Atlantic Coast Conference Football Kickoff

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

North Carolina Tar Heels

Coach Mack Brown

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions for Coach Brown.

Q. Some of your better teams in the '90s had players named Holliday. There was Corey Holliday and then Vonnie Holliday. Looking at the roster, you have another player of that name this year, just a freshman. Maybe it's an omen. My question, you led the league in total offense in spite of the fact that you allowed more sacks than everybody except for Duke and Syracuse. What goes into keeping Sam Howell more upright this year?

MACK BROWN: Thank you. And Bob is not kin to any of those Hollidays, by the way. Glad we get to see everybody back in person. We're blessed to do this. Fun to have everybody back.

The biggest thing we're looking at with our sacks is we've got the same offensive linemen for the third straight year with the exception of Charlie Heck. He went to the Texans. We've got more experience than probably anybody in the country in the offensive line and at tight end because Garrett Walston is coming back.

We have also established more depth over the last two years, so we can actually play two offensive lines and we haven't been able to do that. We've been playing six and seven players.

A third thing is we've looked at every sack for the two years we've been here, we've looked at why Sam is committed to getting the ball out of his hands faster some because he's so competitive he wants to make every play. We also know we have to do a better job up front in all those cases and use our backs.

One of the reasons we took Ty Chandler from Tennessee as the only grad transfer is we didn't want to go to Virginia Tech with young backs that had not played, big guys, fumble the ball and not know how to protect. And Ty has played in a lot of big games.

Q. We always use the terms 'chemistry' and 'continuity' about players on the field. Can you talk about entering your third season with Phil and Sam, that kind of comfortability and how that translates on the field.

MACK BROWN: Yes, we use the word 'culture' all the time. I'm not really sure what that means. We hear 'alignment,' I hear 'chemistry.' All of it means we're all on the same page.

Sam knows our offense as well as Phil Longo does. In fact, Phil interviewed for a job earlier, and I thought I'll make Sam the offensive coordinator and just move on. We'll save some money. Now with name, image and likeness, I could have played Sam as the offensive coordinator and the quarterback, I don't know, as we look at that.

Continuity is really, really important if it's good. You have to continue to work to bring in great ideas. At Texas we had the same stuff most of our 16 years. The good thing was we had continuity. The bad thing is we didn't get many new ideas.

When we brought in Larry Porter this year after Robert Gillespie left, it was good, got some new thoughts to a really good offense. When we brought in John Lilly after Tim Brewster the first year, we had pro thoughts with our tight end in the tight end game. So our tight end game is better than it was two years ago.

We like continuity, but we don't mind a change every now and then just to create new ideas.

Q. What have been the pillars of orchestrating such a positive turnaround in North Carolina football, in your opinion?

MACK BROWN: Number one is we had to have the buy-in from the administration. Bubba Cunningham sitting in here, and I don't want to embarrass him, but the university has done everything that we've asked them to do. And we've promised never to ask for anything that's not going to help, help the experience of our student-athletes or help us win.

So one of the reasons we've had continuity with our coaches is we're paying 'em, we're paying 'em at a high level. That way we're not going to lose 'em for money. They may have to go to a different place, like Robert Gillespie wants to look at pros closer to home, so I got that. We're not having a lot of coaches leave, and that's a positive.

Secondly, I challenged our fans to buy in. People said fans aren't coming to the games. I said, C'mon, fans, you want to be a good football program, you have to be a good fan base. We sold out every game, one of seven teams to sell out every game in 2019. We've already sold all of our season tickets, which is amazing after the very difficult year most people have had financially over the last year.

When you recruit a staff that's a high-quality staff that knows the area and fits the school, understands who we are academically, understands who fits at our school, it really helps you in recruiting.

So we have a great product, a great academic school, small campus. It's one of the nicest in the country. We have a tremendous staff, a real commitment from our administration, and our fan base is all in. When you put those things together, it makes it for a really special opportunity moving forward.

Q. You lost two running backs to the NFL Draft this year, but you replaced them with Ty Chandler, who you spoke on. Can you elaborate a little bit more on his role in this offense.

