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Mack Brown Returns to North Carolina at Perfect Time

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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Time will tell if Mack is out of touch with 17 and 18-year-old kids or whether he can keep up with new college offenses that produce more points every season. But there’s no doubt that he is familiar with building programs from scratch.

In the minds of college football fans, there is only one thing worse than hiring a coach with too little experience -- that would be hiring one with too much experience.

Well, too much experience probably isn’t the best way to say it. Having celebrated too many birthdays would be.

But apparently that doesn’t bother North Carolina, as the Tar Heels will bring back 67-year-old Mack Brown as head coach. Brown is even older than Herm Edwards and Les Miles; both Arizona State and Kansas received different levels of criticism for each of those hires within the last year.

And not only will Brown turn 68 before the start of next season, he hasn’t been on the sidelines for five years.

Yet, this might just be the right fit for North Carolina, and Brown arrives back at Chapel Hill at just the right time.

Mack previously coached at North Carolina from 1988-97, leading the Tar Heels to a 69-46-1 record. That’s very good, especially when considering they won two games in his first two years. Starting in 1990, North Carolina posted eight straight winning seasons and went 20-3 in his last two seasons combined.

He left for Texas in 1998, where he went on to win a National Championship in 2005. Brown built the Longhorns into a powerhouse, but in his final four seasons, they went just 30-21. Brown stepped down at the end of the 2013 season.

Time will tell if Mack is out of touch with 17 and 18-year-old kids or whether he can keep up with new college offenses that produce more points every season. But there’s no doubt that he is familiar with building programs from scratch.

In his first two seasons at North Carolina, the Tar Heels went 1-10, but by his fifth season, they won nine games.

At Texas, Brown’s impact was felt even more immediately. The Longhorns posted a 4-7 record the season prior to his arrival, and then went 9-3 and won the Cotton Bowl in his first year.

After going 3-9 and then 2-9 in the final two years under Larry Fedora, North Carolina is once again asking Brown to revitalize its program. The Tar Heels have won only one ACC game in each of the last two years, and both wins came against the Pitt Panthers.

Having said that, Brown’s return to North Carolina couldn’t have come at a better time with the ACC Coastal an absolute mess.

The division has always featured perhaps the most parity in college football. No team in the Coastal has repeated as division champion since Virginia Tech in 2010 and 2011, and in each of the last six years, a different team has won the division crown. The only team that hasn’t represented the Coastal Division in the ACC Championship Game this decade is Virginia.

But now more than ever, the Coastal is up for grabs. Miami took a huge step backwards after seemingly returning to national prominence in 2017, and Virginia Tech experienced a down year this season. Paul Johnson appears close to the end of the road at Georgia Tech, and although they won the division this season, Pitt did it with a 7-5 overall record.

The climb back to the top of the ACC Coastal isn’t all that high, and Brown can do it without facing Clemson on a yearly basis.

Competing in the ACC shouldn’t be that far away for the Tar Heels. This season, North Carolina lost seven of its nine games by 10 points or less. The team’s biggest need is at quarterback, but perhaps Kelly Bryant or another graduate transfer could fill the void immediately until Brown has time to recruit the high school ranks.

In different circumstances, Brown’s return to North Carolina would probably just be a feel-good story -- at least for a couple years. But in the ACC Coastal, Brown could have the Tar Heels back near the top of the division sooner rather than later.