Of all the things that could've happened this season, this is one of the more unexpected. You can argue Les Miles to Kansas was more unexpected, but to that I say this: Miles never really retired. On the other hand, not only was Mack retired, he seemed to have it made. He was set as a college football analyst for ESPN and ABC, and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in January. He never showed anything that would have indicated he wants to coach again, but here it is.
Of course, before he cemented his legacy in Austin on 4th and 5, he was North Carolina’s head coach for much of the 90’s. When he came to Chapel Hill for the first time, he replaced the fired Dick Crum whose talented early teams lost key players (specifically Lawrence Taylor) to the NFL, and slipped into mediocrity for the remainder of his time at UNC. Mack came in, and after two 1-10 seasons, the Heels never fell below .500 for the rest of his tenure, capping it off with an 11-1 season, a Gator Bowl win against Virginia Tech, and a #6 final ranking. Now, Mack will return to North Carolina, where he's replacing the fired Larry Fedora whose talented earlier teams lost key players (specifically Mitch Trubisky) to the NFL, and slipped into mediocrity for the remainder of his time at UNC. The parallels are clear, and while Larry Fedora isn't as good as Dick Crum and some will rightfully say that I should be hanged for even thinking to mention Mitch Trubisky in the same context as the greatest defensive player to ever live. Either way, the situation is essentially the same: North Carolina needs Mack to get them out of the hole they put themselves in.
So, what would his coaching staff look like? A rumor has surfaced that Mack wants an old friend back on the defensive side of the ball: Gene Chizik. Chizik has proven to know his way around a defense, as evidenced by his 2004 Auburn team (not the National Champions, by the way) which allowed only 11.3 points per game. He also led Auburn to its only National Championship as the head coach in 2010. Not only that, he was a former assistant under Mack, winning the National Championship with Texas in 2005 as the defensive coordinator. He was also a former Larry Fedora assistant, as his DC from 2015-16, and they nearly won the ACC Championship in first season. After he left in 2016, the North Carolina defense allowed nearly seven more points per game without him. They went from 11-3 and 8-5 to 3-9 and 2-9 after he walked away. But what about the offense? Well, there's a former head coach who just so happens to be an offensive wizard. Kliff Kingsbury got fired from Texas Tech and he is an absolute mastermind. As the quarterback coach at Houston he turned Case Keenum into the all-time leader in passing yards, completions, passing touchdowns, total touchdowns responsible for, and total offense, among many others. He went to Texas A&M with Kevin Sumlin and in his one season there, helped Johnny Manziel to a 1000/1000 season and a Heisman. When he returned to Texas Tech, he went on to coach two current NFL stars: Baker Mayfield (for one season) and Patrick Mahomes (for three seasons). In every one of his seasons as a head coach, Texas Tech averaged over 30 points per game. He's a hot commodity by many college and NFL teams for a coordinator job, but if Mack comes calling, then expect Kingsbury to seriously consider the North Carolina Offensive Coordinator job.
So, what can we expect Mack to do at UNC? Of course, the ACC is so much better than it was before Mack left for Texas, but despite that, all the big programs in the ACC (Clemson, Syracuse, Boston College) are all in the Atlantic Division while North Carolina is in the Coastal Division. The Coastal is very, very weak. Who is Mack’s real competition? Duke? Georgia Tech? Yeah, that's not real competition. Pitt won that division at 7-5. A lot of others haven't exactly been “good” recently, such as Miami and Virginia Tech. Some others in the Coastal aren't quite good enough (Virginia). Personally, I believe that Mack will struggle his first season or two back, but one thing nobody really talks about in regards to Mack is his recruiting. In 2002, with Texas, he was able to recruit nine future NFL players to the Longhorns, including Vince Young, probably the greatest high school football player ever and possibly the greatest college quarterback ever. I think if Mack gets a couple seasons back in Carolina he can build Tar Heel football into a respectable program, or at least out of the shadow of their basketball program again. He already did this once. But, I still don't believe he'll be able to compete with Clemson. He can make the Heels very good, but as long as Dabo Swinney is in that conference, the ACC runs through fake Death Valley, similar to how the SEC runs through Alabama because of Nick Saban. And speaking of Saban, that leads to another question with Mack: his age. Both Mack and Saban are 67 years old. But the difference is that Saban has never shown any signs of stopping or slowing down, nor has he expressed any interest in walking away. Mack showed more than interest in walking away, he actually did it. He made the call to move from the field to the broadcast booth on his own. Remember: when Mack left Texas, he resigned, he wasn't fired. And he proceeded to take five full seasons off from coaching before he came back. However, if Mack hires a head coach in waiting to his staff, (similar to what Josh McDaniels is right now to Bill Belichick) he will finish what Mack started. Maybe that coach will be Kingsbury, as he's only 39 years old and has had head coaching experience. Either way, it looks like, for the short term at least, North Carolina Football made a step in the right direction in the hiring of Mack Brown.