A call to the Hall for coach Mack Brown

Editor’s Note

This post is a follow-up to the post, “Mack Brown’s Return to Kenan Stadium” published on September 11 earlier this year.  As we were preparing today’s post honoring Mack Brown for his induction into the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame, UNC and Chancellor Carol Folt and Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham announced during a noontime press conference on November 27 that Brown will return to coaching duties for Carolina.  Brown then stepped to the podium and addressed the gathered media. “Sally and I love North Carolina, we love this University and we are thrilled to be back.  The best part of coaching is the players—building relationships, building confidence, and ultimately seeing them build success on and off the field.  We can’t to wait to meet our current student-athletes and reconnect with friends, alumni and fellow Tar Heel coaches.”

On December 4, 2018, former Head Football Coach Mack Brown will become the twelfth UNC Tar Heel and the twenty-second Texas Longhorn to be inducted into the National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame. The dinner ceremony from 8:30 p.m. until 11:00 p.m. EST can be watched via a livestream on ESPN3.  Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard takes a look at Brown’s thirty-year head coaching career.

Sally and Mack Brown

Sally and Mack Brown, date unknown, scanned from a photographic print by Hugh Morton.

When it’s all over, your career will not be judged by the money you made or the championships you won. It will be measured by the lives you touched. And that is why we coach.  —Mack Brown in One Heartbeat (2001), page 173.

Mack Brown

Mack Brown during his years coaching UNC , from an undated photographic print by Hugh Morton collection.

It was November 18, 1989.  Tar Heel head football coach Mack Brown had just suffered one of the worst defeats of his entire coaching career at the end of a second 1-and-10 season. But Brown felt a personal obligation to come back up on the Kenan Stadium field because the Raycom TV crew wanted one more seasoning-ending interview.  By the time Brown finished his locker room and media conference duties, the late November sun was setting far beyond the west end of the historic stadium, and most all of the 46,000 fans who had filled the stands earlier had headed home.  About midway through the interview, Brown was distracted by cheering from the far end zone.  He turned and looked.  What he saw was unbelievable.  Duke head coach Steve Spurrier had come out of the visitor dressing room and assembled his team around the still-lighted scoreboard, which read 41 to 0.  The Blue Devil photographers were snapping away.  Brown paused for several seconds, and then said, “We’ll remember that.” Coach Brown never lost again to Duke University during his entire coaching career.

Mack Brown began his successful head-coaching career at Appalachian State in 1983, leading the Mountaineers to a 6-5 record—their first winning season in four years.  Then following a successful season as the offensive coordinator at Oklahoma under Hall of Fame coach Barry Switzer, he became the head coach and athletic director at Tulane in 1985, where he led the Green Wave to a 6-6 record in his final season in 1987 and earned a trip to the Independence Bowl.  It was only the fifth bowl appearance for Tulane since 1940.

Following his time at Tulane, Brown was hired by UNC Athletic Director John Swofford, just in time for the big 100th anniversary of Carolina football during the 1988 season. But those first two seasons at Carolina were dreadful, showing only two wins and twenty losses.  With the 1990 season, however, things were turned around and during the next eight seasons, Brown added sixty-seven additional wins—tied for the second most victories in school history.  The team was bowl-bound every year beginning in 1992, including a win in the 1993 Peach Bowl.  The Atlantic Coast Conference named Brown ACC Coach of the Year in 1996.  Brown led Carolina to three ten-win seasons, while the team finished in the top twenty-five four times, including tenth in 1996 and fourth in 1997.

During his time in Chapel Hill, Brown became good friends with Hugh Morton and visited often at Grandfather Mountain. In fact, Brown built a home there.  And he was instrumental in the construction of another home . . . this one in Chapel Hill and it goes by the name Frank H. Kenan Football Center, completed in 1997.

Mack Brown, Hugh Morton, Woody Durham

Mack Brown, Hugh Morton, and long-time “Voice of the Tar Heels” Woody Durham together during a picnic in 1994.

It was Saturday, September 13, 1997.  Carolina was hosting a late afternoon game with Stanford.  Coach Brown and one of his assistants, Cleve Bryant, who had been an assistant at Texas, were on the Kenan field watching the Tar Heels warm up, when on the stadium public address system, announcer Dave Lohse started giving some scores from the early games.  He then gave a halftime score: UCLA 38, Texas 0.

Said Bryant, “that can’t be right.”  Coach Brown didn’t pay much attention; he was intent on the game at hand.  About two hours later, up in the Kenan press box, UNC Sports Information Director Rick Brewer handed some final scores to announcer Lohse.  As he did so, he said. “I think we just lost our football coach.”  Brewer was fully aware of Brown’s admiration for Texas football history and tradition.  Lohse then read the final score: UCLA 66, Texas 3.  When Bryant heard that score, he turned to Brown and said, “I wouldn’t want to be in Austin, Texas tonight.”  From that moment, for the next eighty-four days, speculation was rampant: would Mack Brown leave a place he dearly loved, for an opportunity of a lifetime?  Finally, on Wednesday, December 3, 1997 it became official: Mack Brown would be the new head football coach at the University of Texas.

Mack Brown wearing Texas jacket

Portrait of Mack Brown by Hugh Morton, undated, wearing a University of Texas jacket.

