What's going on at North Carolina with Mack Brown?
That is a leading question this week after the Tar Heels received a verbal commitment from five-star cornerback Tony Grimes (Princess Anne, Virginia Beach, Va.). According to 247Sports.com, North Carolina is ranked third in the 2021 team recruiting rankings. Ohio State and Clemson hold the top two spots.
Brown explained the phenomenon in a Zoom conference on May 11, and therein lies the answer: Brown's virtual recruiting tour is one of the biggest reasons for that success.
"The players obviously have been home more," Brown said. "Their parents have been home more. It's been easier to get a hold of them for one thing. They can call you and text you. I'm probably having more conversations with parents and recruits than I was when they were coming to campus."
That's not even Brown's home-run swing. The NCAA extended the recruiting dead period to July 31 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that might be holding the Tar Heels back.
"I love being around the recruits," Brown said. "I like seeing them in the office. I like having the 1-on-1 conversations with them. As soon as the NCAA will let us, we want to get guys on campus."
Brown lived up to expectations set last summer when he arrived at North Carolina after a five-year stint in the TV booth. The goal was to make North Carolina a cool place to play again, like he did the first time around from 1988-97.
The results indicate that is happening. The Tar Heels have 11 four-star recruits and six of the top 10 players of the state in their 2021 class. Four-star quarterback Drake Maye (Myer Park, Charlotte) could be the heir apparent to sophomore Sam Howell, who is the No. 3 ranked quarterback by Sporting News heading into 2020. The only two quarterbacks ahead of Howell? Clemson's Trevor Lawrence and Ohio State's Justin Fields.
The mid-Atlantic footprint recruiting plan extended to Virginia, and Grimes' commitment is a sign that expansion is real. Assistant coach Dre Bly — a former NFL star who played for Brown the first time around at North Carolina the first time around — was one of the lead recruiters.
"Recruiting is always a snow-ball effect because when you get really good players and they like it, the other players want to play with them," Brown said. "They say, 'This is cool.' You gotta be the cool place to be. Right now, in a lot of recruits' eyes, we're the cool place to be."
Brown continues to look for creative sources to capitalize on that cool factor. The 10-part ESPN documentary "The Last Dance" featured former Tar Heels star Michael Jordan. Brown continues to use Zoom and is exploring more innovative ways to show what North Carolina has to offer. That includes the new facilities that were completed before the pandemic.
The 69-year-old coach has modernized his approach, and he's building something that might be in between what he had at North Carolina in his first stint and the national championship team he built at Texas. Brown clearly hasn't lost his touch, and the timing happened to be right.
That's what going on at North Carolina right now, and "cool" is the best way to describe it.
"We've got new facilities, facility upgrades that happened right before the pandemic," Brown said. "I've always thought this place should be good. It's our responsibility to let people realize how cool it is."