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The Daily Tar Heel

Year in Review: How Mack Brown replaced Larry Fedora as UNC football head coach

Mack Brown new head coach
North Carolina football head coach Mack Brown speaks during his introductory press conference on Nov. 27, 2018.

The North Carolina football team has experienced a whirlwind of a week following the conclusion of the 2018 season. 

Larry Fedora is gone and replaced by Mack Brown, the former UNC head coach who last walked the sidelines of Kenan Memorial Stadium in 1997, before many current students at the University were even born. As Brown continues to assemble his coaching staff to erase any lasting vestiges of the Fedora tenure, it’s important to look back and remember how North Carolina got to this point.

In July, Fedora made comments regarding the state of football at ACC Kickoff that foreshadowed his inevitable demise, along with offering his distrust of CTE studies. 

“I believe the game is under attack right now. I really do,” Fedora said on July 18. “If we’re not careful, we’re going to lose what the game is all about.”

The same day Fedora made national headlines with his questionable comments, WRAL reported multiple UNC football players could face suspensions for violating team rules. On Aug. 6, 13 players were suspended for selling team-issued shoes. From that point, it was a free fall for the Tar Heels that ended in a 2-9 season and with UNC players engaged in an on-field fight with N.C. State team members following the completion of the season finale on Nov. 24.

In fact, Fedora’s last two seasons produced only five wins combined. Less than 24 hours after that loss to the Wolfpack, director of athletics Bubba Cunningham announced the decision to not retain Fedora’s services.

“It has been a great honor to be a part of this incredible University,” Fedora said in a statement. “I am extremely disappointed that I will no longer be UNC’s head football coach — I hate that it had to end this way.”

Fedora was let go by the program on Sunday, Nov. 25. By the next morning, reports were flowing in along with the news that Brown would return to Chapel Hill for a second tenure as head coach. He compiled a 69-46-1 record during his 10 years at North Carolina, yet did not leave the program on the best terms with his decision to flee for Texas before North Carolina's 1997 bowl game.

On Tuesday morning, Cunningham announced the official hiring of Brown to be the next UNC football head coach.

“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,” Cunningham said in a statement to Go Heels. “He knows how to win championships, and he expects his student-athletes to win in the classroom and community, as well. We are excited about his plans for our football program, and I am thrilled to welcome Coach Brown and wife Sally back to Chapel Hill.”

Later that afternoon, Brown was introduced at a press conference with Roy Williams and Sylvia Hatchell among the people in attendance. He praised Fedora and said no negative words would be said about the former head coach in front of the team. He also made clear his emphasis on recruiting players from North Carolina and added the program would not undergo a rebuilding effort.

“We’re planning on winning next year,” Brown said at the press conference. “For the seniors, you can’t say, ‘We’re going to rebuild.’ You can’t say, ‘We’re going to play all young guys.’ We want to win next year. We want to win now, and that’s very very important to us.”

On Friday, five days after Fedora was let go, Brown had already begun assembling his staff — hiring three coaches and promoting a fourth.

Tim Brewster was hired as assistant head coach and tight ends coach. Dre Bly, a former All-America selection at UNC, was named one of the cornerbacks coach. Tim Cross was hired to coach the defensive line. Tommy Thigpen was promoted to co-defensive coordinator.

In Brewster and Thigpen, Brown hired two of the nation’s top recruiters. Along with Bly and Cross, Brown has put together a team he believes can develop and recruit strong talent to play at North Carolina.

“I’m thrilled to announce four outstanding coaches who will be part of our staff at Carolina,” Brown said to GoHeels. “Each of them are, first and foremost, excellent people and know how to coach, recruit and develop players to be the best they can be in the classroom, in the community, on the field and in life. Dre and Tommy are among the very best I’ve had the opportunity to coach and it has brought me great joy to watch them grow to be the successful people they are today.”

Brown will continue to assemble his staff in the coming weeks as he looks to bounce back and return North Carolina to its former success in 2019.

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