MACK BROWN: You lose Javonte Williams and Michael Carter, you lose a lot of your offense. They were tough, smart, they could catch, they could block. But they protected the ball. That might be the most important thing they did over two years. I think we lost six fumbles in two years. That kind of goes unnoticed unless you're fumbling. But it's really, really important.

So with Ty Chandler, he was recruited by Tommy Thigpen who was on our staff, coached by Robert Gillespie. So when he went into the portal, we knew how good he was. He's 210 pounds now I think, he's fit in with our team really, really well. He's having fun. He had a really good spring.

Since he's had four years of being physical, being hit by Tennessee and Alabama -- I mean by Georgia and Florida, Alabama, Auburn, we didn't beat him up this spring. We talked a lot about him.

But we think he is kind of the guy that fits between Javonte Williams and Michael Carter. A 210-pound back, he can run it up inside, tremendous hands, he knows what to do, but he also has the speed that when he gets it in space he has a chance to score. We got to find some other guys with him, but we think he has a chance to step up and be a special player for us.

Q. You mentioned wanting Ty for that opening game at Virginia Tech. What is your level of concern, a challenge there in starting the season on a Friday night in Blacksburg? How do you want to handle that and prepare your team for that?

MACK BROWN: After 32 years as a head coach, I've looked at it both ways. Would you like to have an easier team? It's kind of a scrimmage, you get to work through things, you don't have to show anything. Yes. But do your players get more excited in the summer off-season program if they're opening up against a Coastal rival that's really good? We went to six overtimes and got beat the last time they were there.

I really think it's great for us. We've gotten a tremendous amount of publicity. We've been kind of a media darling. Let's keep our mouth shut now and see if we're any good.

We got to play. Virginia Tech, it's an unbelievable place to play. It's a fun place to play. They've got a really good football team. So it will be a great challenge. It will be a fun way for us to start the season.

Q. You cited Ricky Williams as an example that teams win a Heisman, not school promotions. On the other side of that, talk about as he becomes your -- your player becomes a leading candidate, the pressure mounts later in the season, how you handle that?

MACK BROWN: When we went to Texas, the previous team was 4-7. Ricky said, The Heisman is not important. Well, HeismanRickyWilliams was his email, so it was kind of important I think (smiling). I kind of noticed that as he told me it wasn't important.

So what we found is that Ricky was the best player on our team, so he was really our best defensive player because we weren't any good on defense, but as long as he stayed on field and ran the ball, we didn't have to go out there on defense, so it helped us.

We really got into decisions like we were killing Rice, Ken Hatfield is a friend. Ricky just gained 43 yards against Kansas State the week before. He left him in. He gained 255 yards. Ken was great after the game, I got it, you got to keep him in.

There's that fine line with Colt McCoy and Vince Young. When you're winning a game, how long do you keep them in for stats for the Heisman and when do you pull him out for safety and trying to get a backup quarterback ready to play? It's a delicate path that you have to follow to try to figure out how to playing all that work.

Sam is so good. He's about winning, knows we have to have another quarterback to go in the future. We'll navigate that with him. Whether it's name, image and likeness, the awards you're going to get, it's about your ball, it's not about your brand. If we play well, if Sam is going to play great, if we play well enough as a team around him, and we have a chance to win a lot of games, he'll be right in the mix of that Heisman thing regardless of what we say or do. If we don't play well as a team, it will drift away.

Q. With you guys launching the group licensing for name, image and likeness, how proactive has the university been? Seems like they've been on the frontier of this name, image and likeness and really embraced it. How nice has that been for you to have that backing in the athletic department?

MACK BROWN: It's great for us. Bubba and his team have been working on this for two years. We had a discussion with our team the spring before COVID hit, so last thing, about what this meant, where it was going.

Bubba asked if there were any questions at the end of the discussion. Sam Howell stood up and said, I don't want this to be about the quarterback, I don't want it to be disruptive in the locker room.

