The Daily Tar Heel sat down with new North Carolina head football coach Mack Brown for an exclusive interview touching on changes in Chapel Hill and college football, what it takes to win a national championship and bringing the fun back to Tar Heel football. Answers have been edited for brevity and clarity:
The Daily Tar Heel: How is Chapel Hill different since you left? In the 20 year span, what do you think has changed?
Mack Brown: I don't think much has changed at all. There’s a lot more parking garages. There’s more of what I would call high rises downtown, especially on Rosemary. The area around Chapel Hill has grown so much, too. There’s a lot more houses here than before.
The University is the same size. It’s probably tougher academically now than it was when I was here before, because it just keeps getting better, which is good and bad. The facilities are so much better. We built this building (Kenan Football Center) of course, but there’s a lot of things that have been done from a facility standpoint that have made it much better.
The league has a much better way of getting to a national championship. Clemson’s in the way, but at least you know exactly who the best team is. They’re in our league, and you have to beat them to get to go.
DTH: How do you think your time at Texas will help you at UNC?
MB: I matured a lot at Texas – winning a national championship, losing one, two or maybe even chances to have three or four. At least I know exactly what it takes now to get there. The pressure of that job, the pressure of the media – it’s like a pro job in Austin. I know a lot more about media now through Texas and through ESPN and ABC than I knew when I was here before, for sure.
And I think just the fact of maturity – you add 16 more years at that level of competing and coaching, and you get the ideas that you feel like really work, and then there’s some that you tweak and change. And then even more so the five years I was out (at ESPN), there’s more things you change because you see how people are doing things differently over time.
DTH: So now that you’ve done it – now that you’ve actually won a national championship – what can you say it takes exactly to do that?
MB: You’ve gotta be really good. You need to be healthy. You’ve gotta have enough depth that if you do have an injury or two, it’s not gonna kill you. I think by and large, you need to be really good at quarterback because you’re gonna have to score points now. Sometimes you can run the ball, and be physical and win games because you’re so good on defense and in the kicking game, but now you’ve gotta score. Because everybody’s scoring points.
DTH: You mentioned your time as a media analyst. How do you think that will help you in Chapel Hill?
MB: It helped me a lot to understand your business better, number one. A lot of coaches are miserable and they think the media’s after them, and everything you do is just to get me. And that has nothing to do with it. I saw in five years, it’s hard to figure out something that’s interesting every day that people want to read or want to hear that you can take behind the scenes. And you’ve gotta be accurate with the way you do it. It’s hard. It’s an every minute of every day job.
I caught myself during the week, saying, “What am I gonna say about this team? I don’t have anything!” and you don’t wanna just make stupid stuff up that nobody cares about anyway. So I always wanted to help the media when I was at Texas, just because I was being nice. Now I actually want to because it’s a hard job. I know if I can help the media without hurting us, that’s something I'll absolutely do.
DTH: We appreciate that. So is there anything that you want to do differently from your first stint in Chapel Hill?
MB: Yeah, I’d like to win the national championship. We got to the top here before, but we couldn't beat Florida State. So we were always second. They were like an NFL team; they were just so good. And that helped us and raised our level of play. But we couldn't beat them. So we obviously want to win the conference championship, but to do that you’ve gotta win the Coastal, win the ACC and then that puts you in the playoff.
DTH: It was Florida State in the nineties, and it’s Clemson now. How can you compare and contrast those teams, and as a team that’s trying to gun for that top spot, how do you go about that?
MB: I think the comparison is very similar, because Florida State was better than anybody. They were in the running for the national championship every year. And we knew that for us to get where we wanted to, we’ve got to be better than Florida State. And they’re the best.
I think we’re seeing similar things now with Clemson. They’re so deep, their recruiting just continues to be good. Dabo (Swinney) has done a great job, and the rest of us are just trying to catch them.
DTH: You talked about how it’s obviously a more pass-friendly sport now, you’ve gotta score points to win. What’s changed in football since you’ve left Texas from an X’s and O’s standpoint? Is that the biggest thing?
MB: It is. People started going so fast that I think we’re gonna see some people slow down a little bit. If you’re fast at three and out, your defense is on the field entirely too long. So I think we’re seeing a lot more people change tempos.
Everybody says, you’ve gotta go fast, you’ve gotta go fast. Well, not if it’s four minutes left in the game and you’re up by ten.
I think that’s probably the biggest thing on offense. Defensively, it’s teaching tackling differently with targeting. So many people now are teaching different ways to tackle without using the head. It’s smart, it’s safer, but obviously now a targeting can kill you because you lose your best player and you give up 15 yards.
DTH: I would say that you’ve been pretty successful so far on the recruiting front. What do you think that you’re doing differently from past regimes to bring in those top tier guys?
MB: I'm very passionate about this place. I love this place, and I know this place. It was a tremendous advantage for me coming in with familiarity. I know the state, I still know a lot of the coaches.
We brought in a tremendous staff that has recruited this state. Most all of these guys have recruited this area, and our footprint is from D.C. to Jacksonville, and really Virginia Beach to Atlanta. We want to recruit in-state first, but then take that footprint and make sure we get the best players and the smartest guys that fit this school. I think that’s why we’re doing so well.
This is a cool place to be. It’s a great school. We’ve got better facilities by far than we had and they’re better now than they were nine months ago. And I think the guys know we’re gonna win, so we’re starting to be the cool place to be again.
DTH: Looking forward to this season, who are one or two names on the defensive side that have stuck out to you so far that people can look forward to?
MB: Aaron Crawford, for sure. Because we missed him last year, and he’s a 300-plus pound anchor inside in the run game. You’d have to look at (Jason) Strowbridge, who we didn't have in the spring, he was out. You’d have to look at Dominique Ross at linebacker and Myles Dorn at safety, and Patrice Rene (at defensive back). Those are probably the five guys that would stand out first.
DTH: What about on offense?
MB: Obviously our big question mark is gonna be quarterback. I think all three guys are good enough, and we actually backed off on trying to make decisions with them in the spring because they were all too uptight. We just said, “Forget it, let’s learn the offense.” They were trying too hard to win the job rather than learning the offense.
All three running backs are really good. I think they’re the strength of our team, and the best unit we have. You’ve got Carl (Tucker) at tight end that’s good. You’ve got (Charlie) Heck and (Jordan) Tucker at offensive line that are really good. And then you’ve got (wide receivers) Dazz (Newsome) and Dyami Brown.
DTH: Last question: what’s your long term plan for UNC football?
MB: I want to have fun. I want to do everything right within the rules. I want to recruit good people that graduate and have better lives after football. And I want to win all the games. And that’s it. It’s not complicated. People are complicated, football is not.
We’ve gotta get our confidence back. I want to fill the stands – we need to make money in football for the athletic department. We’ve got 28 sports, and if we don’t make money it’s a real burden for (athletic director Bubba Cunningham) and the people. I’d like to see this (stadium) full every week. It’s the place to be; it’s the thing to do. I want to see the game-day experience much better. I want to see students coming instead of sitting with a big screen T.V. so they can drink beer.
I want all of that to happen. I want us to have fun again in football. We just haven't had that in the last couple of years. And that’s something we need to do.
The DTH's Brian Keyes and Grant Hughes contributed to reporting for this story.
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