When Larry Fedora was named head football coach at North Carolina, I envisioned a day where crowds would pack Kenan Stadium, donning houndstooth Carolina blue and white Fedoras, cheering on the Tar Heels as they competed for the ACC Championship.
That seems like a lifetime ago. For Fedora, it was. Seven years after Fedora was named head coach of North Carolina, he watched his coaching flame extinguished in Chapel Hill, only hours after the Tar Heels lost their season finale to NC State and finished off Fedora’s tenure with a brawl involving players from State and Carolina.
In Fedora’s opening press conference as the coach of the Tar Heels, Fedora told the media representatives, “You better buckle your seatbelts and you better hold on because it’s going to be a wild ride.” Little did anyone know what a ride it would be.
Fedora rode into town with promises of a high-octane offense and a downhill defense. North Carolina Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham certainly believed Fedora was the answer.
“Coach Fedora has a plan and a vision for the future of Carolina football that I strongly believe will make us successful on and off the field,” Cunningham said. “He has more than 20 years’ experience in college football, has tremendous enthusiasm, understands the academic and character values that are important to the University of North Carolina, is committed to fully developing the student-athletes who are under his charge and has the ability to excite both our fans and prospective student-athletes about the potential for great success here.”
Always wanted to say this, “Stop the presses.” Fedora’s dismissal in Chapel Hill has became yesterday’s news. The new story has me excited for North Carolina football for the first time in a long time.
Mack is back. Mack Brown, the former University of North Carolina football coach, is returning to Chapel Hill to once again assume the reins of the Tar Heel football program.
Brown was previously head coach of North Carolina from 1988-1997. Brown came in following Dick Crum, the winningest coach in the history of North Carolina football. Crum’s program was on its way down when he left and Brown’s first two seasons ended 1-10, the worst season records in modern history.
Despite the early struggles, Brown was a perfect fit for North Carolina. Mack could recruit with the best of them, speaking with a non-threatening Southern twang that made him see more like a neighbor than the football coach of one of the major universities in the state.
He could sit down at the kitchen table, eat a gravy biscuit, and sell mamas and daddies on the idea their sons’ best landing spot would be Chapel Hill. In a short period of time, those same folks were spending their Saturday afternoons wearing Carolina blue and white.
After going 2-20, Brown never had another losing record at Carolina, going 69-26 from 1990-1997, including three 10-win seasons.
While a favorite with the fan base, Brown quickly turned into the most hated man in the state when he walked away from the Tar Heels at the end of a 10-1 regular season in 1997 to become the head coach at Texas.
Brown was head coach of the Longhorns from 1998-2013, leaving at the end of the 2013 season with a record of 158-48. Included in that record was an undefeated national championship in 2005, the first for Texas since 1970.
Brown returns to the sidelines after spending the last few years working as an analyst with ESPN. Brown has become an analyst after “mutually agreeing” with Texas athletic officials to resign as head coach of the Longhorns following the 2013 season.
While it has been known for sometime that Brown desired a chance to coach again, the door appeared to be closing on that opportunity as his name did not appear on the list of “hot names” bandied about for the growing list of head coaching positions and understandably so.
Brown is not up and coming, the buzz words that describe what schools are looking for to head up their programs. Brown, to be kind, is experienced, but I believe exactly what North Carolina needs right now.
For a program lacking stability, Brown will clean up the problems off the field that surfaced fist under Butch Davis, but continued under Fedora, including the latest issue of selling of shoes that were given to players.
Even if things were perfect off the field, the on-field issues were still enough to send Fedora on his way after the season. Defense under Fedora had become non-existent as the Tar Heels stumbled to the bottom of the Coastal Division.
North Carolina not only lost out of state games, but it had lost its own state. Recruits were making verbal commitments to the Tar Heels only to switch loyalties to other schools before signing. As recruits looked for other places to go, so did the fans. Kenan Stadium had more empty seats on Saturday afternoons than those filled.
So how will Mack fix this? In his last five years at North Carolina, Brown was 15-0 against Duke, NC State and Wake Forest. His first assignment should be to start competing again for the best players in the state, so the Tar Heels can become the best team in the state.
As the Tar Heels find success on the field, the turnstiles will turn and the stands will fill again.
I found it interesting that as Brown’s name surfaced, the naysayers immediately brought up his age as being a factor in his ability to coach and in particular to recruit.
I did a quick check of Brown’s age and found him to be two months older than Nick Saban, He is less than a year older than Bill Belichick, and younger than Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski, and Gregg Popovich. Kansas State’s football coach Bill Snyder is 79.
Tar Heel Nation and the ACC take note. Mack is back.