DG Gets Up Close And Personal With
Hall of Fame UNC Coach Mack Brown,
Who Again Has Heels In National Top 10

North Carolina football coach Mack Brown, who turned 72 years old in August, is already a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. He’s been the ACC coach of the year, the Big 12 coach of the year, and the national coach of the year.

At the end of his first tenure as UNC’s head coach, he led the Tar Heels to back-to-back national top-10 finishes in 1996 and 1997. Carolina’s 1997 team, which went 11-1 and finished #4 in the coaches poll, is regarded among the best in school history.

Brown won the 2005 national championship and had a lot of other amazing success while leading the Texas Longhorns, and he’s now in the fifth season of his second tenure in Chapel Hill, during which he has led the Heels to four straight bowl games and back into the national Top 25 (#17 finish in 2020; #10 this week).

The Tar Heels’ 6-0 start to this season is their first since 1997, when they reached 8-0 before losing to #3 Florida State. The remaining regular-season opponents for this year’s Heels are Virginia (1-5), at Georgia Tech (3-3), Campbell (3-3), #16 Duke (5-1), at Clemson (4-2) and at NC State (4-3).

Brown recently joined long-time sports journalist and award-winning broadcaster David Glenn, who was a student reporter for The Daily Tar Heel when Brown first took the UNC job in December 1987, for a one-on-one interview on the David Glenn Show, which is now part of the North Carolina Sports Network.

DG: Hey, coach. Welcome back to the David Glenn Show. How are you?

Brown: I’m doing great, David, and thanks for having me on. You and I have great history for many, many years, from back in the early days for both of us.

DG: You and your amazing wife, Sally, had that great line five years ago, where you said you’d leave your ESPN job for only the Bahamas, Hawaii or Chapel Hill. Now that you have four and a half seasons of this second UNC tenure for perspective, has this last coaching stop proven to be what y’all were looking for at this stage of life?

Brown: Yeah, David, it has. It’s probably been more than we thought, because at this stage of my life, I can try to help this game that we love. I can be outspoken more than younger coaches, who are worried about their bosses and worried about keeping their job and who they’re going to make mad.

At my age, I don’t care (about such things). I’m gonna tell the truth and be who I am, and I’m gonna say what I think. Secondly, I can do what we got into coaching to do. I’m not looking for another job. I don’t need any more money. I don’t even need that many more wins. I just want to win because it helps the guys, and they listen to you more, and you get to stay.

What you can do is you can help young coaches and you can have an influence on young people’s lives, and very few people get an opportunity to do that. So it’s given me a renewed purpose, and that’s something that I lost. I loved ESPN; I loved TV. It was fun. I had a team and got to cover the sport I love, but you didn’t have the individual impact on kids that you can have with this job, and that’s been the coolest part of this.

I promised Sally I would not take losing so hard and I wouldn’t be so hard on myself. Well, I lied about all that stuff. I still do that too much, but I did tell her, if you didn’t hurt when you lose, then you probably shouldn’t be doing this anymore.

DG: You’ve always been such a positive, effervescent guy, so I was surprised when you said you had been internalizing losses and other negativity, even in your younger years. How do you get better at managing such things without losing the passion that helped make you so successful in the first place?

Brown: What I’ve learned is that you can learn from losing. You don’t want to (lose), but what do you get out of life if, when something doesn’t work well, you don’t learn about why it didn’t and what you can do to keep it from happening again?

So I am trying to do a better job (with that). We used to have “victory dinners” after football games that we won; in fact, in those first years, we didn’t win any, so a lot of food went to waste. So now we have “family dinners.” Every Sunday night, we’re gonna come and eat as a family, and we’re gonna get rid of that last (game), good or bad, and we’re gonna go to the next one. That’s what we do (now).

So there’s some things that I’ve learned that really try to help the process. Don’t let one loss beat you twice. Go back to work. What did you do wrong? Don’t just take it all in and feel so guilty; fix it. You can have a positive attitude and still be very direct and fix things, and that’s what people don’t understand sometimes. They say, “Wow, he’s being negative.” No, we’re fixing things.

When things are wrong, we all have to agree to disagree, we have to be very direct, we have to call each other out, and then you try to fix it. That’s what I’m trying to do a better job of.

