Mack to the future: UNC bringing back former coach Mack Brown

North Carolina Tar Heels coach Mack Brown hoists the Carquest trophy in the air as he's surrounded by players Eric Thomas (38) and Marcus Wall (14) after they defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks 20-10 in the Carquest Bowl in 1995. Brown is returning to coach North Carolina 21 years after he left the program. (Hans Deryk / AP Photo)

CHAPEL HILL — It’s official: Mack Brown is returning to Chapel Hill.

The University of North Carolina will hold a noon press conference Tuesday to announce that the former Tar Heels coach is returning to coach its football team more than two decades after he left.

North Carolina moved quickly to replace Larry Fedora, who was fired on Sunday after seven seasons.

The 67-year-old Brown coached the Tar Heels from 1988-97 before spending 16 seasons at Texas. His last two teams at North Carolina finished ranked in the top 10 nationally.

He later led the Longhorns to the national championship for 2005. He left Texas in 2013 and has been working in broadcasting.

Inside Carolina first reported news on Brown returning to North Carolina.

“Mack Brown has a proven record of building great teams, and he doesn’t just develop football players — he also develops people of strong character,” UNC Director of Athletics Bubba Cunningham said in a release. “He knows how to win championships, and he expects his student-athletes to win in the classroom and community, as well. We are excited about his plans for our football program, and I am thrilled to welcome Coach Brown and wife Sally back to Chapel Hill.”

The Tar Heels are in the midst of a deep two-year downturn. Fedora matched a program record with 11 wins and won an Atlantic Coast Conference division championship in 2015, but the Tar Heels have lost 21 of 27 games — including 16 of 18 in the ACC — since November 2016.

Recruiting has also slid along with fan attendance at Kenan Stadium.

So the school is looking for a jolt from someone who offers a connection to one of the most successful sustained runs in program history, which followed an extensive rebuilding effort.

Brown started 1-10 in each of his first two seasons, but steadily built up the program through strong recruiting, particularly with in-state prospects. The Tar Heels won 10 games in 1993, then went 10-2 and finished No. 10 in the AP poll in 1996.

His 1997 team finished 11-1 — the only loss coming to Florida State at the peak of the Seminoles’ romp through that decade — and No. 6 in the final AP poll.

But by that point, Brown was gone. He left after the regular-season finale against Duke to take over at Texas and missed a 42-3 win against Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl.

“Sally and I love North Carolina, we love this University and we are thrilled to be back,’’ Brown said in a statement. “The best part of coaching is the players – building relationships, building confidence, and ultimately seeing them build success on and off the field. We can’t to wait to meet our current student-athletes and reconnect with friends, alumni and fellow Tar Heel coaches. We thank UNC’s Board of Trustees, Chancellor (Carol) Folt and Bubba Cunningham for supporting our return to the Carolina family.”

Once at Texas, Brown coached a Heisman Trophy winner in Ricky Williams, then another Heisman finalist — Vince Young — led the Longhorns to a 13-0 season in 2005 that ended with a win against USC in a Rose Bowl classic for the national title.

Texas played for another championship in the 2009 season behind quarterback Colt McCoy, but lost to Alabama to finish 13-1. Brown’s final four teams went a combined 30-21 before his exit in 2013.

While Brown would inherit a UNC program in desperate need of a turnaround, there is at least one bit of good news for him: the school has been finishing construction on a new indoor football practice facility with adjoining outdoor fields — a complex that was supposed to open this season but hit delays — as part of a $115 million athletics facility project.

“This is a big day for Carolina,” said Folt in a statement. “We are welcoming back a coach who built a winning football program during his first tenure in Chapel Hill — one that reflected the values, culture, and commitment to the excellence we aspire to in everything we do at this University. While chancellor, I have gotten to know Mack and have always admired his commitment to the success of student-athletes and passion for the college game. I’m looking forward to welcoming Mack and Sally back home to Carolina.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.