CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — Mack Brown isn’t spending spring practices at North Carolina in a happy-just-to-coach-again mood.
No, Brown — starting his second stint as coach of the Tar Heels — and his staff are pushing for more of everything: sharper focus, better execution and a lot of urgency.
“We haven’t asked them, we’ve told them,” Brown said. “And we have said: ‘This is the way it’s going to be. We’ve won with this process and we know this process works.’”
Brown has reasons to mix blunt words with his typically positive and affable demeanor. Part of it is the recharged coaching drive after years in broadcasting following his exit from Texas in 2013. Yet Brown also knows he inherited a struggling team that won twice last year while repeatedly surrendering leads and finding ways to turn wins into losses.
That has created the awkward mix of having a team that appears close to more wins yet also has shaken confidence. It’s on the 67-year-old College Football Hall of Fame member to fix it.
Hired in late November, Brown is down to about two weeks of drills before UNC’s spring game on April 13. The Tar Heels open the season Aug. 31 against South Carolina in Charlotte.
“Ever since he got here,” rising junior defensive end Tomon Fox said, “it’s been all gas, no brakes.”
For Brown, it’s the latest stop in a career that included a strong run with the Tar Heels in the 1990s — including top-10 AP poll finishes in 1996 and 1997 — before winning a national championship during 16 seasons with the Longhorns. That track record resonates with players desperate to stop a steep two-year slide, which saw the Tar Heels lose 21 of 27 games since November 2016 and prompted UNC to move on from former coach Larry Fedora.
“This isn’t about building for the future,” rising senior offensive tackle Charlie Heck said. “This is about we want to win now. We want to change the culture instantly.”
Brown was candid this week about what it will take to do that.
The players are retaining more from the installation of new offensive and defensive schemes. But Brown said there’s a lack of “great attention to detail” and too many mental mistakes, such as defensive misalignments along with too many dropped passes in Tuesday morning’s practice. He also wants more vocal leaders, a challenge for a group that “has not been a confident team.”
Brown said coaches are pushing players to prove now they deserve playing time before incoming recruits arrive for preseason camp.
“I didn’t think there was ever a honeymoon period for the guys, because we jumped on them the day we got here and we’ve been really hard on them,” Brown said.
“We’ve got to find out who steps back now and who steps up now. You don’t want it in the fourth quarter with South Carolina. So practice has to be so hard that if a guy is going to give into it and he doesn’t want to play and he doesn’t want to compete, let’s find out now. Let’s don’t wait until next fall.”
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