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UNC tuning out coaching talk before Independence Bowl against Missouri

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina interim coach Everett Withers said Monday he won’t let the uncertainty about his future be a distraction for the Tar Heels as they prepare for a fourth straight bowl game.

The Tar Heels (7-5) face Missouri in the Independence Bowl on Dec. 26. By that time, the school could have decided whether Withers should stay on as the permanent coach or if it will move on by hiring someone else.

Withers said he interviewed officially for the job last week.

Sunday “was 130 days since I took this job and I haven’t let it be a distraction for 130 days,” he said during a news conference. “Today’s 131, so I promise you I’m not going to let it be a distraction.”

Withers had spent the past three seasons as defensive coordinator under Butch Davis. But when the school fired Davis just before training camp amid an NCAA investigation into the football program, Withers got his first chance to be a head coach.

The Tar Heels won five of six to open the year before fading in the final month, though they still can match their record of the previous three seasons.

Quarterback Bryn Renner said the team — who has played through the distractions from the NCAA probe for the past two seasons — is well-versed on ignoring outside chatter by this point.

“We’ve gone through the whole season with him as our coach,” Renner said. “He’s still our coach. He’s done a great job of handling everything. You couldn’t ask for a better guy to do a better job for this university. Us as players, we’re going to focus on playing.

“Whatever happens, happens. We can’t control what someone else wants to do.”

Withers said he plans to coach the bowl game regardless of his status, yet also said football coaches are “day-to-day” and “you need to always keep your options open.” For now, he can only wait for new athletic director Bubba Cunningham to complete his evaluation of the program and work through the hiring process.

“I think it’s going to be a matter of them trying to get the right fit for this place,” Withers said. “Hopefully it’s standing right here, but if it’s not, I’m sure they’ll find it and move this program forward.”

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