Mack Brown brings optimism, winning attitude to UNC program

Brown excited about returning to UNC (0:49)

Mack Brown explains why he returned to coach at UNC and expresses the excitement he feels to help the players win and grow as individuals. (0:49)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Mack Brown's reintroduction as North Carolina's coach on Tuesday was billed as a homecoming, with dozens of former players in attendance and an endless string of stories from Brown's first stint in Chapel Hill.

But if North Carolina was eager to embrace the past in hiring Brown, he was quick to note his plans for the future don't include a rebuilding job for the Tar Heels.

"We're planning on winning next year," said Brown, who served as UNC's head coach from 1988-1997 before moving to Texas and winning a national championship. "You can't say you're going to rebuild and play all young guys. We want to win next year. We want to win now. That's very, very important to us."

If that seems like a wildly optimistic approach to a team that's won just six of its past 27 games -- just two against Power 5 opponents -- and has spent the better part of the past decade under a cloud of NCAA investigations and sanctions, well that's exactly why Brown has the job.

Larry Fedora navigated UNC through the seemingly endless slog of a scandal that rocked the entire athletics department, dealing with bowl bans and scholarship reductions along the way. Still, he brought the Tar Heels to the ACC Championship game just three years ago. Fedora was fired Sunday, however, after an overtime loss against NC State that ended with a massive brawl in the end zone that Fedora stubbornly refused to even acknowledge.

That followed myriad issues that, at least to some degree, were tied to Fedora's stewardship. He garnered headlines last summer conflating new concussion protocols with the downfall of society, and he saw more than a dozen players suspended to start the season for breaking NCAA rules by selling athletic merchandise, including shoes.

Brown's arrival, on the other hand, paints a far rosier picture of the program, and his optimism -- a trait he acknowledged Tuesday was often held against him as a coach and broadcaster -- is exactly what athletics director Bubba Cunningham was looking for.

"Mack has a charisma, an attitude and a great reputation," Cunningham said. "He's turned programs around, been successful everywhere he's been, and I think he'll be great. He's coming in unencumbered, and he's really excited to get going. ... Mack is the most positive, enthusiastic coach I've met."

Brown also arrives five years removed from his last coaching job and nearly a decade since he last had significant success at Texas. Cunningham pointed to Brown's numerous connections to the North Carolina high school community, but it's been 20 years since he's coached in the state. Brown also made a point of noting the new early signing period as a major hurdle he'll need to deal with as he steps into the job.

Moreover, there are massive questions about Brown's ability to relate to current players. He dealt with significant criticism in his later years at Texas for missing on several key recruits. And, at 67, he'll be among the oldest head coaches in college football.

Brown shrugged that off Tuesday, saying his goal was to sell North Carolina to recruits as a place players want to be.

"You've got to be the cool place to be," Brown said. "We were the cool place to be before, and I think we can be again. And we've got to get people back in the stands. You want to help us win? Come buy tickets. Not after we win."

Brown, who was 69-46-1 during his initial stint at North Carolina, made Texas football cool in the 2000s behind elite quarterbacks like Vince Young and Colt McCoy. Of the current North Carolina roster, however, Brown said he knows little beyond jersey numbers.

He planned to phone recruits and meet with his team Monday afternoon, stressing the need for good communication and setting lofty aspirations.

Because he's considered other jobs during his time away from coaching, Brown said he has a list of potential assistants in mind, but he has yet to contact anyone about a job. He said he still plans to meet with the current staff and could retain some coaches.

Tuesday's introduction felt like a walk down memory lane, with Brown sharing inside jokes with longtime UNC staffers and recounting stories from his original run with the school. He told of a recruit he landed by setting up a meeting with former UNC basketball coach Dean Smith, then said Roy Williams would be a big help in landing more recruits for the future.

Before all of that, however, Cunningham was asked why this homecoming would be successful given the rather sordid history of coaches returning to places of former glory, including in the ACC, where Bobby Petrino was just fired from his second stint at Louisville.

"Mack's unique," Cunningham said. "And North Carolina's unique."

Brown said he pulled aside former UNC linebacker Dwight Hollier earlier in the day to talk about the job. Hollier was on the team when Brown was first hired in 1988.

"Do you remember what I said?" Brown asked of his first meeting with the players.

"Yeah," Hollier told him. "It was really cool."

"Well, you'll need to tell me," Brown replied, "because I want this to be cool again."