By Tim Gardner
You Can’t Go Home Again is a novel by Thomas Wolfe published posthumously in 1940, and tells the story of George Webber, a fledgling author, who writes a book that makes frequent references to his home town. The book is a national success but the residents of the town, unhappy with what they view as the Webber’s distorted depiction of them, send him menacing letters and death threats.
Outcast, the author begins a search for his own identity. It takes him to New York and a hectic social whirl; to Paris with an uninhibited group of expatriates; and to Berlin, lying cold and sinister under monster dictator Adolph Hitler’s shadow. But the journey comes full circle when Webber returns to America and rediscovers it with love, sorrow, and hope.
If multiple news reports are accurate, the life of North Carolina High Country resident Mack Brown has come full circle while proving you can, indeed, go home again. Unlike Webber’s, Brown’s story is most positive and exalts him as a hero who can reverse the football fortunes of a school that has been among the nation’s top major college powers during different time spans.
Brown, who maintains a home in Linville, is reportedly set to be named the head coach at the University of North Carolina for a second time. Brown would replace Larry Fedora, who was fired Sunday. Fedora compiled a 45-43 record in seven seasons at UNC.
Once Fedora’s firing was announced by the school, Brown became the immediate frontrunner for the job. News of his return was met by colossal approval by a vast majority of the UNC constituency. It also was reported that UNC athletics director Bubba Cunningham wanted to replace Fedora as quickly as possible and actively championed Brown to be head coach.
A formal announcement from UNC naming Brown as its head coach is expected on Tuesday. Brown also reportedly has already begun to assemble his coaching staff in preparation for returning to UNC, some two decades after his first tenure with the school ended.
The 67-year-old won 69 games during his nine-year stint as Tar Heels head coach between 1988 and 1997, recording three bowl victories, as well as three 10-win seasons and consecutive top-10 finishes in his final two seasons before becoming head coach at the University of Texas.
During a successful 16-year run at Texas, Brown his teams to 158 wins and a National Championship in 2005, when the Longhorns beat University of Southern California 41-38 and quarterback Vince Young was named Most Valuable Player. Brown also directed Texas to two Big 12 titles and he led the Longhorns to six Big South divisional titles as well as nine straight 10-win seasons.
However, he resigned in 2013 after the Longhorns failed to reach double-digit victories in four consecutive seasons.
Following Brown’s departure from UNC in 1997, the Tar Heels did not have another ranked finish until 2015, when Fedora led the team to an 11-3 record in his fourth season. That year, UNC lost a bowl game for the third consecutive year, dropping the Sun Bowl 25-23 against Stanford.
The UNC program then quickly fell on hard times. The Tar Heels won just five games combined over the last two seasons, finishing with 3-9 and 2-9 records in 2017 and 2018, respectively. UNC was 1-7 in Atlantic Coast Conference play both years.
Brown, who is currently an analyst for ESPN, is tied with Coach Bill Dooley for second place in all-time wins at North Carolina. In a 29-year career as a head coach, which began with a one-year run at Appalachian State in 1983, Brown has a career-record of 244-122. He is set for induction in the College Football Hall of Fame next week.
Brown also has been a head coach at Tulane, as well as an assistant at Florida State, Southern Mississippi, Memphis State, Iowa State, Louisiana State (LSU) and Oklahoma. He has long been regarded as one of college football’s most wide-open and top offensive coaches.
Brown, a Cookeville, TN native, played collegiate football at Vanderbilt and Florida State.