Mack Brown on late playcalling, a change at kicker and what happened with Phil Longo on the sideline

Brant Wilkerson-New

Mack Brown met with the media for his weekly press conference Monday morning and came out with plenty to say, making an opening statement that lasted more than 15 minutes as he reviewed Saturday's loss at Virginia Tech and looking ahead to Duke.

Here are his full comments, followed by a question and answer session.

Opening statement

With this being breast cancer awareness month, so many families have been touched with it — my family has been touched with it — thoughts and prayers to any of those who have lost someone to breast cancer or fighting it now. Just to take away from football to get to realistic life here.

Saturday night was one of the toughest losses that I’ve ever been around. I went back and thought about it and there’s probably three and this one is as tough as any of them because we had opportunities to win it with one play four or five times, and when you do that, you’ve got to finish them. We were there, whether it was the holding call when we’re first and goal from the eight, whether it was the missed field goal, whether it was the delay of the game where we make the field goal and they miss the field goal and there was a flag on the field and they picked it up, so we were a little bit later getting out on the field and I thought they probably should have reset that, but that wins the game for us at that point. Two two-point plays, one of them for sure could have won the game because we had already stopped them.

So when you go back and study it, played hard, we’re ready to play; I was really proud of the players for how hard they played on the road in an environment where we hadn’t played well in the past, and once again, they come down to the longest game in ACC history with six overtimes. I did break my promise to Sally; I promised her I wouldn’t hurt so bad after losses and that’s not my makeup, I can’t do that. That sounded really good and I thought, ‘Yeah, I’ll handle that and do it,’ but losing still stinks; it hasn’t changed since I’ve been out five years.

Again, really, really proud of the players. Every week, they’re giving us all they’ve got. We’ve lost four starters in the secondary so we’re still thin back there. Aaron Crawford plays 81 plays; we’ve got to get some people to help him because that’s too many, but these guys are fighting their guts out every week and I’m really, really proud of them.

Also, we’re having a fantastic recruiting year, so people can see that we’re really close. They can see it’s happening and they’re wanting to be part of it, so we’ll get more depth in the future and hopefully, better players each year that we recruit. I remember Woody Durham sitting on the other end of the field one night when we were struggling when we first got here and he said, ‘So, what do you think? Are we going to be OK?’ I remember saying, ‘It’s not if anymore; it’s when.’ And that’s the same thing I would say now; we’re going to be good, and we’re going to be really good and this train is taking off and I’m really excited about where we’re going.

Specific things about the game, and there’s thoughts that I have that I’ll share with you and then thoughts that Jeremy has heard from some of you all and some of the fans that I’ll try to share, too, and try to answer your questions.

Jay’s really been shorthanded defensively, obviously, losing four starters. His problem is do you bunch up and try to stop the run and play man to man outside with inexperienced corners and guys are struggling some or do you play zone and let them run the ball some? What we had is, Virginia Tech’s quarterback that came in is a 250-pound runner and we didn’t stop him. He ran up and down the field and the kid is going to be a really good player for the future; they probably found them something there with the third quarterback.

So, we didn’t do a good job of stopping the run and that’s something we’ve got to do. We did force two turnovers which is something we haven’t been doing in the running game, so that was really good.

We didn’t respond well right before the half. To me, the way you play the last five minutes of the half and the first five minutes of the second half is so key in college football in my experience of being 31 years of being a head coach. We didn’t play well as a team; that’s a 14-point turnaround. They score, we get the ball and we have only for about 20 seconds because I think there was 3:23 left when we got the ball; they’ve scored and we’ve got to respond and go down and score at the other end. We have an intentional grounding penalty, an incomplete pass and a short pass to Corrales, so we kill no time and give them the ball back and they go back and score again. So, the 14-point swing right before the half that just changed the momentum completely. We came back and took it back to start the second half, but it didn’t help us that they took the 14 points going into the half.

Offensively, we didn’t run the ball very well in the second half and we also didn’t protect well, had some issues inside with our guards and centers, so that was disappointing. Still scored a lot of points and that should be enough to win.

