CHAPEL HILL — A carousel of head football coaches will be making their debuts with their new teams this Aug. 31.
One of them, Mack Brown, will be returning to a North Carolina program he ran from 1988-97, when he guided the Tar Heels to a 10-1 season, a Gator Bowl victory and a No. 6 AP ranking and a No. 4 ESPN ranking.
Brown was brought back, after winning two national championships as the head coach at Texas, to bring lost glory to the North Carolina football program. He had been an ESPN commentator after retiring from Texas in 2013, but it wasn’t the money, the exposure or the fame that brought Brown back to the North Carolina sidelines.
“It’s really the kids,” Brown said. “When they put you in the Hall of Fame they give you a year before you’re inducted so you can tell everybody thank you. We went back to Texas and Tulane and then North Carolina and there were a lot of the kids there and all of them came up and kept telling us how much they meant to us in their lives years ago and that they’re telling their kids what we told them.”
It didn’t take much more than that to get Brown back to coaching. It took a talk with his wife Sally and an offer from North Carolina Athletics Director Bubba Cunningham to get Brown back on the sidelines.
“I said I didn’t want to interview because I’ve had enough interviews and (Cunningham) said ‘I don’t want to interview, I want you to take the job,’” Brown said. “I like the staff we’ve hired and I love the kids, so after eight months if you asked me would I do it again and would I have done it again and am I happy, I’ve loved every minute of it and I can’t wait until the season starts.”
The Tar Heels’ season begins Aug. 31 in Charlotte against South Carolina. It would not be a big surprise if there will be several Appalachian State fans in attendance for a couple of reasons.
First of all, Brown’s first head coaching position was at Appalachian State, when he was hired by Jim Garner to take over the program. Brown lasted one season when he was given four times the money he was earning at App State to be the new offensive coordinator at Oklahoma.
Despite Brown’s stops after Appalachian State, which included three years as head coach at Tulane and stops at North Carolina and Texas from 1998-2013, he did what he could to keep up with the Mountaineers’ progress.
That included App State’s Division I-AA/Football Championship Subdivision national championships, including the 2005 title the Mountaineers won by knocking off Northern Iowa 21-16.
Later, on the final night of the 2005 season, Brown led Texas to a victory over Southern California in the Rose Bowl, which capped a 13-0 season and a national championship. Brown talked with former Texas coach Darrell Royal, who led the Longhorns to national championships in 1963, 1969 and 1970 about the significance of winning a national title.
“It was unbelievable because it’s something that few people get to do,” Brown said. “It changes your life. I asked coach Royal and he said it’s something you check off. Very few people get to play for one and very few get to coach for one and fewer get to win one. He said you have done something that few people get to do and it will be around for the rest of your life. He said people will listen to you more closely when you’ve won one.”
Brown had his hands full with Texas, one of the top pressure-cooker jobs in the country, but enjoyed seeing the success that the Mountaineers had under former App State head coach Jerry Moore. Brown also enjoyed seeing Moore at the annual national coaches conventions.
“It was fun to watch their run as we were in our run,” Brown said. “When you win the national championship they have all of the national championship coaches together at the convention and it’s always fun to see Jerry there.”
Brown did not see Appalachian State upset Michigan 34-32 in 2007. It was the Big 10 Network’s first event broadcast by the network and Brown was unable to view it.
However, he has seen video highlights of the game, including Corey Lynch’s block of the Wolverines’ final field goal attempt.
Brown said Appalachian State had added depth and showed it in overtime losses to Tennessee and Penn State.
“Even when they played Michigan, I talked to Coach Moore about it,” Brown said. “I thought it would be a great game because Appalachian had so much speed, but Michigan was so big and powerful they would overpower them over time, and that didn’t happen. After that game, obviously they became a true force and they’re good against everybody.”
Brown said the Mountaineers are still a force and will provide the Tar Heels a tough test on Sept. 21. As for pressure for the ACC Tar Heels to beat a Group of Five team, Brown said it’s just part of playing a team from North Carolina.
“You just go out and do your best,” Brown said. “You can’t worry about playing. We play Wake the week before we play Appalachian State. It’s a huge in-state game. Any time you play a team that is in your state it’s about state pride and it’s a game you want to win and App State feels the same way.”