UNC football coach Mack Brown’s 2023 ACC Kickoff Q&A transcript

Charlotte, NC – UNC Tar Heels head football coach Mack Brown took questions from the media on Thursday at the ACC Kickoff. The full transcript is below:

Q. I was curious, what is the most difficult part of being a head coach in this day and age with name, image, likeness, transfer portal, all that? Is it much more difficult than maybe the last few years?

MACK BROWN: Yes, because you’re really multi-tasking so much more now than ever before. Roster management is more difficult than it’s ever been. With the COVID year you’re not sure how many you’re going to be able to sign. We were just told the other day, you’ve got unlimited initials again this year, and we’ve been recruiting for six months.

There’s a lot of change at the NCAA level. We were just told we could bring in 120 for preseason, so we’ve got kids now that we told couldn’t come in until school started, they have to go back and start. How many can you sign? How many did you leave? How many are going to the NFL? How many are going to be in the transfer portal? Who is going to graduate and leave early?

Then NIL is just a totally different situation, and it’s more about the collective. We’re really lucky that our guys have handled NIL, and it hasn’t disrupted our locker room. I’m hearing nightmares across the country of kids being offered money and not being paid. They’re getting in the transfer portal. I’m hearing locker rooms are disrupted.

I think when people ask me after my five years out what was the biggest change when I got back, the biggest change was early signing day because you’re having official visits now in the spring and guys are committing, and in the past if you think about, we’d have guys come unofficially to a couple of games, and then you had January to have official visits and then they would all sign in February. That’s now all happening. We’re recruiting guys from the class of ’26.

Everything is just speeded up. Then you add NIL, which is a great thing in so many ways. We talk about the negatives all the time, but these guys have a better situation right now than any athletes have ever had because they do have a chance to make some money, which none have done in the past.

But you add that and transfer portal and the collision of the two and tampering, those are things that make it more difficult to be a head coach.

Q. Your offense and defense seem to be night and day at times in terms of the offense, setting records and what not, while the defense finished last in a few categories. Then on top of that, replacing all the starters in the secondary except one and the defensive back coach in Dré Bly. How do you expect to retool there while still expecting to compete and do great things in terms of having a good season and all those good things with winning?

MACK BROWN: Yeah, we had a disastrous game up at App State. I know, I was in the media for five years, and you deal with so many different people when you have an awful game like that, that gets to be the narrative. Then we did the same at Notre Dame. We didn’t play well in either of those games, and both of them had good offensive teams.

But after that we played much better in the ACC. We averaged giving up 24 points a game, which is pretty good, modern-day at least. Middle of the pack or a little bit better.

I do feel good about our secondary. We were able to hire Jason Jones who worked with Charlton Warren, one of our defensive coordinators at Indiana. That’s been a seamless transition.

I think we’re going to be good on defense. We’ve got to be more aggressive up front and stop the run more on first down because now people are — if it’s a third down and seven, they’re going to go for fourth down. So they’re going to try to run the ball on third down or hit a short pass and then go for a fourth and four. So the game has changed.

Coach Chizik has the second year under his belt. The staff will be good together. I feel like we’ll be good, and we’ll get tested early. We’ve got a really tough schedule to start the season with some very physical teams. South Carolina is going to run the ball. App State will run the ball. Minnesota will run the ball, and Pitt will run the ball.

It will be a great four games to start out to see if we’ve improved like we think we have on defense.

Q. As you know, Drake is the first Carolina Player of the Year since a guy named Lawrence Taylor. You have a new coordinator. You’ve lost some of his targets to the NFL, and yet, you say you expect to see a better version of Drake this year. What goes into that kind of optimism under those circumstances?

MACK BROWN: David, I haven’t seen you since Friday, so it’s been a while. No, Drake has had a great year last year. Best freshman year of any freshman I’ve ever seen. He just got better and better and better, and people didn’t realize until ten days before the opening game, we didn’t announce Drake as a starter.

So for him to take the role of leader and lead his football team like he did and be consistent each week, was pretty phenomenal.

Then after the season Drake came in to me and said, help me with these things, these are things I need to improve. That’s who he is. That’s why he is such a great player. He was raised in a family of champions. He was raised in a family of athletes. His dad was a great quarterback. So he is always looking at what I can do better instead of patting himself on the back.

He is a little bit like me. We have to be careful with him because he is too hard on himself, and he is always “I didn’t do this right,” well, let’s talk about what you did right too, so we can do that.

I think he was involved in the hiring of Chip Lindsey, and we have Clyde Christensen there, who coached the quest best quarterbacks in the NFL. We’ve also got Freddie Kitchens, who coached two No. 1 draft choices at quarterback. We have a lot of great help around Drake as well.