Two-point plays, there’s always a lot of discussion. We’re 3 for 6 for the year; the national average is in the low 40’s. We had a 41 percent chance of making it on Saturday because analytics gives you what your chances are against the team you’re playing each week, whether they’re right or not, but we’ve still got to improve in those areas. I thought when we got Michael Carter 1-on-1 in space, that’s pretty good; I’ll take those odds and the guy tackled him out there. That’s something we can still improve on, especially with the new rule with overtime.

I think the rule was good because we could have been still playing, but I’d like to put the ball at the 35 instead of the 25. Fewer people would score and you’d get out of there fast. If you just move it back 10 yards, the percentage of scoring isn’t near as good; you might kick a field goal but scoring touchdowns is harder and I think we would get it over with quicker by doing that than what we’re doing at the present time, even though I think because of the LSU-Texas A&M, six, seven overtime game last year, that’s the reason they went to this rule, because it’s not healthy for kids to stay out there for that long. Your defensive kids, for sure, just give out.

Kicking game, really proud of Ben Kiernan for a freshman. He and Drew Little, the snapper were both committed by Coach Fedora when we got here. I talked to Larry the other day and he asked how they were doing, and it’s unusual punter and a deep-snapper; I’d never done that except for Justin Tucker, he’s the only guy we signed, ever, at that position. We always took walk-ons and the ones that played the best ended up getting scholarships, but in this case, Ben has sure been worth his scholarship. We should have gotten another ball inside the two but Javon Terry got his feet in the end zone and batted it out; that was a great punt for us.

Jonathan Kim did a great job kicking off. He kicked all of his into the end zone and there were no returns, so we’re going to let Jonathan do the kickoff duties. They’ll still compete, but right now, he would be doing that, and Jonathan will also take over the field goal duties. We’re 10 of 16 on field goals with three of those being blocked, but still, we’ve got to do a better job. When we get down to that last-second kick, we’ve got to make it.

Once again, we had about four one-play chances to win the game. That’s why we said, ‘Be the one.’ Somebody’s got to step up and make the play. Coaches have got to a better job, we’ve all got to do a better job when we get that close, we’ve got to win the game.

There were some question marks with time management right before the half. They had an inexperienced quarterback in the game with a bad leg, so we did not want to give him more time. We wanted to press him and I thought by calling timeout to try to save time for us, we were allowing them, with him with a sore leg, to do a better job organizing how to score. That’s why we held those timeouts in our pocket.

Time management at the end of the game, I’m always going to hold the timeouts in my pocket if I can. They were 4 down and 1-and-a-half with a running quarterback we hadn’t stopped. There was probably a minute-something left in the game, they were lining up to go for it. We didn’t know if they were going to try to pull us off, they were going to go for it; I didn’t want to stop the clock and give him a minute left, if he makes the first down, go down and kick a field goal and win the game.

With our timeouts in our pocket, we had three, and 38 seconds from 75 yards away is plenty of time to get down and get a field goal because you’ve got your whole playbook. You can throw the ball across the middle and call timeout; in college football 38 seconds is longer than you think because you make a first down, the clock stops like the NFL, you get out of bounds and Phil was conservative at that point.

He had a check-with-me; he had a pass called and it was quarterback draw if the quarterback didn’t like the pass, so that’s why Sam ended up running the ball. You want to save all your timeouts; you’ve got to have one left now because of the 10-second runoff. That changed coaching for sure; you can’t be without a timeout in your pocket because a 10-second runoff can lose the game for you, but you never want to have 10 on the field, nearly a delay of the game.

I didn’t think the field goal was going to be a delay of game. That was in overtime or I would have taken our timeout there, but you don’t want to waste your time. For those are that are wanting to coach time management, I think we won more games in the fourth quarter within three points than anybody in the country at Texas. I think we were about 17 out of 20, so what we’re doing works, it just didn’t work well on Saturday and it had nothing to do anything to do with time management. The time management we had against South Carolina was very poor and that was awful and embarrassing and we fixed that, so that’s not going to happen again.