That's one of the reasons Bubba and his team are working so hard on group licensing. They're one of the first to do it. That means that the backup right guard is going to have a chance to be involved with opportunities that he wouldn't be if it's three players on your team that are.

I was not in favor of taking away amateurism and moving forward with name, image and likeness. Sally told me something that really makes sense, that the regular student gets to use -- if it's a musician, he gets to use his talent to make money, so why shouldn't a student-athlete get to do the same thing? So I got it.

Now we've all got to figure out those guidelines and what it means. Group licensing helps your whole team. Sam will be okay. Some of the other players will be okay with their opportunities. But what Bubba is trying to do, what I want us to do, is be able to help the whole team.

Are we making guys mature faster than normal? Yeah, we're talking about state tax, federal tax, your agent, the percentage of money that your agent is going to take away from what you get, the legal part of this. They're having to grow up a lot faster than before, which may be a good thing in the long run.

Since it's here, we're all in. North Carolina should be a place where name, image and likeness should be a great advantage for us because we have a lot of great people. We've got to figure out what that means within the rules and how we can help our guys with opportunities without getting involved ourself.

Q. You've shown your support of vaccination. Put your video up in May of you getting your shot. What have your conversations been with your players during the off-season? What percent of your team is vaccinated at this point?

MACK BROWN: COVID obviously is back. I mean, I watch very closely every day. We've got some concerns at the Olympics. We've got a pro baseball game that was postponed the other night. We have a basketball coach in the playoffs that didn't get to participate. We have a golfer that was taken out of a championship on Sunday. It's here. It's real.

I was hoping, like all of us, it would be gone away. Probably people have gotten a little more careless. So we're meeting tomorrow for an hour. We've been working for the last 10 days on a plan to go back and make sure that we're as COVID-safe with our team as we can be.

We're not at 85% for herd immunity with our entire team yet. We're getting really close. We have encouraged everybody to get it. Some, as we know, across our country and our world do not want to get it. We understand that. That's fair. Our job is to educate; their job is to make personal decisions. That's the way we do for the NFL; that's the way we do with everyone in our program.

But we have a great plan in place with what we've got to make sure that we get the numbers right in each meeting room for 85% herd immunity and our training table, in our locker room. That's what we're going to do. 85% herd immunity we've been told means you can go back to a normal process. Maybe the unvaccinated people have to wear a mask still, and the vaccinated ones can wear a mask if they want that as an option. That's in our football building and in our football program.

But we feel like right now we have a great plan in place that we can get back to as near normal as possible.

Q. You went down to Tallahassee last year and lost a game a lot of people, including yourself, didn't expect to. Given your ties to Florida State and your quarterback during the recruiting process, is that a game you have potentially circled as special, or is every game even-keeled as you go into the season?

MACK BROWN: The first question I got today is, You guys are getting so much hype, everybody expects you to win every game, how can you talk about one in the middle when you have to go to Virginia Tech in the opener?

We basically have a three-game season. That's what I've told the players. I'll start talking to you more national after three games, if you haven't lost a game. But let's quit talking. We've gotten hype. We've been hugged. We've had sugar thrown all over us. We're all enjoying it, we like it.

Let's clean it off, and let's get back to facts. We were fifth in the country when we went to Florida State, about 25th when we were leaving. That took about three hours to drop that far.

There were two conferences that weren't playing when we were fifth in the country. I was trying to explain to them, You're not the fifth best team in the country. I tell them you're not the fifth best team in the country, but we got to play. Nobody is good enough anymore to go out there and stand around.

We have some great older players that are leaders, three of them here today, then we've got a bunch of young guys. The young guys have to grow up. We've been circled by everybody in this league.

In fact, I can tell even in recruiting people are being really critical and are cutting us in recruiting. I'm so proud of that. That didn't happen the first year. Nobody cared. So now that we're getting a little better, I'm so excited people are critical of us. So that's a good thing.

But, yes, we'd like to beat Florida State. That's way down that list of issues before we get to it.


FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
110511-2-1001 2021-07-22 21:56:00 GMT

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