According to the players, there wasn’t one moment that caused the downfall. The little things started building up.
“At the end of my redshirt freshman season, I kind of started to see a shift and it wasn’t as noticeable from the inside out because you look at the record and the year and everything looked fine from the outside,” rising senior defensive tackle Aaron Crawford said. “But since then, the only Power 5 team we’ve beat is Pitt.”
Two days after Fedora was fired, Brown was named the new head coach after an absence from coaching since 2013 and 22 years since he left UNC to coach at Texas. Since day one, the new head coach has preached about the need for a culture change and that there wasn’t a shortage of talent.
As he and the new coaching staff started working with the team, some players like Crawford were initially skeptical. Now, mutual trust is being fostered through the Hall of Famer’s genuine care for the team. On Saturday, the long training hours had paid off in more ways than one.
The team lacked overall depth due to various injuries. Fourteen players sat out the game, including rising star running back Michael Carter. Brown chose to rotate the three quarterbacks equally in order to relieve some of the stress off of the players so they can focus on their training. Combined, they passed for 313 yards on 29 attempts.
However, it was the players’ optimism and the culture change that stole the show. Part of that is due to Brown and the staff’s coaching, focusing on stronger communication in order to foster the trust, and also due to former Ohio State head football coach Urban Meyer’s talk from a few days earlier.
On April 5, Meyer, a longtime friend of Brown, spoke to the team about playing for each other rather than the money or the school, and the message of brotherhood resonated with the team. This season, the team’s motto is ‘be the one,’ and Brown has challenged each player to figure out what it means for them.
“It’s playing for the person next to you,” rising senior offensive tackle Charlie Heck said. “It’s a team game, and I think it’s you knowing your role inside and out and being able to go and compete without thinking.”
As North Carolina tries to meet the high expectations that come from a forgettable fall season and coaching changes, it's still trying to figure out what it is as a team. UNC is filled with rising seniors and upcoming underclassmen, which could potentially pose a divide within the team.
However, on Saturday, UNC played united as different members of each class stood out. Players had smiles on their faces throughout the game, jumping and dancing. It was a breath of fresh air.
The culture change within the brotherhood may be enough to revive the faith of the fan base just as it did within their team. They’ve already bought into the new era.
“It’s the energy every single day at practice,” Heck said. “Just even walking around the stadium, kids are smiling, kids are laughing, people are jumping around pre-practice.”
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