People have asked, ‘Why go for the fake punt?’ We just took a shot deep on 3 and 1 with our tight end, had a chance there for a big play, I thought it was a great call by Phil Longo. So, we’re going to be aggressive. We’re so thin on defense right now, we’ve have to outscore people, so we’re going to go for 4 and 1. Our thought was either go for it and line up for the punt, if it was there, take it. It was there; it’s exactly what we wanted, we didn’t execute it. We should have done a better job coaching and practicing to get one yard, but we were going to go for it either way. That’s who we are right now.

Somebody said they saw me getting on one of the coaches on the sideline. I’m on the coaches all the time; I’m glad the camera’s not always on me. People have asked if I’ve ever fired one during the game. No, but I’ve felt like it, so you fans that get mad at assistants, I’m mad at them, too. My mother used to tell me, ‘Why’d you hire these guys?’ when we’d lose again, so yeah, I get on them a lot. I love them and I think they’re doing a tremendous job, they’re giving our guys a chance to win, but when I see something I think we can do better, I’m going to be direct and I’m going to be honest and transparent with them just like I do with everyone else.

Officials, I love officials. The guys are very honest, they have full-time jobs, they're so passionate about this they work themselves to death. They do this on the weekends and they love the game, and I hate it for them when they make a bad call. I saw two coaches fined yesterday for making comments about officiating.

I came back to help kids and try to help the game that I love because I want us to change some things and clean it up, but I thought after seeing the two coaches (fined) yesterday. There’s three factors in a ballgame: there’s our team, the opposing team and the officials. Two of the three are called out; officials aren’t. They don’t make as much as we do, but they probably make as much as the kids.

What I would love, I’ve said it, it’s maybe that you have a challenge flag as a coach and you hold and use it, but if there’s a critical play, whether it’s reviewable or not, if you challenge or not, it has to go upstairs and then they can look at it. That doesn’t slow the game, but it gives you an opportunity for the one play you think the officials have missed that’s not reviewable that changes the entire game, to have it at least looked at upstairs. If not, some people thought I said last time challenge every play. People don’t listen.

What I said was, it is a critical play — I said ‘A’ critical play — in a game that changes the game and it’s not reviewable, take it upstairs and the guy upstairs should be able to say, ‘That was a facemask, that was holding on them on this critical play, so pick up your flag, throw your flag,’ whatever it needs to be at that point. I also think that they should allow us to bring plays that are questionable in here. We turn in a number of plays every week to the officials. They should let us bring plays in here and let us show them to you; that’s what we’ve got to get accountability from everybody because kids are losing games that they fight their guts out, coaches are losing game. They are making human errors; as coaches and players we’re making human errors. We should do everything we can do to help the officials not make a human error that changes the direction of a game, because they want it to turn out right. These are good men. They don’t want to go home and know they missed a call after they missed it; they’d rather it be fixed.

I do think the fact that we’ve got instant replay is helping with the credibility, it’s helping with the officials. We’ve saved a lot of games because of a poor call, but I think we can take another step and I think that’s something we need to do.

Homecoming game this weekend, rival game with Duke, Victory Bell is on the line. I love David Cutcliffe; he’s one of the great guys in this business that’s been in it a long time. He was on the AFCA board with me; he’s a guy who cares about the game, he’s helping change a lot of rules. He has done a tremendous job at Duke coaching. He’s the perfect guy at Duke; he does a great job coaching and he gets good kids that play hard for him and they’re usually going to take care of the ball and kick it well, punt it well and they’re usually going to make sure they have the fewest penalties in the game.

They come off a tough game with Virginia because those things didn’t happen for them last week and my experience is we’re going to have to pick it up because we’re disappointed with a tough loss and they’re going to pick it up because they’re disappointed in their performance on Saturday at Virginia.

Any plays you would take back from the overtime periods?

Yes, I would take back every one that didn't work. The holding was a killer. It was a killer. We’re 1st-and-goal from the eight. Then you have to make a decision. Do you go ahead and try to run it in because we're running the ball at will at that time or do you center it and kick the field goal like an extra point? It's one of the two… when we got the holding call, it puts us in a position where now we're trying to get yards to get back to a better field goal. So that was a killer. The last two-point play Sam's got to get the ball in the end zone. You can't take the sack because our only chance is to get it out. And he tried to. Sam is smart, but guy just got him before he got it off. So we've got to get that ball in the end zone for sure.

