CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Mack Brown knows there are many problems to solve as he returns to North Carolina, from stopping the Tar Heels' deepening downturn on the field to improving shaky recruiting and hiring a coaching staff.
"It gives us an opportunity to fix things," Brown said during a Tuesday news conference. "And we love to fix things."
The school officially announced Tuesday that it had hired Brown, who led the Tar Heels to a strong 1990s run before winning a national championship at Texas. He reached a five-year deal that will pay him $3.5 million annually to replace Larry Fedora, who was fired Sunday after seven seasons.
Brown, 67, had his familiar affable demeanor Tuesday in his return to the program he coached from 1988-97, rattling off a long to-do list that included meeting with his new players after the news conference.
Brown's last two UNC teams finished in the top 10 nationally, then he spent 16 years with the Longhorns before his 2013 exit as the program stumbled a bit from a dominating run through the 2000s. He has worked in broadcasting in recent years, though he said that time has helped by allowing him to learn from coaches as a member of the media even as he mulled opportunities to get back on the field.
Yet he also said he wanted to hold out for a fit that would "feel right," noting his wife, Sally, said she would be OK with moving to Hawaii, the Bahamas or returning to Chapel Hill after a successful first run.
There was no hesitation, he said, about coming back, saying: "I'm so excited about starting over with young people I don't know.
Bringing back Brown offers a connection to one of the more successful stretches in Chapel Hill, where things haven't been easy for the better part of a decade.
Brown made it clear he plans to focus on landing instate prospects, a formula he followed in his first rebuilding job with the Tar Heels that began three decades ago. That included overcoming two 1-10 seasons at UNC before the Tar Heels won 10 games in 1993, went 10-2 to finish No. 10 in The Associated Press poll in 1996, then went 11-1 and finished No. 6 in his final season (though he left for Texas before the bowl win).
"You've got to be the cool place to be," Brown said. "And we were the cool place to be before, and we can be again."