Call it what you will, this secret sauce North Carolina hopes will elevate it into College Football Playoff contention. Blunt honesty? Transparency? Or perhaps, most fittingly, a term Mack Brown has adopted from his new generation of players: Facts.
Only, it’s not so secret after all. If anything, one of the central tenets of Brown’s second go-around in Chapel Hill — a rebuild-turned-resurgence in near-record time — has been complete candor within the program. If Brown’s players fall short of his standard in any way — a lackluster practice, for example — he lets them know. That’s that. No mind games, no hidden meanings. Just the truth and how his players choose to respond to it.
“I tell them exactly what I think about them, every day,” Brown said. “If we have a good practice that isn’t great, I say, ‘This is an eight-win practice. If that’s what you want, that’s fine. You are who you are. You are who you practice as or how you play. These are facts.’”
That sentiment carries to the other coaches, who have heard their share of feedback — be it positive or not so much.
“It’s like a stun gun hit you,” defensive coordinator Jay Bateman said. “Like, did you really mean to say that?”
But through two seasons, the results speak for themselves. Rather than shying away from constructive criticism, the Tar Heels have embraced it, recognizing the reasoning behind a man with a national championship ring. If that’s what it takes to get to the top of college football’s mountaintop, the Tar Heels reason, that’s what it takes. Facts, right?
“The big thing is, everyone has been critical of themselves and the processes that they go through,” quarterback Sam Howell said. “As far as getting better, coaches have been honest about telling them what they need to get better at, and they kind of took that personally to work on those things.”
That work is now what North Carolina hopes propels it to the next level. An 8-4 record last season, with impressive wins over Virginia Tech and Miami, was good but hardly what Brown or any of his players want. They want to beat Notre Dame and Texas A&M, rather than simply playing them close. And with the recalibrating the program did this spring, the soon-to-be 70-year-old coach believes his program is capable of closing the gap. It won’t be easy, but in a there-for-the-taking ACC Coastal — which has seen a different winner every year since 2013 — there’s a belief that Brown’s blueprint is ready for its next test.