You mentioned the delay of game before the field goal in overtime. Can you explain what happened there?

Yes, there was a flag. So we're all waiting to see what the flag is. They pick the flag up and they waved it off. So we're delayed coming in. And then the clock ran out. So I wish they had restarted for us.

Is that something you think that should be fixed?

I think it's something, just another thing that we should look at… We were waiting to see what the conclusion was and then when we got it, we were were late getting out.

We don't get any information from the conferences about officiating issues. What type of feedback do you get?

It's a good question. We don't turn it in unless we feel like it's a flagrant miss and a lot of times it's a no call that that we turn in. Then the supervisor of officials, usually on Tuesday, I think Monday or Tuesday, he sends us back, ‘I agree with your thought. I disagree and here's why. I agree and here's why.’ And that's all you get. We do it every week and we don't send anything in unless we feel like it's a flagrant game changer.

At the end of regulation, were the two run calls based on what Sam saw from the defense? 

They were passes that were called and he didn't like what he saw. Obviously, you don't want to turn the ball over. ‘I'm coach's kid smart, let's go overtime If it doesn't look good.’ He didn't like what he saw, so he ran. We're trying to get into first down. In that situation, with 38 seconds and three time outs, what you normally try to do, get something to get a first down, get to the 35-40, then you try to take a shot and then you try to take a shot to get a field goal. So you've got three or four shots there that that you can take. And more than that if you throw incompletions. Sam just didn't like what he saw. So his other option, because we had people out of the backfield, his other option was to try to get himself.

Is there a reason why the running game wasn't working as well in the second half?

Yeah, we didn't block them as well.

Do you think that’s a lack of depth?

I think so. We had some guard-center issues and you know they’re playing every play every week. We've got to look at a Josh Ezeudu playing more probably, but he's the only backup that's played. So we're really playing with five guys and a little with Josh some. So Billy Ross didn't play on Saturday. And that was an issue for us. They started covering guards and centers in there and given us more problems and we didn't handle it very well.

Along the same lines on defense, Tomari Fox and others didn’t play -

Yeah. Tomari did play. I don't know how many plays he got, he did play some.

Okay.

So you can count how many there were. 16. So, come on, Ross. Wake up, man. Were you not there or were you listening to music? What were you doing? Come on. Did you write the article that said Tomari played 16 plays and then you forgot? Come on, Ross, man.

Was there a reason why?

Cater is playing better. He had really picked it up and we want Tomari to play a lot, but if you've got a senior that's a 6-5 senior that's playing really well, he's got five games left in his career and he's earned the right, you want to play him. So that helped. Raymond [Vohasek] strained an elbow, something in his shoulder and he wasn't really 100 percent, so that's why he didn't play. Xach Gill came in for Strowbridge when he got hurt. Xach did a good job and made a couple of plays. But we're really thin in that inner part. We can play Hopper and we can play Tomari Fox and we can play Tomon Fox and we can play Cater. Those guys can all play and we can interchange them. The three older ones are playing a little bit more right now than the freshman. But inside we've got to get better there.

When you got together with the team yesterday after a six-overtime loss

I told them we had a loss earlier in the year and I walked in, they were all laughing and cutting up and, and I said, this isn't right. If you're laughing and cutting up and okay with the loss, then you probably didn't put enough into it because it's got to hurt you. And, and on their way home Saturday night, they were devastated. I walked into this room and they were whipped. They were just, come on, come on, man. What do we have to do to win a game? And I felt the same way. I felt whipped. It's one of those days you don't want to go to work. But then again, I came back to pick up kids and try to teach them and learn from difficult situations and no better one than this to learn from. So I've got to learn to pick myself up. I did that better on Sunday and told them that I'm very proud of you. You're still in the mix of a lot of stuff. Every game has come down to the end. We could very easily be 7-0, 6-1 or 0-7. Every game has come down to the end. So they are giving us what they've got.

