attention to that victory being the fifth straight by NCSU over their longtime rivals, thus making O’Brien only the second coach in Wolfpack football history, the other being Dick Sheridan, to win five consecutive times against the boys fromChapel Hill.

Forget about that win being the first time since 1960 that the ‘Pack had laid a goose-egg on the ‘Heels.

None of those things mattered to this particular Wolfpack fan. Sure, it’s always a treat when we whip the boys in Baby Blue, but this one was even sweeter, given the circumstances leading up to Saturday afternoon’s match-up at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh.

On Wednesday prior to the annual grudge match, Withers committed the cardinal sin of coaching, that of giving your opposition some fuel to add to the fire. That’s a huge mistake in any sport, especially the emotional roller-coaster known as collegiate football, and especially when that “coach-speak” is aimed directly at a rival opponent.

For those of you who missed it, coach Withers, during an interview with 99.9 The Fan ESPN Radio, remarked that in-state high school recruits need to know whichNorth Carolinabased university is, in his words, “the flagship school.”

“They need to know it academically,” Withers was quoted as saying in media publications throughout the state. “If you look at our graduation rates, as opposed to our opponent’s this week, graduation rates, for football, you’ll see a difference. If you look at the educational environment here I think you’ll see a difference.”

O’Brien, normally a very reserved and laid back type of coach, fired back one day later. While speaking with a group of media members, O’Brien remarked,  “Here is a guy that’s on a football staff that ends up inIndianapolis(at a NCAA Committee on Infractions hearing). If you take three things that you can’t do in college football, you have an agent on your staff, you’re paying your players, and you have academic fraud, that’s a triple play as far as the NCAA goes. So I don’t know that he has anything to talk about or they have anything to talk about. If that’s what people want in their flagship university inNorth Carolina, then so be it.”

The NCSU skipper was referencing the NCAA’s investigation into alleged academic misconduct at UNC, which led to the firing of Tar Heel football coach Butch Davis just prior to the start of the 2011 season as well as forcing former Tar Heel assistant John Blake to resign. Blake was part of the NCAA investigation for allegedly being involved with a professional sports agent.

And while Withers was correct in addressing the graduation rates of football players from both schools – NCAA data centering on the 2004 freshman class shows a 75 percent graduation success rate for UNC’s players compared to 56 percent for NCSU – perhaps that Baby Blue achievement can be traced to exactly what the NCAA is investigating ‘Carolina for to start with.

Withers made a big mistake by sitting in a glass house, flanked on all sides by accusations of nine major NCAA violations, and tossing stones at another university, one not under the national microscope.

That bad decision not only left the Tar Heels saddled with their fifth straight loss to the ‘Pack, it will perhaps cost Withers the opportunity to have the interim title removed and the chance to lead the UNC football program in years to come.

In other words, Withers’ flagship just sank.


Cal Bryant is Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. He can be contacted at or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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