Coach Brown’s time in Austin was legendary.  His 158 career Texas wins are second only to Hall of Fame Coach Darrell Royal in Longhorn history.  During the 2005 season, Brown guided Texas to its first national championship in 35 years after defeating Southern California in the 2006 Rose Bowl in one of the greatest games in college football history.  In 2009, Brown became Big 12 Coach of the Year while winning his second conference title. He would become a two-time National Coach of the Year and won more than 10 games in 9 consecutive seasons. He also won 10 bowl games while in Texas.

Over his 30-year-coaching-career, Brown coached 37 First Team All-Americas, 6 Academic All-Americas, 110 first team all-conference selections and 11 conference Players of the Year.  He also coached 2 College Football Hall of Famers in Tar Heel Dre Bly and Heisman Trophy winner Ricky Williams at Texas; and 4 National Football Foundation National Scholar-Athletes, including Campbell Trophy winners Sam Acho and Dallas Griffin also at Texas. Brown posted 20 consecutive winning seasons from 1990 to 2009 and his 225 wins from 1990 to 2013 were the most among Football Bowl Subdivision coaches during those years. He has a total of 244 wins—tenth most by a coach in FBS history.  He led teams to 22 bowl games.

Among his personal honors, Brown is a member of the Texas Longhorns Hall of Honor.  He is also enshrined in the Rose Bowl, State of Texas Sports, State of Tennessee Sports and Holiday Bowl halls of fame.  Until November 27th, he served as a college football studio and game analyst at ESPN and served as a special assistant at Texas.

Mack Brown and wife, Sally, have helped raise millions of dollars for children’s charities, and Mack was recently named the Football Bowl Association’s Champions Award recipient for 2019.  He was also honored in the Blue Zone at Kenan Stadium on Saturday, August 12, 2018 for his upcoming December 4th induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Toward the end of the Blue Zone ceremony, Brown came to the podium and acknowledged many Tar Heels in the audience. There was John Swofford, the Carolina athletic director who hired him and then after those 1-10 seasons gave him a contract extension. There were former assistant coaches Darrell Moody and Dan Brooks, who had been so very important in those early recruiting efforts.  And there were former Tar Heels from eras before Brown arrived as a 36-year-old head coach.  “You guys were the ones who made this place special and gave us something we could sell,” Brown said.

There were about fifty Tar Heels present from Brown’s time in Chapel Hill. Also in attendance was UNC 1970 All-America Don McCauley who is also a College Football Hall of Famer, Class of 2001.

“I’m not going into the Hall of Fame, I am presenting you all in the Hall of Fame.  Football is the ultimate team sport, and no one person is ever the one that wins a football game. When I take that oath in December and I say ‘thank you’ to the Hall of Fame, I’m doing it for each one of you.  Your name in my mind will be in the Hall of Fame forever.”  Carolina Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham added, “Brown’s legacy wasn’t just about winning; it was about developing young men to be successful after football.”

Part of the celebration was a panel discussion with several former Tar Heel players talking about Brown and his Chapel Hill legacy.  One of those players was fellow Hall of Famer Dre Bly who spoke of getting a sideline dressing down in his first game as a Tar Heel in the 1996 season opener against Clemson, a 45-0 Tar Heel landslide.

“The play was on our sidelines, a ball into the flat.  I made a big hit.  I was high-stepping and celebrating. Coach Brown grabbed my facemask and had a few select words for me. He said, ‘We don’t do that here.’ I knew then and there, I had to remain humble.  I learned the importance of being humble.  I saw the big picture, I understood what’s important.  We had a very talented team.  I couldn’t be the one to mess it up.  I needed to remain humble, and I’ve used that my whole life.” (I wish the UNC head football coaches that followed Brown would have maintained that same high standard.)

I believe it’s safe to say, whether you view it as Burnt Orange or Carolina Blue, Brown’s legacy is secure, and on Tuesday night, December 4, 2018, he will stand for the administration of his induction as the citation of his accomplishments is read—this year in the Trianon Ballroom of the New York Hilton Midtown, just as coach Darrell Royal and Bobby Layne of Texas and coach Carl Snavely and Charlie Justice of Carolina stood years before in the Grand Ballroom of the historic Waldorf-Astoria—as William Mack Brown will be honored as a new member of the College Football Hall of Fame.  Coach Brown will make the official response on behalf of the 2018 College Football Hall of Fame Class.

One thought on “A call to the Hall for coach Mack Brown

  1. Last night, at the 61st National Football Foundation’s College Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony in New York, Honoree Mack Brown delivered the official response on behalf of the Class of 2018.

    “I’m honored to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. I’m also very appreciative that I get to speak tonight. First we’d all like to thank our families, because coaches’ and players’ families are really on a rollercoaster. It’s up and down, coaches are gone a lot and you spend a lot more time with other people’s kids sometimes than your own. And our families have been wonderful examples for us, and all of us have great families here with us tonight, so thank you very much…

    “Football is the ultimate team sport. It’s not about any of us. It’s about a village. It’s about family. It’s about years of people that have pulled together to make something really, really special…When you ask yourself, ‘Why football?’ When you ask yourself, ‘Does coaching matter?’ And you ask yourself, ‘Does football matter?’ Just look around. Yes it does.”

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