And like I said, Jay is the one that's more shorthanded than anybody. And Jay's not a griper. He just says, next man up, let's go. But it does affect how he calls because he changes up so much and brings people from everywhere. And if you're putting guys that are struggling some on an Island outside, you better get to that quarterback before you do it. A gutsy call by Virginia Tech is a freshman quarterback on 4th-and-3 to win the game and they throw a fade and it is a perfect throw. So I think that's just what I told the guys is we're close. We're improving. it wasn't one play. Each of us need to get better to make a few more plays and then we win the game. The five minutes before the half, who let down? What should've happened? Why the quarterback long run? Why the wheel for a touchdown? What mistakes did we make? Why didn't we jump up and bat the ball down when we were in the end zone with the receivers two or three different times when we were there? We’ve just got to make plays. Why didn't we catch the ball down the middle as a tight end? Why? Why didn't we convert on 3rd-and-1? What happened on the fake punt? So you can go back to 10 or 15 plays. It's usually seven plays in a game. This one had 10 or 15 that we win the game if we make any of those plays. So that's what I told them. Let's don't feel sorry for ourselves. Let's play better and get rejuvenated here for Duke. We haven't had a good record against Duke the last seven years. I think we're 2-5. So we need to pick it up and start worrying about next week.

Is your job of rebuilding them a little more difficult this week than the first three losses?

Yes, my job with everybody is to make sure that everybody knows what we did well and what we did wrong, and I told the players, there's more players in the training room after you lose, there's more players sensitive, pointing fingers, questioning after you lose. So, that's out. I don't want to hear any of it. I also told them, 'If you want to play pro ball,' and all of them do, '...they play on Sunday and then go play Thursday. So, don't talk to me about being stiff and sore, and they play 24 games. So, if you want to play, go get your degree if you're sore because NFL guys are real sore. They hit harder than you guys do.'

And then the second thing I do is have to build them back up. Show them the positive things we did, show them what we've got to do better, and I do the same thing with the coaches. I am a lot more critical of the coaches with them face-to-face than you all are or the fans. My job is to grill them and be hard on them and go back through the game plan with them. On every Sunday, we sit down and say next year in the Virginia Tech game what are we going to do different and that was it. You get all over the offensive staff, they scored a bunch of points and they didn't turn the ball over. So, I think, again, that's enough points, but you need to be one more than the other team. We get on them about well, we didn't run it in the second half, but we threw it well and one of the things, Ross, that Bud Foster does is he makes it hard to run the ball. He's going to have eight around the ball all the time and you've got to hit some deep shots, which we did. At halftime, he probably said, we cannot let them keep running the ball. We're going to have to make them throw it to beat us. I kept talking to Phil Longo. If they're all on the line of scrimmage and you've got guys wide open and you've got a really good passer, you've got to protect it, but get it to him. So, that's what this game comes down to, and defensively, we missed some tackles. We had three sacks, I think. We needed more. They did a smart thing bringing in the young freshman quarterback. We had never seen him, but gosh, the guy's 6-4, 250 (pounds) and hard to tackle, especially in the fourth quarter. So, give them credit for that."

Do you have a philosophy with clock management situations going in or do you try to approach it in a singular fashion depending on every situation?

You have to handle each and every one different, but my basic philosophy is you never ever use a timeout until you have to. You save them. You keep them in your pocket. It really makes me mad when we've got 10 on the punt team and we have to use a timeout to get an 11th one out there. In some cases, if Longo or Bateman say, 'Coach, I don't like the way we're lined up. Can you get me a timeout?' I'm the only one that can call timeouts, but I'll give it to them if it's a critical situation. Just like if we're going to have delay of game on a punt, we're not going to waste a timeout for that. We can gain those five yards because Ben (Kiernan)'s punting so well. If it's a field goal, you don't take a timeout unless it (a delay of game penalty) gets you out of field goal range. So, that would be the thing that would be determined by each game, but basically, my thought is don't use them unless you have to and use your clock management because college football allows you to spike the ball. It allows you to stop (the clock) on a first down. It allows you when the ball's out of bounds to stop the clock. All of those things, to me, give you a chance in college football to move the ball down the field.

So much coming into this season were all the close losses and confidence gaining because of that. You won some early ones, but now they're not winning these close games and they've been very difficult games. Do you worry about losing the confidence from the early games or do you feel pretty good that the confidence is still carrying over?

