The COVID-19 pandemic has created one of the strangest college football offseasons in recent memory, but North Carolina head coach Mack Brown made it clear during a Monday press conference that he's keeping his focus on the future.
While the NCAA has not yet made an official decision on a possible return to competition in the fall, Brown said that his staff will continue to prepare as if the season will kick off as scheduled against Central Florida on Sept. 4.
“Until somebody tells me differently, that’s what I’m planning on,” Brown said. “If... (the season is pushed back), I’m going to have time to adjust to it. I‘m not going to have time if I don’t do anything in preparing for Central Florida, so I’m preparing for Central Florida.”
As a part of that preparation, Brown said that his players and staff are ready to return to campus as scheduled unless a decision from health officials and the NCAA changes those plans.
Brown said that his players' abilities to adapt has helped him stay strong despite difficult circumstances.
“I have been so amazed that these kids have been incredibly responsive and bright,” Brown said. “They’re all saying, ‘Thank you for the scholarship’ and ‘Thank you coach, my family’s out of work and we couldn’t even eat right now if we weren’t on scholarship.’ It’s heartwarming for me and I wish I could go be with them.”
When the Tar Heels eventually make their return to campus, Brown admitted that there would likely be a period of adjustment in order to protect players and staff through measures of social distancing.
“We’ll keep social distancing. I’m a hugger and a high-fiver and that’s going to have to change.” Brown said. “I can’t imagine our first team meeting with everybody back and everybody has to stay 6 feet apart, but things have changed and we’re going to have to do that for everybody's health.”
When UNC does return to the field, it will be carrying the momentum of the program’s first bowl victory since 2013 and its first winning record since 2016. With an incoming class of first-years ranked No. 19 nationally, North Carolina’s recruiting has continued to make strides.
For the class of 2021, UNC is currently ranked No. 3, above every other team in the ACC and behind only Tennessee and national power Ohio State.
With continued success both on and off the field, Brown said that he sees a bright future for North Carolina in his second tenure as head coach.
“Right now in a lot of recruits' eyes, we’re the cool place to be,” Brown said. “We’ve got a chance to be good, we’ve got just about all of our coaches coming back, it’s a tremendous academic school. I’ve always thought this place should be good and it's our responsibility to make sure that we let people realize how cool it is.”