UNC takes attitude adjustment into the football season

By R.L. Bynum

CHARLOTTE — The three bywords that Carolina coach Mack Brown has emphasized to his team after a frustrating losing season are passion, accountability and toughness.

With all three of those, he’s convinced that the narrow late-season road losses to Pittsburgh and N.C. State would have been victories and there would have been a lot more positive vibes at the end of the season.

“We have to go back and make sure that we’re addressing all the little things on and off the field that we need to do to play to a standard,” said Brown, who is particularly concerned with how his team lost close games on the road, pointing out that they played well at Kenan Stadium.

“We’ve got to do a better job of finishing close games, and we feel like, with the accountability of this team in the offseason, that we’re in a much better position to do that right now than we were last year,” said Brown, entering the fourth season of his second coaching stint in Chapel Hill.

There were plenty of frustrations with the 6–7 finish, and Brown says that he’s demanded a different approach this season. The players and the coaching staff will be held accountable.

“If you’re not going to be accountable, and if you’re not going to be passionate, then you’re not going to be tough enough to play and help us win, so you’re not gonna play. And you’re really deciding that, not us,” Brown said.

There was plenty of positive hype before last season when his team was “criminally overrated,” Brown said Thursday at ACC Kickoff. It’s obviously different this year.

“It’s interesting that today is about hype,” Brown said of the league’s preseason football media gathering. “It’s about hope for all of us. Real football starts for us in a few weeks and then, by about midseason, there’s about 75% of the ones that are hyped today that aren’t playing well. So, we were one of those last year.”

If it were up to Brown, UNC would be rated the 130th-best team in the country. But he acknowledged that the Tar Heels might be a little higher.

“There are a lot of great things we did, but what we didn’t do is we weren’t consistent, and that’s my fault,” Brown said. “It just makes me sick when our team doesn’t play with passion every week. That’s what I’ve seen these guys do every day of spring practice.”

Star wide receiver Josh Downs suggested that the No. 10 preseason ranking led the team to be overconfident at times, starting with the opening-game loss at Virginia Tech.

“I feel like we overlooked some teams last year,” Downs said. “I felt like we had kind of a cocky manner and that we just thought we were gonna run through a lot of people starting with that first game.”

With a place in the preseason Top 25 unlikely, much less a top-10 ranking, Downs said that there’s a different mindset heading into the 2022 season.

“We will know what to expect this year,” Downs said. “We know that we’re looked at as less because we really disappointed a lot last year. We’re coming out every game with going 1–0 every week, going 1–0 every day.”

Running back British Brooks said that the passion was definitely missing late in the season, particularly in the bowl loss to South Carolina, and says that accountability will be important if the Tar Heels are going to avoid repeating that next season.

“Just keeping somebody accountable, whether it’s just in a weight room, somebody’s skipping a rep,” Brooks. “That’s why some games we couldn’t finish.”

Linebacker Cedric Gray did his part by leading the team with 100 tackles and he’ll be one of the core players on that young and improved defense. But the team was missing intangibles down the stretch, such as when it blew a late lead against the Wolfpack and looked disinterested in the bowl game.

“Later in the season, I thought that we kind of got complacent,” Gray said. “We were going through the motions last year. I want to hold people accountable and not let that happen this year. Kind of keep guys focused, keep guys locked in throughout the season because it’s going to be a long, hard and tough season.”

Gray said that new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik has set a commanding tone for the defense, making it unlikely that any of last season’s complacency will return.

“I think one of the things that Coach Chizik is doing is really creating a standard amongst the defense, creating a culture amongst the defense and how we’re going to play as a defensive team,” Gray said. “We’re all going to run to the ball. We’re all going to tackle, and we’re all going to execute what he tells us to do.”

Unlike last season, there’s no place to go but up for these Tar Heels.

UNC schedule

Month/
date
Time/TVLocationOpponent
August
278:15, ACCNHomeFlorida A&M (9–3)
September
3Noon, ESPNURoadAppalachian State (10–4)
10Noon, ESPNURoadGeorgia State (9–3)
24TBAHomeNotre Dame (11–2)
October
1TBAHomeVirginia Tech (6–7, 4–4)
8TBARoadMiami (7–5, 5–3)
15TBARoadDuke (3–9, 0–8)
29TBAHomePittsburgh (11–3, 8–1)
November
5TBARoadVirginia (6–6, 4–4)
12TBARoadWake Forest (11–3, 7–1)
19TBAHomeGeorgia Tech (3–9, 2–6)
25-XNoon,
1 or 3:30,
ABC or ESPN
HomeN.C. State (9–3, 6–2)
X — Friday (All other games will be played on Saturdays.)

Photo courtesy of the ACC

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