Paul Myerberg, USA TODAY
Published 2:41 p.m. ET July 18, 2019 | Updated 2:47 p.m. ET July 18, 2019
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As he prepares for his return to the sidelines as the head coach at North Carolina after five years as an ESPN analyst, Mack Brown is already deeply familiar with one opponent on the Tar Heels’ 2019 schedule.
In Clemson, Brown sees a program run in the same vein as his own teams, whether during his successful tenure at Texas or as he prepares for his second stint at in Chapel Hill.
That’s because Clemson coach Dabo Swinney drew inspiration from Brown when heading into his first full season with the Tigers in 2009. The previous season, he was an interim replacement for a fired Tommy Bowden midway through the year and earned the permanent position.
The two were connected through Woody McCorvey, a former Alabama assistant coach and longtime Clemson administrator, and former Alabama head coach Gene Stallings, who coached Swinney with the Crimson Tide and is “one of the best friends I’ve got,” Brown said.
“They kind of took me and put me with Dabo,” he said of McCorvey and Stallings.
Heading into that 2009 season, Swinney and his staff spent three or four days at Texas picking the brains of Brown and his coaching staff; the Longhorns would reach the national championship game that season before losing to Alabama. Among the questions posed to the Texas staff: How do you build a winning program?
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The tips and hints compiled by Swinney during that trip have helped to form the backbone of Clemson’s approach, which after some hiccups across Swinney’s first few seasons has yielded two of the past three national titles and four consecutive appearances in the College Football Playoff.
It’s the tie that binds together two programs seemingly on opposite ends of the ACC spectrum. While Clemson is the unanimous pick to win the league, reach the playoff and chase another unbeaten season, UNC is fresh off back-to-back disappointing seasons and is pegged to finish around bowl eligibility, if not worse.
“The two programs are run pretty much alike,” Brown said. “There’s not much difference. We will do the things Dabo’s doing.”
The two teams will meet on Sept. 28 in what may be the fifth game in a row to open Brown’s tenure against likely bowl teams, following South Carolina, Miami (Fla.), Wake Forest and Appalachian State.
“I don’t like Dabo Swinney, I love Dabo Swinney,” Brown said. “Wish we didn’t have to play ’em, though. But I love him.”