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UNC Football: Reviewing Mack Brown’s first 100 days at UNC

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The past 100 days have been a whirlwind of activity. Let’s review.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

On November 27, 2018 the University of North Carolina hired Mack Brown. The decision brought a bevy of reactions. Mockery and skepticism was in abundance. Some felt the decision was rushed, if not desperate.

A smaller contingent celebrated. I was part of that group. Days after his hiring, I wrote about how Mack Brown was the right coach, at the right place, at the right time.

Today, March 6th, 2019, marks Mack Brown’s 100th day as the head coach at UNC. Though the UNC-Duke basketball rematch is 72(ish) hours away, it is now an undeniable reality that North Carolina is a football school.* As such, we felt it was pertinent to review Mack’s first 100 days.

A growing buzz surrounds the program. Fans can’t quite comprehend how or why they’re fully excited for North Carolina football. No worries. We’ll try to break it down, using superior intellect** and insider knowledge.***

*100% deniable reality

**Not superior

***Absolutely zero insider knowledge

Building a Staff

Whether or not one believes Brown’s age is a detriment, he had been out of the game for over five years. That is not a small amount of time considering the game’s rapid evolution. Brown has also never been known as a tactical guru like some specialists who are often pigeon-holed. The general consensus was if “Return of the Mack” was going to work, the program needed a strong staff to fill in any knowledge gaps for the current game.

Saying Brown was successful in that endeavor is an understatement. For your reading pleasure:

With the exception of one debatable stumble, it’s hard to gripe with any of off-season hires. SB Nation’s main college football site also explained how Brown has implemented his vision with the coaching staff.

Family Reunion

Graduates, fans, and outsiders all agree there is an unrivaled quality on campus and within the athletic program. Much of that revolves around the prevalent familial culture. The men’s basketball program is the most notable example, but the “Carolina Family” resonates across every sport. One program doesn’t monopolize the sentiment.

Football, however, has struggled to maintain consistency with bridging the gap across generations. Lack of overall success and continuity is certainly a hindrance. In his first 100 days, Mack has laid those foundation to fix that problem. I wrote in November:

“Since Mack left, North Carolina has had five different coaches. None of those five have been able to adequately reach out and heal old wounds left by the different regimes. A few here and there carry the torch for their prospective eras, but there has never been the continuity seen in other sports around campus. Brown has the history, the personality, and the clout to fix that”

In late February, Inside Carolina touched on some of these initial efforts. Bubba Cunningham and Dre Bly shared recent experiences on Twitter (below). Visits from Nazair Jones, Ryan Switzer, Austin Proehl, and Landon Turner (among others) confirm Brown is openly welcoming his immediate predecessor's players — not always an easy transition. UNC legend Don McCauley attended the first spring practice. Former Tar Heels and NFL players Bucky Brooks and Brian Simmons spoke with team, demonstrating UNC’s superior professional network.

In other words, Mack Brown has reunited players that span 50 years of North Carolina football. He’s done it all in the past 30 days.

School Synergy

That mindset is not confined to athletics. A football team belongs to the students and faculty. It should be woven into the fabric of the university, not just a Saturday sideshow. In return, football players shouldn’t feel like afterthoughts – something that easily happens at a school where women’s soccer receives more national respect than football.

To bridge that gap, Brown made an appearance in the classroom, asked the band and cheerleaders to attend the first spring practice, and asked Interim-Chancellor Kevin Guskiewicz to speak to the team. On Tuesday, he met with the women’s basketball team. These are small steps that make a large impact. I’m willing to bet Mack even knows there is an arboretum on campus.

(Re)Building Relationships

Toward the end of Fedora’s tenure, there were whispers of discontent. A schism developed between UNC’s staff and North Carolina high school coaches. Personality conflicts, misunderstandings, and strategic recruiting decisions influenced the broken relationships. For the flagship university in the state, that environment is inexcusable.

