Mack Brown met with the media after Wednesday morning's practice to provide a final update before North Carolina travels to N.C. State on Saturday night.
Happy Thanksgiving to everybody. It’s a wonderful time of year and it’s a great time of the year for football fans. Rivals are just fun; it’s teams that are spirited and don’t like each other very much but have respect for each other and fanbases are the same way. I think it’s my most favorite week of the year.
We had a meeting this morning early and asked the guys what you’re thankful for; anybody that wanted to stand up could stand up and say what they’re thankful for. It was really heartwarming to hear all the stories from the guys.
Sally and I are really thankful to be here. It’s been a wonderful year and we’re thankful for these kids and we’re thankful that the fans and the university and the kids have all accepted us back and we’ve had a fun year. The stadium has been full, guys are excited about having a meaningful game in November. We feel very, very blessed and that’s something we told the team this morning.
Practice has been good. Both of these teams have been teams that have had tight games, both these teams have had a lot of injuries and both of these teams have got a young players, so it should be a fun game on Saturday.
You've been here for one year. Has it gone as expected?
I think it’s much better than I expected it to be. I guess I didn’t know what to expect because it all happened so fast and I didn’t know if I’d coach again, but you’re never sure when you come back and start over after five years, are you as good at it? Will you be as excited about it? Will you have the same energy that you had before? And really, I’m more excited than I’ve ever been in my life in coaching and I’ve got more energy than I think I’ve ever had. I think I’m a better coach than I’ve ever been and I’m just so excited about the future of this place. It’s really a fun time for me.
It went so fast; I wouldn’t have thought this was a year already when I stood in front of these young guys and started talking about this process. It’s so much better now than it was then because I know the guys, I know who we are and I know the things we have to work on, the things we have to fix. The experience has been than I could have ever expected the first one to be.
We could have lost all the games but two; we could have won all the games. That means we’re close to the two games that are playing for the Coastal on Friday because we came down to the last drive with Virginia and six overtimes with Virginia Tech. That shows you how close we are to getting where we need to be.
What's the biggest challenge in the first year?
I think the biggest challenge of any first year is getting your staff to work together and be cohesive and believe in each other and all believe in the same stuff and getting your players to believe in you and the staff. Especially when they’ve lost so many games and we’ve lost some, just getting them to hang in there and keep competing and these kids have done that. They’ve given us everything they’ve got and they continue to do it this week.
Is it tough to get a staff on the same page in one year?
It’s really hard and then you get really strong coaches that have a lot of opinions and they’ve been successful in their own right with certain things and they want those things, then the coordinators have to negotiate with them to put some in and keep some out, then I have to get involved and then some of them get mad and they pout. I’ve told them, until our staff pulls together — which this one has done — then the players aren’t going to pull together because they feel it and they see you if you’ve got tension. That’s a huge thing and I think we’ve also hired a good staff, so that fits our place in recruiting.
What was the in-state recruiting dynamic when you arrived?
I think that Coach Fedora had a lot of turnover on his staff, so there wasn’t continuity in recruiting. That’s one thing that we’re trying to do, is make sure we have the same coach in the same high school every year and that was tough for Larry. We want continuity in the state and we’re going to be every school in the state every year and we want the coaches to know who that guy is so he can pick up the phone and call him and say, ‘I need tickets to the game,’ or, ‘Can I come to practice?’ and I don’t think Larry had that at the end.
On not forcing turnovers
I don’t know why we haven’t forced turnovers, but normally, you have to stop the run on first down, you have to put the quarterback in second and long, third and long before you’re going to have a lot of turnovers because that’s when you should be in better control and we haven’t been able to do that.
I think that’s the reason that we’re still in contention for a bowl game, is we haven’t turned the ball over. Our offense is really taking care of the ball, our defense hasn’t been able to get it, so that’s obviously a huge key every week, but a big key for Saturday night.
On the offense and defense working together...
We have. That’s the other thing with a staff when they pull together. Like the Clemson game, we huddled up some, we slowed the game down more than we have in some other cases. We’ll tell the offense, ‘This is a week you’ve got to score more points,’ or we’ll tell the defense, ‘You’re going to have to stop ‘em now, because we’re not going to be able to score points on offense.’
We have a meeting, in fact, this afternoon at 3 o’clock, we’ll have a staff meeting and we’ll sit down and I’ll say Jay, ‘Go over everything in your gameplan so everybody in the staff meeting can hear it.’ Same thing with Phil, same thing with Scott. Then we’ll all say, ‘What do you think, Jay? Are they going to move the ball a lot, is this one that we’re going to have trouble stopping them?’ We don’t want any surprises on Saturday. We want everybody to know what the other part of the staff thinks.
On the 1993 win over N.C. State
I think it was really big. We were recruiting better, but State was, again, really powerful in recruiting like now when we got to Carolina before and we weren’t winning, so we couldn’t move as quickly as we wanted to.
The joy of that game was winning; the disappointment was the fight afterward with the two coaches, so I didn’t get to enjoy it too much. I was trying to figure out what happened on the field and what we were going to do about it, then both coaches got suspended. We had to go to Greensboro to see Commissioner Corrigan and all of the things that were around it, but that was a huge step for us moving forward.
On players keeping their composure after last year's fight
These guys know each other and it’s an important game to both universities, and what I told the guys, ‘If we win and we hope we do and we go to a bowl game, you don’t get to go if you fight.’ Like this year’s South Carolina game, guys are sitting there on the sideline don’t get to play, so don’t do that. Just play the game. You can be physical between the whistles; you don’t need to be doing extra-curricular stuff; that hurts you.
What has the team most improved in the past year?
I think the biggest thing is their confidence. They’re learning to have fun at practice and they’re learning to practice hard every day and we’ve continued to put emphasis on depth, so they’re not as tired as during the game some.
I would think they believe in this staff right now and our staff believes in them and they’re more confident right now than I’ve seen them all year. The fact that they could go into a Mercer game where they’re not as good as we were and be ready to play, be excited and get that over fast is a huge step for us and I think that’s from confidence and understanding the process and trusting the process.
What's the plan for the rest of the week?
We’ll meet in the morning at 7:30 as a team, we’ll meet for a couple of hours, then we’ll practice; have a couple hour practice out here, our normal Thursday practice. We’ll be in the stadium if it’s dry and nice enough; we’ll be in here if it’s raining. Then, the guys will get to go wherever they want to eat their Thanksgiving meal. We had it planned where Sally and I would eat with any of kids that didn’t have a place to go, and I think it’s another great sign every player on the team has a place to go with each other, so they’ve taken care of each other.
Then, they’ll report back and be back by Friday at 3 o’clock so we can have our regular Friday session. That was really cool when I heard that this morning.
What's your ideal Thanksgiving plate?
Sally knows I would take white bread, turkey sandwich with dark meat and relish out of the can at the grocery store and mayonnaise. That would be the perfect Thanksgiving dinner for me. I love the sandwiches the day after Thanksgiving more than I love Thanksgiving, so that’s really sad, but I really do.
Sally always makes me sandwiches for about two weeks after Thanksgiving because I love them too much.