Groh also increased emphasis on the Cavaliers' two-minute drill, which they practice every day. He announces the yard line, down and time remaining at the start of the drill, information he doesn't tell anyone beforehand so that his coaches can't prepare their respective units. When Virginia had to drive 44 yards in the final 1:44 to beat Clemson, the players seemed at ease. "We were poised," guard Evan Routzahn says. "We do it all the time."
Groh has also placed a special emphasis on special teams. In fact, all three former NFL coaches have. Groh and Carroll each has an assistant whose sole responsibility is the kicking game, a luxury on staffs that NCAA rules limit to nine full-time assistants. Bunting's linebackers coach, Dave Huxtable, is also the special teams coordinator, thus putting the kicking game on the same level as the offense and defense.
The Tar Heels were winless after a 44-14 loss to Texas on Sept. 8, in which Nathan Vasher set a Longhorns record with 153 punt return yards. In the next two weeks of practice—North Carolina had no game the weekend of Sept. 15—Bunting says, "it was made clear to players how important special teams are." In the following five games, all Tar Heels wins, opponents returned only one kickoff for more than 31 yards and no punt for more than 11 yards. Bunting considers the improved special teams the key to North Carolina's turnaround.
The NFL players Bunting coached loved him for his attention to detail. "He demands a lot from himself, and he expresses that," says Saints linebacker Charlie Clemons, who also played for Bunting with the St. Louis Rams. "He's a technician. He's also a disciplinarian, and he wants his guys to be the most disciplined and well-organized group on the field."
Unlike Groh, Bunting hired an all-collegiate staff, including veteran coordinators Jon Tenuta (defense) and Gary Tran-quill (offense). When Bunting met with his new team, he brought two pieces of jewelry with him: the Super Bowl ring he earned with the Rams in 1999 and the ACC championship ring he won in '71. "You see this?" he asked his players, holding up the ACC ring. "I'm an ACC champ. Is that what you want to be? Do you want to work to get to that? If you do, I know how to get it."
Senior defensive tackle Ryan Sims was sold. "That was enough for me," he says.
Carroll has the r�sum� needed to woo recruits. To assemble a staff, however, he used money. To run his offense Carroll lured Norm Chow from North Carolina State for a salary that can reach $300,000 with incentives, about double the usual pay for this position at a major college. Chow, who held various jobs at BYU from 1973 through '99, made a big splash as offensive coordinator-quarterbacks coach with the Wolfpack in 2000 by installing a freshman, Philip Rivers, at quarterback. Rivers led North Carolina State to an 8-4 record. Carroll also paid $135,000 to bring in running backs coach Wayne Moses from Washington, where he earned a reputation as a hardworking recruiter in the Los Angeles area.
Groh, meanwhile, has been a big change from his predecessor, George Welsh, a Navy man who was such a control freak that he assigned seats on team planes. Earlier this season Groh, taking a page from the NFL, had buses depart the team hotel for home games at two times. Players chose to leave three or two hours before game time. "It's a professional atmosphere," says Routzahn, a Virginia co-captain. "The coaches are more like our bosses than our parents. He puts it on the older guys to take care of the younger players."
In Bunting's first team meeting at North Carolina, a player asked him what his rules were. He announced only one: "Just don't f— - up."
With 25 bowl games this season, earning a postseason bid is likely for North Carolina but doubtful for both Virginia and USC. Carroll has tried to camouflage a lack of defensive talent by relying on speed, converting two of his safeties into linebackers. The Trojans, however, have been overpowered against a schedule filled with physical teams ( Kansas State and Notre Dame) and veteran offensive lines ( Stanford and Oregon). To avoid a losing season USC must win its three remaining games, including the season finale against its archrival, No. 9 UCLA.