North Carolina's plunge from a top 10 program to last place in the Atlantic Coast Conference over a two-year period will cost coach Carl Torbush his job, sources told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Torbush, 2-0 in bowl games but 10-13 overall since replacing Mack Brown, will be fired after Saturday's season finale against Duke with three years remaining on his five-year contract. Several sources close to the program told the AP the school and Torbush have begun buyout talks.
Athletic director Dick Baddour refused to comment on Torbush's job status.
"Any speculation on this prior to Saturday does the game and the players an injustice," Baddour said.
Torbush, 48, wouldn't confirm or deny he was being forced out.
"I have told our team there are a lot of fires out there," Torbush said in a telephone interview Thursday. "I can't control what's out of my control. I have no say-so in this, other than doing the best I can."
News of the impending firing surprised Tar Heel players interviewed after the team's practice Thursday afternoon.
"It's news to us. All we're expecting now is to beat Duke," said senior linebacker Brandon Spoon, a defensive leader who suffered a ruptured biceps tendon in the second game of the season and was lost for the year. "He's got our support 100 percent."
Junior linebacker Merceda Perry said he thought last Thursday's 10-6 victory over archrival North Carolina State, a win which broke the Tar Heels' seven-game losing streak, might have saved Torbush's job.
"I didn't think this much was going on right now," Perry said.
Torbush would comment only on the team's preparations for Duke.
A top defensive assistant under Brown for a decade, Tobush was the school's second choice two years ago when Brown left for Texas. Georgias Jim Donnan was offered the head coaching position, but turned it down to remain with the Bulldogs. Torbush was offered the position a day later.
Speculation has again focused on Donnan as a possible replacement for Torbush, but the Georgia coach told the Atlanta Constitution-Journal that he had not been contacted by North Carolina officials and had no interest in the job.
"I'm totally focused on being the Georgia football coach," he said, declining further comment.
Torbush fell out of favor with some major athletic boosters and fans after North Carolina started 0-3 last season and finished 7-5. This year, the Tar Heels (2-8) are mired in their worst season in a decade after being hit with numerous injuries at quarterback.
"The fact that we're losing right now is probably not a bad thing because it brings something to a conclusion earlier than later," said a member of the executive committee of the Educational Foundation, the school's athletic fund-raising organization.
"You kind of have a sense when it's over, don't you?" added the board member, who asked not to be identified. "It doesn't take a genius to figure this one out."
Torbush hasn't been without coaching success. He was the architect of one of the nation's top defenses when the Tar Heels were 21-3 in 1996-97. He also coached the Tar Heels to a 42-3 victory over Virginia Tech in the 1998 Gator Bowl after Brown departed and won last year's Las Vegas Bowl over San Diego State.
However, Torbush was harshly criticized following a 20-12 home loss to Houston and a 45-7 loss at Maryland. A 28-3 defeat by Division I-AA Furman a week later and sagging attendance likely cost him his job.
Last season, the Tar Heels averaged 55,670 fans. This season, the announced average is 46,000.
"In my opinion this is a steady decline" of the program, said Maurice Koury, one of the school's top athletic boosters. "We've had a lot of injuries, but there again you make your breaks."
"It has been the same thing (Carl) has been saying all year long that the future is bright," Koury added. "But we're not a very patient group. And we've got 60,000 seats to sell."
The Tar Heels have scored only 35 points over a five-game stretch since starting quarterback Ronald Curry ruptured his Achilles' tendon in a 31-24 overtime loss at Georgia Tech.
Since then, Torbush has used at quarterback backup Luke Huard, defensive back Antwon Black and running back Domonique Williams.
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