North Carolina coach Mack Brown candidly talks race, privilege
By RJ Young
FOX Sports College Football Writer
Mack Brown is not just old enough to be a granddaddy — he’s old enough for his grandson to know enough football to be critical of the man he calls Pops.
Following North Carolina's failed two-point conversion attempt to beat a Clemson team that would reach the national title game for the second straight year, Brown’s grandson, Tyler, straight-up asked: "Why that play, Pops?"
"I said, 'OK, Tyler, let it go, bud,’" the 69-year-old Brown recalled to me during the debut episode of my new FOX Sports podcast, "The No. 1 Ranked Show with RJ Young."
Brown has learned, once again, that he’s the man young men look to for answers, as he has been for the better part of his life. Now in his second stint as head football coach of the Tar Heels, he’s answering a different set of questions from a different kind of player.
The kind of player many said he could no longer relate to. The kind of player who makes so many uneasy with his propensity to speak when some would rather see him silenced.
Brown, who turns 70 in August, has accepted the challenge of relating to men 50 years his junior in many cases and is learning to grow himself in ways he could not have imagined.
Less than a year after that failed two-point attempt in September 2020, Brown found himself in a space where asking his players to just "let it go" was not an option.
The stakes got much higher in 2020. His players were hurting. They are still hurting.
Rather than ask them to hide their pain, to keep the veil Black Americans find themselves living behind, Brown asked his players what they needed. And what they needed was to be heard.
Just over a year after Breonna Taylor was killed while she slept, and just under a year after George Floyd was killed in the street, another Black person was killed by police a week ago in Minneapolis.
Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop. Wright was 20 years old, a father, and he could’ve just as easily been one of Brown’s UNC players.
Brown, right, says he has learned a lot about race through discussions with his players during his second stint coaching in Chapel Hill. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
This is yet another moment for Brown to show why he decided to return to coaching after a five-year hiatus and being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame. This is another moment for him to display the values he has told so many parents he and his staff hold most dear, and he’s seizing it.
"I want to help young coaches have an experience like I've had," said Brown, who went 158-48 during his renowned stint at Texas from 1998-2013. "But mostly, I want to take the prized possession of every parent by taking their children and helping them grow and helping mentor them and helping them teach me."
Brown said he has learned a lot.
"I didn't even realize I was quite privileged," he acknowledged. "But I am. I got money. I've never been stopped by a police officer. I've never been shot at. I've never been yelled at [by police]. I've never been arrested. That's my privilege."
Knowing that many of his players’ life experiences are not so privileged, he asked what he could do for them, and they told him to talk. They wanted to hear him talk about race in America.
They wanted to hear him speak about their lived experiences and white people’s privilege. They wanted him to represent them in rooms where they are not and might never be welcomed. Brown has also listened to their experiences.
"I learned that a person of color might be afraid to let their children go drive a car, which is awful," he said. "I learned that when I go in a store and a person of color goes in the store, that they might watch them because they're afraid they're gonna steal something. They're not gonna watch me because I’m white.
"I've learned when I go to dinner with a friend, and it happens to be a Black friend, that they're going to hand me the check. And they're not going to hand the check to the Black person because they don't think they have money."
And he’s learning that hearing his players, acting on their behalf and empowering them will help them build a country where Black self-determination is paramount.
In this, the debut episode of "The No. 1-Ranked Show," coach Brown also discussed UNC's Jordan Brand affiliation, his relationship with recently retired hoops coach Roy Williams, recruiting in the talent-rich Tidewater area of Virginia and shared some stories about Texas legends Ricky Williams and Vince Young.
New episodes will debut every Monday at noon ET.
RJ Young is a national college football writer and analyst for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @RJ_Young. Subscribe to "No. 1 Ranked Show w/ RJ Young" on YouTube and wherever you get your podcasts. He is not on a StepMill.