Mack is back.
After two consecutive nine-loss seasons under former head coach Larry Fedora, North Carolina has moved in a new(ish) direction with the hiring of Mack Brown as the head coach for the 2019 season.
Brown previously coached at UNC from 1988-1997, going 69-46-1 during that stint. Head coaches following Brown would struggle to replicate his success after he departed for the University of Texas. None of the five coaches to lead UNC football since have managed to reach Brown’s win percentage of 60%. In fact, all except Everett Withers, who went 7-6 in a single season, and Butch Davis won fewer than half of their games.
Despite having a losing record for the past two seasons, the Tar Heels have played mostly competitive football. Last season, five of UNC's nine losses were by a touchdown or less, and the team only lost two games by more than ten points. This should be an encouraging sign to fans that although there is work to be done, the team has the potential to improve in 2019.
So what does Mack Brown bring to UNC that could turn a two-win team into a contender? His greatest strength may actually come in to play before the Tar Heels even step on to the football field for the first time.
Brown is known for his ability to connect with players and reel in big-time recruits, like NFL Pro Bowlers Earl Thomas, Vince Young, Jamaal Charles and Brian Orakpo, all of whom played for Brown at Texas.
If Brown is aiming to maintain his reputation as a recruiter extraordinaire, he is off to a good start. He has already secured the services of four-star quarterback Sam Howell of Sun Valley High School in Monroe, N.C., among others. Howell was one of the most highly-recruited prospects in the class of 2019 and ended up committing to North Carolina over offers from many other programs including Clemson, Georgia and Ohio State.
Howell will compete for the starting quarterback job with rising redshirt first-years Cade Fortin and Jace Ruder. None of the three quarterbacks have much experience as a starting quarterback in a college program, none should have a prior advantage. Brown has also suggested that he might be open to utilizing multiple quarterbacks, so it is possible that more than one of these players will see significant playing time in 2019.
Whoever is throwing passes for the Tar Heels this fall, they should have some pressure taken off of them by a strong backfield. Rising senior Antonio Williams, rising junior Michael Carter and rising sophomore Javonte Williams make up the UNC running back corps, and the trio has a high ceiling going into the new season. Last year they combined for 1,325 yards and 12 touchdowns, and if they are able to improve upon last year’s numbers, it will provide a safety net for whoever ends up under center.