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Ken Medlin

First impressions of a coach, many years later

Posted December 14, 2013

Mack Brown was one of the first people I ever interviewed as a "professional" broadcaster. I put "professional" in quotes, because I was a part-timer at WRAL fresh out of college, and I really had no idea what I was doing.

Rick Sullivan sent me over to interview Mack after a pre-season football practice. He told me not to worry, that Mack would treat me like he'd known me for years.

He was right.

Brown learned my name immediately, answered every question starting with "Well, Ken..." and then hung around for a couple of minutes after we were done talking about Eastern North Carolina (where I'm from) - standard stuff like "where's the best barbecue," and "where'd you go to high school." I was impressed he'd heard of Bailey.

All I wanted to do was just not botch the assignment. I drove over with a camera, a tape and a microphone and just hoped everything worked - the same "first starting out jitters" everyone has, I guess. Maybe Brown could sense I was new - that I was a nervous kid just getting started. Regardless, it really stuck with me. As Brown advanced, and eventually won a national championship, I remembered how great he was to deal with that day.

Tom Suiter tells a story about a similar situation when he was starting out - an interview with John Wooden.It was the early '70's and Wooden was at the top of his game, yet he still took time to be gracious with a young reporter. I've often thought Brown was doing the same thing with me, and things like that go a long way with people. To this day, Tom remembers Wooden for how he handled himself, and I guess Brown made the same impression with me.

I learned a lot from that brief assignment. For one, learning and using someone's name really matters. And more importantly, be friendly to people - you never know who you might run into down the road. Have I put those lessons into practice? Well, sometimes yes, and probably sometimes now... But then again, I'm not the head coach at Texas - or North Carolina. Mack Brown could easily have said "Who is this kid" and gone into "let's get this over with in a hurry" with me - but he didn't. I left realizing why this guy was a great recruiter - if he could take time with a kid just starting in the media, imagine how he would win over recruits and their parents. THAT'S how you sell a program, you win over every person you meet or you exhaust yourself trying. If there's anything Mack Brown the coach did better than anyone else, that was it.

People occasionally ask me "Who do you root for?" I tell them I root for people that make good impressions on me. Every school has those people, players and coaches alike. Brown was one of those people - proof first impressions go a long way. 

That's what I thought about when I heard Brown has stepped down at Texas. There were a lot of UNC fans angry about him leaving Chapel Hill for Austin. Was his departure from Chapel Hill handled perfectly? No. But in the end, how could you blame him for taking the head coaching job at Texas? Football in Texas is like basketball here. And like basketball fans in this area, losing - or in this case "not winning enough" - doesn't cut it. I dare say Brown's people skills kept him around a year or two longer than some coaches would have lasted. And that's a lesson indeed.

 

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  • Frizz Dec 16, 4:33 p.m.

    I have a friend who has worked the chains for UNC football for many years. He said Mack would come over during warmups and speak to all of them. Years later when Texas played at Chapel Hill, Mack came over and spoke, even called him by name.

    And how can you fault him for leaving for Texas? Even when he had the Heels in the Top 10 everybody around here still wanted to talk basketball. How long was he willing to play second fiddle? Personally, I was glad to see him go.

  • GunnyGoesArrrgh Dec 16, 10:21 a.m.

    I held a grudge against Brown when he left UNC abruptly in '97. Some folks here reminded me of the football game where a large group of the crowd up and left before the game was over to watch a scrimmage at the Dean Dome. I don't blame Mack for leaving Chapel Hill to coach where football is king, and I hope he finds a school that is good fit for him.

    Great article, as well as life lesson, Ken, thanks.

  • ttaylor58 Dec 15, 10:41 p.m.

    Mack Brown is an all around class act. I wish he had never left Carolina.

  • Toddler10-21 Dec 15, 12:50 p.m.

    Always like Mack Brown. Bad seasons at UNC in the beginning, but made UNC a top five team before he left. Mack chose Texas football over UNC football. Wouldnt you? Thats like picking Alabama basketball over UNC basketball. Good luck coach.

  • Hammerhead Dec 15, 8:58 a.m.

    Gotta love a guy who, in spite of the sh**storm swirling around him, manages to conduct himself with dignity and class. Nice work, Mack.

  • 4tarheels Dec 15, 7:50 a.m.

    Good article. Coaches like Tom Osborne and Dean Smith who step down at the top of their game are rare. It doesn't end well for those who don't (ie. Bowden, Paterno, and now Brown). Let's hope it ends well for our two local legends, K and Roy.

  • espear Dec 15, 7:47 a.m.

    Really great article Ken, it is actually inspiring and in a real way, a gentle reminder of what comes first. Thank you!

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