As far as losing, you lose Antoine Green. You lose Josh Downs. You lose some powerful players, but then you bring in — you’ve got some good players, because both of them were hurt some. Neither one played in the bowl game, and we had good players step up.

Whether it’s J.J. Jones or Gavin Blackwell or Kobe Paysour, you can talk about those guys that stepped up last year at different times, but we also bring in Nate McCollum and Tez Walker. Nate was very successful in this league at Georgia Tech. He has great speed. He is tough. He can run it as well as throw it, so he can make yards after catch, so he has some similarities to Josh that we lost.

Tez Walker has the most amazing story I’ve ever seen. Here’s a young guy that signs with East Tennessee State, hurts his knee. They gray-shirt him, so he decides to go to UNC Central instead of East Tennessee State. COVID year hits, so he can’t play, so he transfers to Kent State. He has a great couple of years of Kent State, and then his whole coaching staff leaves. His grandmother is really sick. She’s in Charlotte. She’s never seen him play. He transfers back here because that’s where he wanted to be in the first place. That’s where the transfer portal is so good, to help kids get where they should be in the end, and he also is going to have his grandmother see him play for the first time here in Charlotte when we play South Carolina, and then she’ll be able to drive to the home games. And I think we have seven or eight games in the state of North Carolina. Praise the Lord for her that she’s going to be able to see him play for the first time.

I think both of those guys are really good. So along with the cast of guys that we’ve got that are talented, we’ve added two guys like the two we lost.

Q. You mentioned Tez Walker and Nate McCollum, and you brought in a new play-caller in Chip Lindsey. How is the offensive end with Chip so far? Are you running a similar offense as last year and there will be different wrinkles from last year? How has that been so far?

MACK BROWN: Drake can answer that as well, but when I was looking at a new guy to come in, I wanted to keep our passing game. It’s been really good.

So I started looking at guys first that had background with the air raid offense passing game. Chip Lindsey averaged 33 points a game when he was calling plays as a coordinator at Arizona State, Auburn, and Southern Miss. He started this in high school. So he wants to keep the same passing game with a few tweaks. He and Drake have tweaked what we’re doing along with Lonnie Galloway, who is our passing game coordinator.

Then you start looking at our running game. We were really good the first two years. We were best in the league. The last two years we’ve been middle of the road, and we haven’t been as good. Running game helps our defense. The running game is our quarterback’s best friend with pass protection, and Chip had been involved with Gus Malzahn at Auburn and at Central Florida, and they run the ball so well that I think you’ll see us much better on offense in the running game and very similar to what we’ve been in the passing game.

Q. Obviously you’ve seen this conference from the inside at Carolina twice and seen it as an analyst on the outside. What can you say about the state of the ACC in your opinion, as we get set to embark on a new schedule, and no divisions and just what your takeaways have been?

MACK BROWN: I think the ACC is in great shape. The whole concern is finances. That’s what everybody is looking at now. With the TV market changing so rapidly, your all lives’ are changing all over the place with radio and TV and news print. We are at a time where there’s a lot of change, not only in our business but college football.

The thing that we’ve got to do in the ACC is keep looking at how we can make more money. The league is great. We’ve got some great teams. I think we’ve been to, what, nine-plus teams have been to bowls since 2015 or something. There’s a lot better teams top to bottom in this league than get credit because Clemson has been so dominant, they’ve gotten all the credit, but there’s been some really good teams.

I feel like the league is in great shape. I know that the Commissioner and all the presidents and athletic directors are all looking at how to make more money and how to enhance that package, so we will have the same amount of money as the other leagues as they move forward.

Q. You mentioned the Notre Dame game earlier. I believe you have four more years of playing them not in a row, but before the contract ends. Do you like that kind of frequency? Do you like the arrangement of the games against the Irish for the conference and for North Carolina?

MACK BROWN: I always like playing Notre Dame because they’re a great brand and a great team, and it gives you a chance to increase your program because when they walked out of there last year, they were more physical than we were on defense. It showed all of us we need to get better.

We have to recruit better. We have to coach better. We have to play better. Notre Dame is that kind of brand.

They’ve had a run against the ACC teams. We have to step up and start competing better against them to get where we want to go.

As far as the conference was concerned, I like the divisions. I’ve always liked that because I like to have a division champion and then have that champion play in the ACC against the other division champion. We went to across the board like we’re doing now in the Big 12 before I left, and you can very well have two teams play in the championship game that have just played, and that was less likely the other way, so I liked it much better.