Despite the still-present relics of his past, though, Mack Brown has changed.
He’ll tell you his five-year stint as a television analyst, after his exit from Texas in 2013, made him a better coach – and a more lighthearted one.
(No, those aren't mutually exclusive.)
“I learned that not many coaches are having fun,” Brown said of his time at ESPN. “They’re miserable, and they’re all worried about losing, and they’re all worried about being fired. And that’s not right – you’ve gotta have some fun. It ain’t gonna work unless you have fun.”
Just eight months in to the second Mack Brown era, his enthusiasm has translated.
“He brought an excitement to the team that I hadn’t seen before, not just only on the team but in the community,” offensive lineman Charlie Heck said. “People are talking about Carolina football.”
In contrast to his first stint in Chapel Hill – when, Brown says, he “didn’t know what (he) was doing” – the return of the Mack has also come with an increased understanding of both players and the media.
“He told us that he was going to take care of us,” safety Myles Dorn said. “The day after he asked for what we could change. A month later, we saw it. He’s a man of his word.”
Dietary changes, Pop-A-Shots, locker room upgrades – Mack's looking out. And on the PR front, the enterprising Brown is as sharp as ever.
“I learned so much more about your all’s job,” Brown said to a media throng. “Coaches don’t know about your job. It’s interesting, you’d say, ‘They do too, they’re around us every day.’ They don’t. They’ve never done your job.”
Keeping up with X’s and O’s always helps, too. Brown said his TV gig helped keep him up to date with the game – learning new schemes, trends, and the like, interviewing coaches every week.
So what prompted a return to UNC?
“‘I’ll let you coach in Hawaii, I’ll let you coach in The Bahamas,’” Brown recalled his wife telling him. “I said, ‘They don’t even have football.’”
“She said, ‘Well, we’ll start a team called the Bahamas Iguanas. Or,’” Brown said with a laugh, “‘I’ll let you coach in Chapel Hill.’”
With the return of Brown – and his wife – came a newfound energy around North Carolina football. Brown himself was charged up, talking about everything from new facilities to the importance of in-state dominance.
“How can you start talking about winning all the games till you win all the games in your state?” Brown said. “And how can you recruit really well in your state until you beat all the teams in your state?”
Much of what Brown brings to North Carolina remains the same as what came with him the first time around. But as they eye the hefty ring on his finger – perhaps at a speaking event, or in one of many interviews – Tar Heel fans hope that at least a few things about the second Mack Brown era will be different.
“We want to come back and get it back like it was,” Brown said. “But even better, we’d love nothing more than to win a national championship here.”
@DTHSports | firstname.lastname@example.org