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Tar Heel Firsts: Mack Brown’s 1988 debut as UNC coach

This year will be the second time Mack Brown has opened a stint as Tar Heel coach against South Carolina

Miami v North Carolina Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

Mack Brown’s first two years in his first stint at UNC famously didn’t go great. After beating out the likes of Mike Shanahan and Fisher DeBerry in Tar Heel AD John Swofford’s coaching search, Brown won just two games combined in his first two seasons at Carolina. It didn’t take long for Brown to rebuild and turn things around, however. In year three, he took them to a winning record, as he would every year until he left for Texas.

This time around, the cupboard doesn’t seem that bare. It’s far from out of the question that this year’s UNC team could get into a bowl.

However, one thing that is very similar to the last time Brown took over at UNC is his first opponent.

On September 3, 1988, Brown made his debut as North Carolina coach. That day the Tar Heels were tasked with taking on #19 South Carolina on the road in Columbia. The Gamecocks were in the sixth year of coach Joe Morrison’s tenure, and coming off just the third 8+ win season in school history.

The home team was the favorite, and quickly went up 10 points in the first quarter. In the second, UNC fought back and scored a touchdown to get back within three when wide receiver Randy Marriott scored a rushing touchdown on an end around.

That was as close as the Tar Heels would get. South Carolina answered back with a touchdown later in the second quarter, and scored another two in the second half. UNC’s only other offense came on a fourth quarter field goal when they were down 17. Mack Brown’s first tenure in Chapel Hill started with a 31-10 loss.

Deems May had gotten the start at quarterback but went just 13-34 for 121 yards. Not shockingly with that line, the 1988 season was his only at the position. After that year, he switched to tight end, where he carved out a successful college and pro career.

As for the other side of the ball, the Tar Heels’ defense had a tough time stopping South Carolina running back Harold Green ran for 100 yards and two touchdown, picking up another 68 yards on pass catches. Other than him, UNC was pretty good at stopping the run. Not so much the pass. South Carolina’s passing game didn’t put up any points, but Gamecocks’ quarterback Todd Ellis threw for 290 yards on 23-38 attempts.

After the game, the Tar Heels’ new coach bemoaned that the game came down to a few big plays that his team just did not execute on. It may have been a 21-point loss, but it was hardly a beatdown.

It would take a while for the first win to come. It took until a October 22nd game against Georgia Tech for Brown to pick up his first win as Tar Heels’ head coach. Hopefully this time around, things go a little better from the jump.


The Associated Press. “Gamecocks Overpower Tar Heels.” Asheville Citizen-Times, 4 Sept. 1988, pp. 1B–5B.

Berardino, Mike. “Brown Named New Football Coach.” The Daily Tar Heel, 13 Jan. 1988, pp. 1–12.