Mack Brown is coming back.
On Tuesday morning, the University announced Brown will return to Chapel Hill to be the next coach of the North Carolina football team. The news comes just two days after the University announced it would not retain Larry Fedora following a 2-9 season. Brown will be introduced at a noon press conference on Tuesday afternoon.
"Mack Brown has a proven record of building great teams, and he doesn't just develop football players — he also develops people of strong character," said Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham in a statement released Tuesday.
"Sally and I love North Carolina, we love this University and we are thrilled to be back," Brown said. "The best part of coaching is the players — building relationships, building confidence, and ultimately seeing them build success on and off the field. We can't wait to meet our current student-athletes and reconnect with friends, alumni and fellow Tar Heel coaches. We thank UNC's Board of Trustees, Chancellor Folt and Bubba Cunningham for supporting our return to the Carolina family."
The move to hire Brown reunites UNC with the second-winningest coach in program history. The Cookeville, Tenn. native has 29 years of head coaching experience at the Division 1 level.
Brown went to Putnam County High School, where he was good enough in football to later attend Vanderbilt, and played running back for the Commodores. He played at Vanderbilt for the 1970 season, racking up 364 yards on the ground and four total touchdowns before moving on to Florida State. Brown played one season as a Seminole, amassing 31 carries for 98 yards. However, a rough hit in practice prematurely ended his playing career and he soon became a student coach. In 1974, Brown graduated from Florida State, where he had been working for the football team as a student wide receivers coach.
For the next five years, Brown stopped at three different schools to work as a wide receivers coach, beginning at Southern Miss in 1975. Following the 1977 season, he moved to Memphis State, where he coached for one year. In 1979, he found some stability at Iowa State.
One season as the wide receivers coach for the Cyclones was good enough to earn him a promotion to offensive coordinator. Brown served as offensive coordinator in 1980 and 1981 and the Cyclones had a winning record (11-10-1) during his time in charge of the offense.
In 1982, Brown moved once again, this time to Louisiana where he worked as quarterbacks coach for Louisiana State. It was clear it was only a matter of time before Brown got his first head coaching gig. Sure enough, a vacancy opened up at a small FCS school — Appalachian State. Brown fared well in his first season in Boone, N.C., coaching the Mountaineers to a 6-5 record, before once again uprooting himself.
This time Brown headed for Oklahoma for the 1984 season, where he served as offensive coordinator under legendary head coach Barry Switzer.
But the move was clearly just a stopgap for Brown, who had higher aspirations than being an assistant. Following one season with the Sooners, he moved to Tulane and coached the Green Wave for three seasons. His teams improved each year, going from 1-10 to 4-7 to finally 6-6 in 1987. The 1987 season also provided Brown his first opportunity to coach in a bowl game. The Green Wave received an invitation to the Independence Bowl but were defeated by Washington, 24-12.
After three years in New Orleans, Brown was ready to move on. It just so happened that at the same time Brown was finishing up his third year with Tulane, Dick Crum, the 10-year UNC head coach, was in the process of resigning from his post. Just like that, the opportunity presented itself for Brown to return to the state of North Carolina.
Carolina in my mind
Brown coached the Tar Heels from 1988-1997, amassing a 69-46-1 record during his tenure. Following consecutive one-win seasons as the replacement for the all-time winningest coach in program history, Brown began to turn the team around with a 6-4-1 mark in 1990. In 1992, Brown led the team to its first bowl game with him in charge and the Tar Heels defeated Mississippi State, 21-17, in the Peach Bowl.
The game marked the first of five consecutive bowl appearances for Brown and the Tar Heels. North Carolina finished with a 3-2 record in those games.
Brown's two most successful seasons came in his last two years at the helm — 1996 and 1997 — when UNC combined for a 20-3 record.
The 1996 season started with a bang as the Tar Heels thrashed Clemson, 45-0, in the season opener. UNC followed that performance with one just as good, a 27-10 beatdown of No. 9 Syracuse. In fact, North Carolina only lost twice that season — at No. 2 Florida State and at No. 24 Virginia. Brown’s Tar Heels rebounded from the Virginia loss to end the season with a victory over Duke and a win over No. 25 West Virginia, 20-13, in the Gator Bowl.
Expectations were high following the successful 1996 campaign and UNC came into the season No. 7 in the Associated Press poll. The Tar Heels stayed in the top 10 all season, finishing No. 6 in the final poll. All that stood in the way of a perfect season and a potential shot at the National Championship was Florida State. The No. 3 Seminoles defeated the Tar Heels, 20-3, in a matchup of two top-5 teams on Nov. 3, 1997 at Kenan Memorial Stadium.
After 10 years in charge of UNC, the top schools in the nation were ready to lure Brown away. When Texas offered Brown the job, it was too good of an opportunity to turn down.
Brown left UNC before the 1997 Gator Bowl, much to the chagrin of Tar Heel fans, to coach Texas for the 1998 season. His decision was soon validated — the Longhorns had 12 consecutive seasons of nine wins or more to begin Brown’s tenure. During that span he posted an 8-4 mark in bowl games and made two national championship appearances. In 2005, quarterback Vince Young led Brown and the Longhorns to the Rose Bowl, where Texas defeated USC to cap off a 13-0 season and give Brown college football’s biggest prize — a National Championship. Texas returned to the big game in the 2009 season, but a formidable Alabama squad took down the Longhorns in the BCS Championship.
The final years
Over Brown’s final four seasons in charge of Texas, his teams only reached the nine-win plateau once more — in 2012. His worst year in charge of the program came in 2010, when the Longhorns posted a 5-7 mark and failed to qualify for a bowl game. It was the first time a team coached by Brown had failed to appear in a bowl since the 1991 season and perhaps gave foreshadowing of things to come.
Following an 8-5 mark and a loss in the Holiday Bowl to conclude the 2013 season, Brown left the program to become a television analyst for ESPN. He ended his 16-year tenure at Texas with a 158-48 mark and gave the school its first national championship since the 1970 season. Brown had solidified himself as a coaching legend, leaving many UNC fans to remember him as the one that got away. In fact, he was named to the College Football Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2018, showing how far the coach has come since he took his first job as a student coach at Florida State over 40 years ago.
Now, a little less than five years after Brown coached his last game at Texas, he is back at the school where he got his first real taste of head coaching success.
Mack Brown, the one who got away, is finally returning to Chapel Hill to roam the sidelines once again.
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