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It’s Official: Mack Brown Named UNC’s Head Football Coach

New UNC Head Football Coach Mack Brown (standing) addresses a large gathering of media at Tuesday’s press conference announcing his hiring for a second time at the school as Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham and Chancellor Carol Folt (both sitting) listen to his ideas on how he plans to put the Tar Heels among college football’s elite programs. (Photo by Jeffrey A. Camarati, UNC Athletic Communications)

By Tim Gardner

As reported by hcpress.com that it would come to fruition, the University of North Carolina officially announced Tuesday that it had hired Mack Brown, who led the Tar Heels to a strong 1990s run before winning a national championship at Texas, as its head football coach. Brown, who maintains a residence in the North Carolina High Country community of Linville, reached a five-year deal that will pay him $3.5 million annually. Brown replaces Larry Fedora, who was fired Sunday after seven seasons.

In his return to the program he coached from 1988-97, the 67-year old Brown read off a long to-do list at the press conference announcing his hiring that included meeting with his new players and hiring assistant coaches and a support staff.

Brown’s last two UNC teams finished in the top 10 nationally, then he spent 16 years as head coach at the University of Texas before his 2013 exit as the program stumbled a bit from a dominating run through the 2000s. He has worked in television broadcasting in recent years, but still mulled opportunities to get back into coaching.

Yet he also revealed that he wanted to hold out for a fit that would ”feel right,” joking that his wife, Sally, said she would be supportive of them moving to Hawaii, the Bahamas or returning to Chapel Hill (for him to coach) after a successful first run.

There was no hesitation, he said, about taking the UNC job for a second time, saying: ”I’m so excited about starting over with young people I don’t know.

”The team has a void, they lost their coach,” Brown said. ”They had some very difficult games this year. Well, Sally and I have a void because we haven’t had a team for a number of years now.”

Brown knows there are many problems to solve as he returns to North Carolina, from stopping the Tar Heels’ downturn on the field to improving recruiting and developing teams that can consistently challenge for Atlantic Coast Conference championships and become contenders on the national level.

Despite being the largest university in the State of North Carolina with many resources such as huge alumni and fan bases, stellar athletics facilities and a massive budget, UNC has underachieved in football for parts of the last several decades. The Tar Heels have not won a conference championship since 1980–some 38 years. Of the eight schools that have been in the ACC during that time span, only N.C. State (1979) has gone longer without winning a league title.

There also was an NCAA investigation in 2010 into the UNC football program for improper benefits and academic misconduct under former coach Butch Davis, which ultimately led to Davis’ firing and Fedora’s hiring from Southern Mississippi before the 2012 season.

UNC was penalized with scholarship reductions and a one-year postseason ban, which kept the Tar Heels out of the ACC championship game in 2012. The ruling was supposed to conclude the NCAA issues, though the case sparked an offshoot probe into a more serious concern: nearly two decades of irregular courses in an academic department popular with athletes from numerous sports. That case lingered another five years, and led to five top-level NCAA charges, before reaching a no-penalty conclusion in October 2017.

Under Fedora, the Tar Heels won11 games and an ACC division title in 2015. But UNC was 3-9 in 2017 and 2-9 this season (2018), and has won only 2 of its last 18 conference games.

Recruiting has also slid along with fan attendance at UNC’s 63,000- capacity Kenan Memorial Stadium. The Tar Heels rank 66th nationally and 13th in the 14-team ACC with their commitments for the 2019 recruiting class, according to some recruiting sources. And the largest crowd to see a 2018 home game was 50,500 for Virginia Tech. Attendance at UNC’s other home games ranged from only 40,000 to 44,000.

But poor recruiting should change as Brown has long been regarded as one of college football’s top recruiters. He made it clear he plans to focus on landing in-state prospects, a formula he followed in his first job with the Tar Heels that began three decades ago. That included overcoming two 1-10 seasons at UNC before the Tar Heels won 10 games in 1993, went 10-2 to finish No. 10 in The Associated Press poll in 1996, then went 11-1 and finished No. 6 in his final season (though he left for Texas before UNC’s 42-3 Gator Bowl win over Virginia Tech).

During a 2016 interview with this reporter for a High Country Magazine feature story, Brown said that when he first took over the UNC program in 1988 “Clemson had 44 players from the State of North Carolina and UNC had only 14. That had to change and we changed it as we had to establish the state as our primary recruiting base.”

And Brown contends that if the Tar Heels start winning more games, and especially a lot of them, attendance will increase at Kenan Memorial Stadium.

And Brown says UNC can win big-time again.

”We know this place,” he said, ”and we know you can be successful in football here. We had success when I was here before and other coaches like Bill Dooley, Carl Snavely and Dick Crum also were successful here. And we plan to be successful and hopefully take the program to heights it’s not reached before.”

Brown and Dooley are tied for the second most wins in UNC history (69). Brown needs just four wins to break Crum’s record for career coaching victories at the school.

At Texas, Brown’s Longhorns went 101-16 overall from 2001-09, including an unbeaten 2005 season that included the national championship. But Texas slid to 30-21, including 18-17 in the Big 12 Conference, over Brown’s final four seasons.

Brown has a career-record of 244-122 and he will be enshrined into the College Football Hall of Fame next week. He was 6-5 during his one season (1983) as Appalachian State’s head coach. He also was11-23 as Tulane’s head coach from 1985-1987.

Brown is a Cookeville, TN native. His brother, Watson, is a former head football coach on the major college level at several schools.

Mack Brown, a long-time Linville resident, is the new head football coach of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels for a second tenure. (Photo by Jeffrey A. Camarati, UNC Athletic Communications)