So much can change in a year.
Last summer, Larry Fedora and UNC were struggling on the recruiting trail. NC State was on an impressive hot streak, seemingly landing every in-state prospect that coach Dave Doeren wanted, usually while the player was also holding an offer from UNC.
After UNC also had an unsuccessful season on the field, the Tar Heels went in a surprising new direction, firing Fedora and bringing back Mack Brown, 20 years after he last coached at Carolina and five years after his retirement.
Brown spoke openly and often about the importance of recruiting within the state — reminding players of the importance of playing close to home, so family and friends can watch, and pledging to devote attention to within the state.
“I want to reach out to recruits and high school coaches and all of those things that we have missed,” Brown said at his introductory press conference. “We had a great relationship with the high school coaches when we left here, and that’s something. We will renew the ones that are still out there, and we’ll get to know the new guys, because that is such a key to getting better. Our team was probably 90-plus percent from the state of North Carolina when we left.”
Brown had to hit the ground running, finishing up the 2019 recruiting cycle in the time remaining before the February signing day.
He managed to use the time to upgrade Fedora’s weak class into a top-20 national ranking. With the 2020 class, he’s taken yet another step forward, building one that’s pushing for the top 15.
It appears to be a complete overhaul of the recruiting approach in Chapel Hill. Brown is reaching out to local talent, rebuilding relationships around the state and building the proverbial wall to put the best in-state talent in Carolina Blue.
That’s been the narrative this summer, anyway. But is it true?
Is Brown really devoting extra attention within the state? Is his message having the impact everything thinks it is on North Carolina talent?
There’s also the issue of Brown returning to the recruiting trail. Most of the current high school seniors were starting middle school when Brown last coached. Does his name still carry an impact, and can he master social media and all the other factors that have changed recruiting significantly in recent years?
Brown said he was willing to leave the state to pursue elite prospects, and he’s already made offers to more recruits ranked in the top 100 than UNC did all of last year.
But true to his word, he’s backed off of travel for non-elite recruits. UNC has made the fewest offers to Florida players of the last seven years.
The big surprise is the number of offers to North Carolina in-state prospects hasn’t skyrocketed. In fact, they’re down from last year.
What’s going on?
So, if he’s not making more offers in the state or in hotbeds like Florida, where is Brown sending all of his offers?
The answer, surprisingly, is that he’s not. The reason Brown isn’t lighting up the state with offers is that he’s winning the recruiting battles.
Here’s a look at UNC’s success rate with offers inside the state over the last several years. In general, one out of every four prospects offered by UNC committed to the Tar Heels. (Note: Some prospects offered by UNC didn’t choose a school, which is why the numbers in the “offers” column don’t match the N.C. chart from earlier exactly).
This recruiting cycle? When Brown offers an in-state prospect, it’s a coin toss whether he commits.
In other words, the biggest change in Brown’s recruiting approach is that he’s winning.
It’s easy to win recruiting battles if you go after lesser prospects. But based on the teams he’s beating, Brown is winning them for players everyone wants. Carolina and NC State have gone head-to-head for 13 players who ended up choosing one of the schools. UNC landed 10 of them. Last year, the Heels won just six of the 19 battles with the Pack.
Brown is doing just as well against the rest of the league. Players who have chosen Carolina in 2020 had a total of 66 other ACC offers, more than last year’s entire class (57). Meanwhile, just 30 players with Carolina offers have chosen other league schools, compared to 66 last year.
Brown is also getting players with SEC offers (47 in this year’s class compared to 33 last year) and Big Ten offers (47, up from 37).
For any question of how much weight Brown’s name carries, one need only look at the Big 12, where he used to coach. Players in this year’s UNC class have 21 offers from that conference. Only four players chose the Big 12 over a UNC offer. That 21-4 “win-loss” record, compares to 17-16 last season.
Overall, Brown’s recruiting “win-loss” record is 190-102 (.651) against Power Five teams this year, up from Fedora’s 156-205 (.432) last year.
Bottom line: Brown is seeing recruiting success at Carolina unlike any seen in previous years. He’s landing guys the big programs want at higher rates than we’ve seen. It could just be a honeymoon period, and there’s still a long way to go until signing day, but the early returns are overwhelmingly impressive.
Note: Charts reprinted with permission from Carolina Blue Magazine