AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — When word started getting out last December that Mack Brown was considering coming back and coaching at North Carolina, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney sent him a quick text.
“Is it true,” Swinney’s asked.
“Yes,” Brown replied. “As long as I can appeal to the NCAA not to have to play you guys next year.”
Brown must have lost that appeal because North Carolina will host the defending national champions in Chapel Hill on Sept. 28.
The last time Brown coached at UNC was in 1997, just before he left for Texas. Back then Brown took over a North Carolina program in 1988 that was on the decline after contending for nearly a decade with Clemson for ACC supremacy.
He had to rebuild the program from the ground up, which he did during his 10 years, while posting a 69-46-1 record. In his last season there, he took UNC to an 11-1 record, the best in school history.
Brown went on to guide Texas to a national championship in 2005, while playing for another in his 16 years in Austin, Texas. He retired from Texas in 2013 and spent the last five years as a studio analyst for ESPN and ABC.
But coaching was still in his blood and he wanted to get back in the game.
When he was in the ACC before, Florida State ruled the conference as Bobby Bowden’s teams won two national championships in the 1990s while winning the conference title outright or a share of the title every year from 1992-2000.
“The biggest difference is you have a clear-cut path to the national championship game,” Brown said when The Clemson Insider asked him to compare the two eras. “We have the best team in the country. Dabo Swinney has done a tremendous job. He has probably done the best job of coaching of anybody in the country.
“Clemson last year was by far the best team in the country. So, our job is to try to get to where we can beat Clemson at one point, and that goes for all of us in this league because that is the standard. It is not only the standard in this league, it is the standard for everybody in the country, so it is a clear-cut shot.”
When FSU was running the ACC back in the 1990s, Brown said everyone was chasing the Seminoles like they do Clemson now. However, there is a difference.
“Even if we beat Florida State and did not win all the games, it still was not sure if we would be in the playoffs or national championship game, but now it is,” Brown said.
Brown has enjoyed watching Swinney build Clemson into a national power.
“I am so proud for him. He is a good man with strong faith. He has done it right,” Brown said. “We were talking the other night, and he has been there a long time now, and he has been consistently getting better every year. Now he is at a point where he is the best in the country, and it does not look like it is going anywhere with the way he is recruiting.
“I’m proud of all he has accomplished and what he does for college football.”