Heel Tough Blog: Looking Back at Year 1 of Mack Brown
When Bubba Cunningham hired Mack Brown, it reenergized the football part of the UNC fan base. Mack Brown was going to win a winning pedigree back to a program that he once already built into a national contender, before departing for Texas. It was no surprise that immediately following his hire, Carolina made drastic changes to the program. He almost instantly improved the in-state recruiting by flipping the commitment of Indian Trail quarterback Sam Howell. Facilities were upgraded as the locker rooms and weight rooms got a complete makeover. Brown put together a great staff on both sides of the football, that gave his team a chance to be successful in year one. Mack also convinced the fan base to sell out all 6 home games, one of only 9 teams to do so. Not bad for a program that only won 5 games in the past two seasons. If there ever was a team that won the off-season North Carolina definitely did so leading up to the 2019 campaign.
Ultimately as is the case with every coach, Brown is going to be judged on how many games he won. As fun as the reunion was, the fan base is starved to win football games at a big time level. And won he did, let's take a look at the accomplishments on the field for Carolina Football in 2019:
1. Beat a P5 Opponent in Season Opener: This was the first time that UNC had accomplished this, since Brown's last season back in 1997. Carolina scored 15 points in the 4th quarter to erase a 20-9 deficit to beat border rival South Carolina. Sam Howell made throws that over the year Tar Heel fan became used to. Dyami Brown made a spectacular catch that jump started his monster sophomore campaign. Chazz Surratt played his first game at linebacker, and made plays all game, looking like a natural at the position. The win was extra special for Brown who got emotional in the post game interview, as he acknowledged how happy he was for his team. Brown also danced in the locker room, which started a new post game tradition for the head coach.
2. Won ACC Opener: This was the first time Carolina had done this since 2016, when they beat Pittsburgh in a Kenan Stadium classic. The win over Miami was also a classic. It was the first night game under Brown, and the stadium was jacked from the start. After a hot start, Miami took control of the game and appeared to have the game in hand. Then Sam Howell converted a 4th & 18, and 3 plays later Dazz Newsome caught a touchdown in front of the student section, that sent the stadium into bedlam. The win gave UNC a 2-0 start, and after a off-season full of gains there, it appeared UNC was making strides on the field too.
3. Won at Georgia Tech: The dominating win in Atlanta became only the second time they've won there since Mack Brown's departure in the 90's. The win was overly impressive in terms of Georgia Tech isn't a great team right now, but at the time it was the most complete game to date for the Tar Heels. Sam Howell set career highs for completed passes, as well as yards and touchdown passes. The win cam after losing by 1 to Clemson the week before, and it showed the growth and maturity of the team.
4. Beat Duke & State: This more than anything cost Larry Fedora his job. Fedora had failed to beat both rivals his final 3 years, mix in a loss to ECU had Tar Heel fans fed up with coach. Brown stressed the importance to beating in-state teams, and after dropping his first two ( Wake Forest & App State ), he rebounded nicely. The win over Duke was a heart stopper, as if not for a Chazz Surratt interception at the goal line, Carolina would've blown the game after having fumbled the ball at the goal line that would've put the game out of reach. The win kept UNC in the ACC Coastal race at the time, and more importantly brought the Victory Bell back to Chapel Hill. The win over NC State was big for a lot of reasons. The rivalry with the Wolfpack is more intense in football than in basketball, with a fight taking place in the season finale a year ago. Dave Doren made comments about Mack Brown being a grandpa, and had lost the ability to coach today's athletes. Carolina trailed 10-6 at halftime, before steamrolling the Wolfpack 35-0 in the second half, to become bowl eligible. I was the first win in Raleigh since 2015, and was a sign that North Carolina is the premier program in the Triangle.
5. Won the Bowl Game: The excitement was evident for the players to go play in a bowl game, as many hadn't done so. The challenge was to finish the job, and they did that to the fullest. With arguably their most complete performance of the season, the Tar Heels steamrolled a respectable Temple squad 55-13. Sam Howell made the plays he made all season long, but it was the defense that stepped up. After battling injuries at all three levels of the defense, it was the best game from them all season long. The win gave Carolina a winning record, for the first time in 3 season, their first bowl win since 2013. It also was a perfect way to cap off a exciting 2019 season, and carry that momentum into what's going to be a hyped 2020 season.
2019 was a lot of fun, as it set the foundation for a program that's on the rise not only in the ACC, but nationally as well. Mack Brown didn't come out of the booth to go 7-6 though, as winning will be more emphasized moving forward. It's going to be a fun off-season as we get ready for the 2020 season.