Several dozen former Tar Heels were in the audience Tuesday when Mack Brown was introduced as Carolina's new head football coach, commencing the Second Coming of Mack. Brown's first tenure from 1988-97 included a 69-46-1 record that was a much more remarkable 67-26-1 if you back out the 2-20 rebuilding seasons of 1988-89. Included in that decade were six straight bowl seasons, two Top Ten finishes and five straight years being unbeaten against Big Four rivals.
The Lettermen took it all in and to a man could blink their eyes and travel back decades in time.
“It was like being 18 years old again and having Mack in my living room,” said Jason Stanicek, a quarterback from 1991-94.
“He'll be able to fill up the stands and bring excitement back to Chapel Hill,” said Dré Bly, an All-America cornerback from 1996-98. “That's the best thing about him right now.”
During an hour-long press conference, Brown exuded the same Tennessee-drawl, story-telling ability, sales exuberance and motivational skills he's used over 35 years as a head coach at Appalachian State, Tulane, Carolina and Texas.
“There's some madness behind that smile,” said Marcus Wall, a mid-1990s receiver now coaching high school ball in Fayetteville. “That smile doesn't give you permission to cross that line. This is a huge hire for Carolina. Mack will bring a sense of family and discipline we need at Carolina.”
“He's someone you can lean on during tough times, someone you can depend on,” said Chris Watson, an early 1990s fullback. “You can talk to him outside of football. College kids have all kind of issues—girlfriends, trouble at home. A lot of coaches are not concerned about that. He is. That's why you get a turnout of guys like this to welcome him home.”
Stanicek and Russell Babb remember stern, one-on-conversations with Brown during their early to mid-1990s careers.
“He called me in before my senior year and said it was time to quit feeling sorry for myself and start being a leader on this team,” says Babb, an offensive tackle. “I took it as a personal challenge and it pulled the best out in me. I needed him to get in my face to be the player I could be.”
“I remember the discipline and I remember the tough conversations with him,” Stanicek added. “He told me to grow up and quit being a baby. I was struggling my sophomore year when I wasn't playing as much as I thought I should. He said, ‘You're not good enough yet.' He makes you grow up pretty fast.”
Listening from across the country in his California home was Chris Keldorf, a quarterback who Brown and assistant coach Cleve Bryant recruited out of a San Diego junior college in the fall of 1995 when they faced a roster emergency when starter Oscar Davenport suffered a severe knee injury late that fall. Keldorf signed with the Tar Heels and helped lead them to a 21-3 spurt in 1996-97, with landslide wins coming over West Virginia and Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl.
“Those players today will learn they aren't just performing on the field, that there's a cumulative approach to his process,” Keldorf said. “It's like, ‘Wow, I'm not just here to play football.' He will hire an excellent staff and they will demand attention to the small details. He has a system and you perfect it on a daily basis. I hope the guys get that message. Guys will buy in quickly. Some won't and will graduate and move on. It's a full body of work and everything matters.”
Brown has spent the last five years doing studio analysis and on-site color commentary for ESPN and ABC, so he's remained in the game and visible to potential recruits that he'll being wooing immediately. Typical of the outpouring of support for Carolina have hired Brown where these comments from Danny Kanell, a former ESPN colleague, and Paul Finebaum.
“So happy for Mack Brown,” Kanell said via Twitter. “I also think it's a great hire for UNC. He is going to assemble an incredible staff and he can recruit with anyone. Can't wait to see what he does in Chapel Hill!!!”