Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- First-year defensive coordinator Everett Withers was a good hire for North Carolina.
He's got connections all over the place -- he grew up in Charlotte, he worked for Mack Brown at Texas, and he wanted to play at UNC but "wasn't good enough" and instead played defensive back at Appalachian State.
But that's not the reason he seems to be the right man for the job, and it only took 12 minutes in his office today to draw that conclusion. Mainly because of how he answered my non-question about his 2007 Minnesota defense, which ranked 119th out of 119 programs in total defense. With Withers as their defensive coordinator, the Golden Gophers allowed a whopping 518.67 yards per game.
"Don't take this the wrong way," I said, "but Minnesota's defense last year ..."
"Awful," he said, finishing my sentence.
Withers took some blame, saying he might have tried to compensate for a lack of talent with a complicated defense, but probably confused the players instead of helping them. He's not the first defensive coordinator tasked with trying to turn around Minnesota's defense, and the Texas secondary improved from 75th in the nation in pass defense in 1997 to first in 2000, so it's not like he hasn't had results before.
The bottom line is this: Withers thinks he has more talent to work with at UNC and is convinced it's enough for the Tar Heels to be a legitimate contender in the ACC.
"This place is on the right track," he said. "It's on the right track, getting the talent you need to compete and be a BCS team. This program is on that track."
Withers is not trying to change things drastically, rather he's trying to simplify things for a defense that, as linebacker Chase Rice put it, doesn't want to "have to think when we're out there, because when we think, that's no good for any defense."
Especially one with so many questions at cornerback.
"Everett, his attention to detail has been very, very good in the secondary because he's got a huge challenge, not only being the defensive coordinator, but it's an area of enormous scrutiny with this football team," coach Butch Davis said. "We feel very comfortable with the safeties. We think we've got four, maybe five safeties who are pretty good players. But corner is truly really an unsettled situation. I think his experience is giving those guys confidence, having coached the corners an awful lot. They trust him, they believe in him. He did it in the NFL. There's that willingness to listen to him."
So far, Kendric Burney has one starting spot, but there is tough competition between Jordan Hemby and Charles Brown at the other spot. Hemby, a junior, is finally healthy after being injured each of the past two seasons, and Brown is a sophomore who made nine starts as a true freshman in 2007 at either cornerback or nickel back.
"The kids are working hard," Withers said. "All of those kids have gotten better since we ended in the spring. I've gotta help them some and not put them in situations where they're going to be exposed all the time, but they're working hard and they're competing. We've got our hands full, but we'll compete and fight."