CHARLOTTE — Charlie Heck remembers hearing the rumors that Sunday morning, just the same as everyone.
Twitter was going crazy after a few national college football reporters suggested that Mack Brown was a serious candidate to replace Larry Fedora as North Carolina’s football coach.
And just like majority of college football fans, he has his doubt as to whether the hall of fame coach would walk away from a cushy job with ESPN to again rebuild the Carolina program.
“You start hearing rumors,” Heck said. “You’re like, ‘Oh, I don’t know about that. A legendary coach, that’d be crazy.’”
A little over 24 hours later, the wild Internet speculation, the pie-in-the-sky dream for Heck and his teammates became reality as the school announce Brown’s return.
“Then, all of a sudden, it happens and you’re like, ‘Wow,’” Heck said. “Two days later, you’re in a team meeting with him and it’s like, ‘Wow, this is real.’ It was surreal, honestly. It was something super exciting for me going into my senior year, knowing I’m going to be able to play for a legendary coach.”
In his seven months on the job, Brown has reenergized a fanbase, reenergized himself in going from the booth to the sidelines, and most importantly, reenergized a team beaten down by a 5-18 mark over the past two seasons that included just two ACC wins.
It’s been important for Brown and his staff to change the program’s energy before his team even got back on the field, where results might be tougher to come by this season. He’s not sugarcoating that part, saying on Thursday that he wished the Tar Heels didn’t have to play Clemson this season.
But he is controlling what he can change in the details that make championship programs, asking players for their feedback on what he can fix and to write down how they’d change it.
Food was among the first concerns, so Brown spent the next three months eating training-table meals and giving his feedback on how to bring the food up to par.
Brown wondered why players weren’t using their lounge and they told him there was nothing they liked in there.
There’s now a pop-a-shot basketball game and a sleep pod, so players can grab a quick nap before practice or between classes.
Brown’s wife, Sally, had carpets changed in the football facility, and next came the big renovations in the locker and weight rooms.
“We thought the locker room looked tired and old,” he said. “We built it 22 years ago and it needed freshening and then we felt like the weight room was too busy and it didn’t have the weights Brian Hess wanted.”
Players will get a first look at the modernized spaces on Monday night, then the team will go out for dinner.
Lending an ear to the players, he said, and customizing the program to their needs is a major key in what he hopes to accomplish for a second time in Chapel Hill.
“They need to know they’re important, they need to know that there’s change coming and especially since the past two years haven’t been what they’ve wanted,” he said. “Number one, it tells them that we’re going to do what we told them we’re going to do and number two, it shows the importance from the administration.”
Safety Myles Dorn knew what he’d be getting with Brown, whose father, Torin, played under him. It didn’t take long for him to see for himself.
“I felt the energy after the first meeting,” Dorn said. “He told us that he was going to take care of us (and) the day after, he asked for what we could change. A month later, we saw it.
“He's a man of his word. That's something that you can't compare to anybody else.”