They say you can’t go home again, but apparently Mack Brown never read much Thomas Wolfe.
The former North Carolina coach is headed back to his old stomping grounds…his really old stomping grounds. He hasn’t coached a game in Carolina blue since the Clinton administration. There were no iPhones or Twitter back then. I mean, Seinfeld was still airing new episodes.
None the less, he’s returning after a five-year retirement from coaching.
The Larry Fedora era ended with a whimper after a strong start, but just five wins over the last two seasons. A change probably needed to be made to get the program back on track. But this hire? Oh boy.
When last we saw Mack Brown (outside of his incredibly rough TV appearances on ESPN) he was struggling to qualify for Alamo Bowls at Texas.
He had issues with recruiting down the stretch of his time at Texas, infamously only offering Robert Griffin III a scholarship as a safety among other misses. He lacked a consistent quarterback and unsurprisingly, didn’t win as much as he used to because of it.
That should sound familiar to Carolina fans.
So is this unconventional hire doomed from the start? Not necessarily.
There are rumors that Brown is using his considerable connections to assemble a crack staff that could include Gene Chizik as defensive coordinator and Kliff Kingsbury as offensive coordinator.
That could work for a minute, but it will likely be a sugar high and little more. Kingsbury may well end up in the NFL this year but either way, top assistants won’t hang around long at a program run by a 68-year-old head coach.
There’s also the fact that returning to coach a former team rarely works out.
Johnny Majors was 33-13 in his first stint at Pittsburgh and won the national title in 1976. He left for Tennessee for 16 seasons and when he returned to Pitt in 1993 he went a miserable 12-32, never winning more than four games.
Bobby Petrino posted a 41-9 record at Louisville which spring-boarded him to the Atlanta Falcons and Arkansas Razorbacks before a motorcycle sent him to Western Kentucky. His return stint at Louisville netted 36 wins and a Heisman winner, but also 26 losses and a midseason firing.
Let’s now go to Oakland for a live look at Jon Gruden’s second stint with the Raiders…
Joe Gibbs was okay with Washington. He won a playoff game in 2005 at the age of 65, but he missed the playoffs in two of his four seasons after returning to coaching.
Gibbs is probably the closest comparison to Mack Brown. Both are Hall-of-famers in their sixties that returned to a game that had changed significantly during their absences. Can it work? It can, but it will be a tall order.
Brown will essentially be a figurehead and as such, he will rely heavily on his assistants both on gameday and on the recruiting trail where questions about his age will be plentiful.
If he can assemble a crack staff then things could be successful, but there’s a distinct boom or bust feel to the entire situation. The most important thing is that Mack should come cheap. That’s critical for a school that will still be paying Larry Fedora millions of dollars to sit quietly at home on Saturdays.
On balance, I find the hire to be profoundly uncreative. It’s a stopgap forced into practice by a bad contract that had become untenable.
Maybe they can lure a top notch coordinator with the promise that he’ll be the next head coach. Facilities upgrades are in progress and the Tar Heels have a lucrative apparel deal with Jordan Brand. There are reasons to be optimistic.
The kids love their swag (or sauce to use the more updated term). It will be fun to see how much of it Mack has left in his own tank during this return.