Before 16 seasons as the head football coach at Texas, Mack Brown held the same position at North Carolina for 10 years.
After joining the Tar Heels in 1988, he led UNC to 69 wins during his tenure, placing him in a tie with Bill Dooley for the second-most victories in program history behind Dick Crum.
Brown became the head coach at Texas after the 1997 season and proceeded to win the 2005 Bowl Championship Series National Championship along with Gene Chizik, the current UNC defensive coordinator.
Brown is entering his second season as a college football analyst for ESPN. Prior to the start of the college football season, Sports Editor Pat James spoke with Brown about his coaching career at UNC, the current state of the ACC and the Tar Heels’ upcoming season.
The Daily Tar Heel: What’s one of the moments you think about when you reflect on your time at UNC?
Mack Brown: There’s probably three of them. You go back, and the first one would be the first year we beat N.C. State (in 1993). That was important. We dominated Duke. I think we lost to them (two) time(s) in 10 years. The in-state games were very important to us, and we pretty much won them after we got the State game straightened out a little bit because we beat Wake (Forest) and Duke about every time. I don’t think we ever lost to Wake.
And then the first time we beat Clemson in Chapel Hill (in 1993) was really important because Clemson was so good at that time. They were such a huge factor in football and in the league. You couldn’t win the league without them.
I think the last year when we were (fifth) in the country, and Florida State was (third) in the country. It was just an unbelievable atmosphere. We had the chance, if we had beaten them, to play for a national championship. We got beat 20-3 that night, and that was very disappointing. But it was a different level because when Florida State came into the league it changed all of our lives. I think we were second about five or six times to them, and they were just so much better than everybody in the country. We had a couple of chances to beat them and just couldn’t do that.
DTH: How have you seen the ACC change over the past couple of years with additions such as Pittsburgh and Syracuse and then Florida State and Clemson being so dominant?
MB: I worked for (ACC commissioner) John Swofford for nine years. He’s a really close friend today, and I really enjoyed spending time with him at the Rose Bowl last year and then again at ACC media day this year. I stay in touch with John a lot, and I told him he has done an unbelievable job with the ACC overall. When you look at the basketball matchups, they are just the best in the country. Now you start looking at what football has done by adding Pittsburgh, Louisville, Boston College, Syracuse and Miami. It’s amazing what he’s been able to pull together. Basketball is at its highest now, and I see football getting better every year. He’s just brought in some real competitive teams.
DTH: How difficult was it for you when you decided to leave UNC?
MB: It’s probably the most difficult decision we have ever made because (Brown’s wife) Sally, the kids and I love Chapel Hill, and we were winning. I was very disappointed for the players that last year, that being (seventh) in the country, the Gator Bowl wasn’t good enough. I thought we should have been in the Bowl Alliance, and not being able to get in that year was very disappointing for all of us. If we had gotten in the Bowl Alliance, I absolutely wouldn’t have considered leaving. We had never thought about leaving. We had a lot of opportunities, and really (former Texas) Coach (Darrell) Royal was the deciding factor at Texas. He had become a close friend through the years, and it was hard to tell him no.
DTH: What does UNC need to do to return to the level it was at when you were coaching?
MB: I think they just need to keep doing what they’re doing. They’ve got to be consistent. There have been a lot of coaching changes since I left, and (head coach) Larry (Fedora) has done a great job. I really like (Director of Athletics) Bubba Cunningham. I’m very close to Roy Williams. I think Bubba is doing a tremendous job of helping — Roy doesn’t need any help, he’s been great for years — Larry get football back to a consistent basis. They’ve been good on offense. I watched them this spring, I came through there and spoke at a clinic. It’s just a matter of getting the defense — they needed some better players on defense — on the same page and getting some confidence back on their defense. I do think they have a chance this year to be really good.
DTH: What’s your prediction for UNC this upcoming year?
MB: I don’t predict teams like that unless I’m on ESPN because I really haven’t studied their schedule enough. But I do think they have a chance to be better than what they’ve been some of the past years. I think there’s a lot of excitement and enthusiasm going into the season for them.