When North Carolina hired Mack Brown last year to make his triumphant return and coach the Tar Heels, the reviews were, shall we say, mixed. Brown had been out of the coaching game since he stepped down as the coach of Texas in 2013. And at 67, he wasn't exactly a spring chicken, either. The concern was that his best days as a coach were behind him, and given his last four seasons at Texas in which he went 30-21, that wasn't an unfounded opinion.
But following a 55-13 beatdown of Temple in the Military Bowl, the overall tune regarding Brown and the Tar Heels has changed a bit. No, bowl wins don't actually mean a lot in the grand scheme of things -- they're more of a feel-good way to enter the offseason -- but this one highlighted the reasons to be optimistic about Brown's return. The 55 points scored by the Tar Heels were a bowl record for the program.
For one, he's off to a better start than his first go-around in Chapel Hill. Brown, of course, previously coached at North Carolina from 1988 to 1997. He compiled a nice 69-46 record, which included three 10-win seasons, but won just two games in his first two seasons. Following Friday's win over Temple, Brown caps off his first season back with a winning record (7-6) and victories over rivals Duke and NC State. His Tar Heels were also the only team to truly give Clemson a scare in the regular season.
The future looks particularly bright at quarterback with freshman Sam Howell. The ACC's Rookie of the Year had a terrific game against the Owls (336 yards of total offense, four touchdowns) and came up with big throw after big throw:
Howell also had a receiving touchdown courtesy of North Carolina's own variation of the now oft-used "Philly Special":
Which leads to another point: Brown is getting players (the Tar Heels' 2020 class is currently ranked 19th in the country per 247Sports) and relying on solid coaching to develop them. This has been particularly notable at the coordinator spots. Offensively, the Tar Heels averaged more than 30 points per game while defensively allowing about 10 fewer points per game than a year ago. The "figure head" role isn't as fun as hiring the next up-and-coming coordinator or hot shot coach, but there are at least a few examples of it working in 2019 -- Brown being among them.
Clemson was already proof this could work if everything went right, but UNC's season is a good argument for the whole "hire a charismatic CEO and bring in good coordinators to worry about all the details" model.— Alex Kirshner (@alex_kirshner) December 27, 2019
(I'm not in UNC's meetings, and Mack might be more involved, but)
That doesn't mean Brown doesn't get involved in details or have a say in how things work, but he's found a good system in that CEO-type role. It would be surprising if Brown coached another 10 years at North Carolina -- he would be 78 then -- but considering the state of the program when he took over, he appears to be doing a good job of picking it back up and moving it in the right direction. And he's doing it his way.