DG: Earlier this season, Oregon coach Dan Lanning had a pregame speech to his players, before they played Deion Sanders’ Colorado team, during which he said things such as “they’re fighting for clicks, we’re fighting for wins.” We do seem to be in an era where a coach’s job does include both building a program’s brand and, as always, trying to win games. As a long-time head coach yourself, do you put any weight on what a coach says to fire up his players before the game, and what did you think of that Oregon-Colorado example?

Brown: No, David, I don’t. I’ve probably said some things in that locker room I wouldn’t want public. Now, just about everything’s public.

But (the pregame locker room setting) is a time where your players trust you. You’ve got them in a captured moment there, right before they go out to battle for three and a half hours. It’s like a heavyweight fight; you’re just gonna hit each other in the face, and it’s a very difficult sport. So you’re trying to give them something just to get ‘em charged right before they go out, which is a hard thing to do.

Really, Dan (Lanning) wasn’t taking shots at the other bunch more than he was saying, “Here’s why we’re gonna win. Here’s what you need to do. Here’s what’s picking you up.” And I thought Deion handled it really well. He said, “That’s his right, he won the game, he can say what he wants.” So I appreciate what Deion has done at Colorado.

Steve Spurrier and I were very different. Steve and I are friends, but he would call people out, and I just don’t do that. It’s not my deal; it’s not my style. Even if somebody is really rude about us, I just let it go. That’s their opinion. I don’t care. If I don’t respect them enough to answer, I figure that’s more hurtful than giving ‘em an answer, very honestly, or giving ‘em some attention, because that’s usually what people who are screaming want.

But Deion is in a very different place than Dan. Both of ‘em are doing a really good job. Both have gotten national attention for their programs. Deion handled the loss, I thought, as well as he could.

I listen to a lot of press conferences because I get an opinion of people, because I’ve sat in that chair when it’s hot, and it’s not comfortable, and it’s not good. I want to see who can handle that and who can’t, and it’s really interesting to me to do that.

We played Oregon in the bowl game (last season), and it came down to the last 19 seconds, so I got to be around Dan the whole week. He’s a nice man, got a good family, good wife, and he is a good football coach. I don’t think he purposefully walked into that locker room to say, “I’m gonna beat up Deion on national TV.” It’s just what you say to your team. It used to be private; now it’s not as private.

DG: Roy Williams once told us the story of having Tyler Hansbrough, one of the greatest players in UNC basketball history, and how Coach Williams would sometimes lose sleep — or even take a long walk in the middle of the night — during Hansbrough’s senior season, over the idea that there was a chance Hansbrough might be that dominant for four years but still leave Chapel Hill without a national championship. With that story in mind, how are you handling what is assumedly the last UNC season for quarterback Drake Maye, one of the greatest players in UNC football history?

Brown: It’s true. I haven’t heard that story from Roy, but all of us (know that feeling).

It’s been a long time since we’ve won a (football) championship around here. I was shocked when the last time we were 4-0 was when we were here in ’97. That’s too long, 26 years. In fact, none of our (current) players were alive. I was asking them (recently), when were you born? “Well, I was born in ’99.” “I was born in 2002.” Oh, really? We haven’t been 4-0 since you’ve been alive, man! You’ve never seen this before.

One of the reasons that Drake (Maye) committed to Alabama and didn’t come here early is because our stands weren’t full. We weren’t winning. Coach Fedora had just won two games. (Drake) had seen a lack of interest in Carolina football. I asked him, “Why do you want to go to Alabama?” He said, “My two brothers have won national championships. I want to do that.”

So I do feel that pressure. I want us to give Drake every opportunity to reach his dream, and I want to do that for Carolina. One of the reasons that Sally and I came back is that we want to make Carolina football a priority again and make it where it mattered nationally, and it wasn’t just something that nobody was talking about.

So we take a lot of pride in what we’ve done over these four years and now (part of) a fifth and want to continue to do this right the rest of the year.

Next Time: 1-on-1 with Mack Brown, Part 2

David Glenn (DavidGlennShow.com@DavidGlennShow) is an award-winning author, broadcaster, editor, entrepreneur, publisher, speaker, writer and university lecturer (now at UNC Wilmington) who has covered sports in North Carolina since 1987.