In a topsy-turvy 2019 — one punctuated at various points by season-opening comebacks and sextuple overtime losses, near-upsets against No. 1 and defeats at the hands of in-state little brothers — it’s only right that this is how Mack Brown, the old/new head coach of North Carolina football, became the winningest man in program history.
It happened on Saturday, in a 20-17 win against rival Duke, thanks to a game-sealing interception by linebacker Chazz Surratt. On first and goal from the UNC 2-yard line, Duke’s Quentin Harris handed the ball off to running back Deon Jackson, whose Tebow-esque jump-pass was snagged by Surratt with 14 seconds left to play.
Just more dramatics that are now old hat for Brown and his team.
“We’re TV darlings,” he said. “We come down to the last drive on every game we’ve played but one.”
Good ratings don’t always mean great teams. But for the 4-4 Tar Heels, this win had to be the sweetest yet.
A few notable numbers:
Five. That’s the number of UNC players who had rung the Victory Bell before Saturday. Losses in 2016, 2017 and 2018, all by 10 points or less, meant that North Carolina’s seniors were staring down the possibility of going winless for their careers against the Blue Devils.
Not anymore, though. Wide receiver Beau Corrales captured the locker room scene perfectly: “A lot of yelling.”
“They may be ringing it all night down there,” Brown said.
Twelve. That’s the number of tackles for the junior Surratt, good for a team high, to go along with a sack and the crucial pick.
The Tar Heels had just turned it over in the red zone themselves, then committed a facemask and two pass interference penalties to set the Blue Devils up in prime real estate. One play by Surratt, the Duke quarterback commit turned UNC linebacker, saved them.
“Before the play, we got in the huddle and (defensive coordinator Jay Bateman) said to expect the pop pass,” Surratt explained. “So that’s what we did.”
And: Seventy-three. That’s the number of wins for Brown in his Tar Heel career, one more than Dick Crum. Brown posted sixty-nine in his first tenure in Chapel Hill and four so far this season, and has now won his last nine games against the Blue Devils.
“Winningest coach at UNC, to be able to do it against Duke?” Corrales said. “I can only imagine. He always gets choked up whenever he talks to us, and he was getting choked up again tonight. The love that the team has for him and the love that he has for us — it’s crazy.”
It makes sense, then, that in the locker room after the game, Brown could once again be found dancing: not for himself, but for the delight of his players. He said after the South Carolina win to start the season, which led to a viral postgame dance, that he had to bring in a few trusted consultants — namely, Michael Carter and Tre Shaw — to teach him some new moves.
Some coaches say they'll do whatever it takes to win. And some coaches roll up their sleeves and strut their stuff.
“It looks like when we win, they’re going to make me dance,” he said. “And if that helps us win, man, I’ll dance. I don't even like to dance, but I like to win.”
So that's how a 68-year-old Mack Brown celebrated the biggest win of his team’s season: dancing, yelling, grooving, in step with a Victory Bell tune that, after an up-and-down eight games, has North Carolina football feeling like it’s finally doing things right.