Mack Brown faces tough rebuild at UNC

Mack BrownMack Brown was thisclose to being the most crowded-around coach at last week’s ACC Kickoff.

The former and now again current UNC football coach, hired in November to replace Larry Fedora, is a College Football Hall of Famer, and he has a national-championship ring, from his 2005 undefeated title team at Texas.

Brown’s teams at North Carolina went 69-46-1 in 10 seasons. He inherited quite the train wreck in 1988, and posted 1-10 records in each of his first two seasons, before finishing up with back-to-back 10-win seasons in 1996 and 1997, ahead of taking the Texas job.

His time at Texas included a run of nine straight double-digit-win seasons, but then things ended with a thud.

His 2010 team went just 5-7, and his record in Austin over his final four seasons was just 30-21, and he stepped down after the 2013 season and went to work at ESPN.

Brown, who will be 68 in August, seemed to be out of the game for good, but he was never 100 percent sure of that himself.

“When we got out of coaching five years ago, I talked to Dick Vermeil. He said, ‘Don’t ever say you won’t get back in coaching. You don’t know what opportunities can come up, how you’ll feel at that time.’ I kept saying we would look at things,” Brown told reporters at the ACC Kickoff.

He interviewed for several jobs, but none of them seemed to fit, he said. He’d ask his wife, Sally, to gauge her interest in jobs, basically seeking permission.

Her answer: “I’ll let you coach in Hawaii, I’ll let you coach in The Bahamas.”

“I said, They don’t even have football (in The Bahamas),” Brown said.

“She said, ‘Well, we’ll start a team called the Bahamas Iguanas. Or I’ll let you coach in Chapel Hill.’”

The Fedora era seemed to be rolling along. UNC went 11-3 in 2015, before slipping to an 8-5 finish in 2016.

Then the wheels came off, with 3-9 and 2-9 records in 2017 and 2018, leading to Fedora’s dismissal, after a seven-year run that saw the Tar Heels go 45-43 overall and 28-28 in ACC play.

The cupboard is bare. Just 12 starters from a year ago return, and Brown is going to need to find a starting QB from among a group of inexperienced guys – two redshirt freshmen, Cade Fortin and Jace Ruder, and early enrollee Sam Howell.

“We’ve got to figure all that out,” Brown said at the Kickoff of his QB situation.

The biggest thing heading into training camp is just getting his guys to buy in.

Senior offensive lineman Charlie Heck feels that part of the rebuild has potential.

“My first impressions of Coach Brown, when I found out he was coming in, I instantly thought Hall of Fame, legendary coach. He’s exceeded all my expectations, and everybodys’ on the team,” said Heck, a 6’8”, 310-pound tackle who is one of two returning starters on the offensive line.

“I felt the energy after the first meeting,” said senior safety Myles Dorn. “He told us that he was going to take care of us. The day after he asked for what we could change. A month later, we saw it. He’s a man of his word. That’s something that you can’t compare to anybody else.”

For Brown, coming back 22 years later feels like coming to complete some unfinished business.

“We were fourth in the country I think. We had just won 10, then won 11,” Brown said. “We were recruiting as well as anybody in the country. We were getting most of the guys we wanted out of the state of North Carolina, some out of Virginia, some out of South Carolina and Georgia. We were really on a roll.

“Because of a lot of different circumstances, Sally and I thought it was best for us to leave at that time. But we did feel bad leaving a great team. I think there were 20, 22 guys off that defense drafted in ’96 and ’97.

“We want to come back and get it back like it was. But even better, we’d love nothing more than to win a national championship here.”

Story by Chris Graham

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