Mack Brown instantly began rectifying the problem. Aside from talking the talk in press conferences and interviews, Brown also walked the walk. Brant Wilkerson-New of the Greensboro News & Record highlighted those developments in January. The efforts have been noticed, as East Forsyth coach Todd Willert told Wilkerson-New at the time:

“I’ve probably heard more from them than I’ve heard in the last couple of years, so I’m very excited. It’s been refreshing to have UNC around.”

That was five weeks after Mack was hired. North Carolina didn’t even sign a player from that school in the 2019 recruiting class. Brown still made a positive impact.

The North Carolina high school football culture is a unique, close-knit community that is hard for outsiders to grasp. It follows a set of unspoken rules, expectations, and relationships that are uncommon in other states. Mack understands that culture. He discussed the value of keeping recruits inside the state of North Carolina with Jones Angell and Adam Lucas on November 28 - just one day after being named the head coach.

One of his first remedies? Visit every school in the state. Here’s a small sampling of those visits.

When he’s not hitting up local coaches, Mack is dropping advice at coaching clinics in the region. Not bad for a 67-year old Grandpa.

Oh, and he’s giving high school coaches a reason to come to Chapel Hill. Bringing in speakers like Urban Meyer to his coaching clinic certainly enhances UNC’s profile among the lower ranks.

Recruiting

Plenty has been written on the 2019 recruiting class. We covered the Early Sgning Period here and National Signing Day here. Most are familiar with the details of the flips and influx of in-state talent. That momentum carried over to the 2020 class, where early rankings have UNC as a top-20 class

Highly ranked and in-state recruits are visiting UNC with surprising regularity. Two weeks ago, the staff hosted a huge “Junior Day”. This weekend they’ve invited additional top-tier talent for an “elite” junior day when men’s basketball hosts Duke. Recruiting gets a little bounce when a new guy replaces a recently fired coach, but what has taken place in a mere 14 weeks has surpassed anything that can be considered “normal”.

It helps to have brand new state-of-the-art facilities. In Deana King’s tweet, you can see five-star in-state recruit Desmond Evans (left picture). He was among multiple high-priority recruits taking in the new scenery at the first spring practice.

Transparency and Accessibility

For fans, among the biggest frustrations of Fedora’s staff was the secrecy that surrounded the program. That isn’t a problem anymore. The synergy Brown promotes on campus is equally important to him for fans and media. Transparency has been on display in open forums and on social media. Enjoy the following examples

  • After each signing day, he personally gave mini-film sessions of each new recruit.
  • Staff hires were accompanied by an introduction video. With so many new faces, some name and face association doesn’t hurt.
  • “Behind the scenes” videos from the pre-season. All 40 videos for the 2019 football playlist can be found here. The 2018 playlist? A total of 68 videos. So yeh, this will be a thing.
  • Increased presence on social media. Whether it’s DL coach Tim Cross’ .GIF game, TE coach Tim Brewster’s emoji prowess, or Dre Bly’s swagger, the staff has elite social media skills.
  • Here is Mack’s most recent press conference from March 1st. He spoke for 40 minutes. Safe to say, he is comfortable with the media.

Going Forward

None of this implies the coaching staff is introducing unique or groundbreaking techniques. Plenty of football staffs have immersed themselves in most, if not all, of these tactics. Nor does a program need slick video production or hyper-active twitter activity. One method isn’t necessarily better or worse.

However, for UNC fans, it is new and exciting. Expanding on previous attempts by the athletic department (videos/media) and becoming more active in already existing forums (social media) are easy successes. Those successes are amplified if you consider the UNC fanbase was desperate for two things:

1) A desire to be engaged by the program
2) A desire to engage with the program

So far, that mission has been accomplished.

Without even playing a single down of meaningful football, every action of Mack Brown’s second tenure in Chapel Hill has increased hope, energy, and optimism. That’s a solid first 100 days.

For the first time in three seasons, fans are eagerly anticipating the next 100.

Besides, the Spring Game is just 38 days away.