I feel good. I think they're very confident, and what we've done is show them why we lost the game. In some of those last year, they were close, but they were late. It wasn't really close. It wasn't down to the last play. We had four or five one plays to win the game, and Virginia Tech did, too. They missed the field goal. So, if we made ours with the delay of game if we make that field goal and they miss theirs, we win the game. I also told them it's really interesting to me in sports that we make the field goal, we make the two-point play, we're all talking about how great we're doing and life's great and oh my gosh we have turned this thing and it's wonderful and we're in the greatest place ever! THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE! And now, we stink because of those five plays we didn't make. It's really a strange feeling. I told them that we'd have been dancing in the locker room if we make one of those five plays, and instead we're all walking around moping. It's just foolish sports. I also asked them, 'I wonder who started getting mad over winning and losing.' Christians and lions? It had to be way back. I don't know, or maybe it's when they started scoreboards, but it's a shame that a game that good played by those kids and those sets of coaches that somebody had to lose. It was a great game.

What are the recruits and the coaches and the families saying about the momentum of recruiting, especially in-state guys?

Recruiting's going so well. They know it's coming. You've got a young quarterback that's doing well. They like that. They see the guys are having fun. They see they're competing their rear ends off every week. They're seeing the stands are full and we're selling out. So, everythings good. It's just we've got so many guys wanting to come right now it's really frightening. It's good. It's cool. From where we were when we started the Spring and everybody's talking about, 'Ehh, you've got no crowds and we don't know if you're going to win any games and don't know about the guys trying and we don't know about your staff,' and now because both sides of the ball have seen that we know what we're doing with coaching and with kids playing so hard and they see how close we are, I had so many texts from recruits and recruits parents leaving Blacksburg just saying, 'Oh my gosh, what a game. Can't wait for my son to get there.' So, it's all good right now.

How long does it take for a head coach and an offensive coordinator to get on the same page?

Phil just walked in, I think we're good with all of our coaches. If Phil and I are here 10 years, there will be things we disagree on. That's it, and I was an offensive coordinator, so it's harder to be an offensive coordinator for me than defensive coordinator because I love play calling. That was one thing I was passionate about and I loved doing, but Phil's done an amazing job with the all-young offensive linemen, expect for Charlie Heck. In fact, everybody on offense is back next year that's starting right now, except for Charlie Heck, I think. Everybody else is back, so you know, we scored 41. That's pretty good, but I'm direct with our coaches, I'm hard on them and then I move on, and they understand that. It's all of them. It's not just one. I was mad that we had the delay of game on the field goal. Maybe it wasn't our fault, but it still was because I was mad we had a field goal blocked. I was upset with that. I was upset that we didn't kick the first ball in the end zone. I mean, you go back through in my life is I've got all the problems. Phil's got his, Jay's got his, Lonnie Galloway's got his, Scott Boone's got his and I've got them all. So, I'm having to balance something during that ball game at all times.

The other thing, I came back to win and help North Carolina to get back where we are. So, I knew how critical each play was during that ball game, so I'm killing myself trying to get us back where need to be. Like I said, we're going to get there, but without energy from me and without caring from me and without passion from me, then Phil can't have it and Jay can't have it and Scott can't have it and our team can't have it. If I'm standing over there doing nothing, just watching the game, why am I here? Why pay me? And I don't want to get in their way. The hardest thing you do, and Ross just kind of said it, for Phil, he scores 41 total points, he throws it up and down the field, we get 500 yards of total offense and our question is why didn't we run it better. Scoring's the key and stats are not, and I think that's the biggest thing. We can be stat guys, but I'd rather run it for 400 yards every game, but people kind of get in the way of that if they see you're starting that, if they're any good.

Is it stills strange to have disagreements with your staff play out on camera?

Nah, you know what? I never think about the crowd and I never think about a camera. I don't, and I never look at it. So, I don't go back and see what I look like on the sideline or what I said or when I said it. I'm not ever going to say anything, in my mind, that's inappropriate. So, I say what I think, and like I said, coming back I've been much more transparent with you all then I probably was before. I thought I was, but people told me I wasn't. So, that's something I feel better about.

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