By Laurie Paolicelli
Mack Brown enters his 33rd season as a head coach in 2021, the third year of a second stop with the Tar Heels. North Carolina brings a top-ranking, a first-round quarterback and the expectation to challenge for an ACC championship into 2021. Mack – even people who don’t know him call him Mack – turned 70 in August. He’s spent almost half his life as a head coach. But sometimes he doesn’t sound like one: he’s nice.
“I like being nice,” Mack Brown said at a press conference on Aug. 5. “I like making people smile. It’s fun for me. I like people.”
For those of us who live in Chapel Hill and environs it’s not surprising to see people smile when Mack’s name comes up, for that matter when his wife Sally’s name comes up. They are a popular and well-liked couple by people from all walks of life: the in crowd, the sports fans, the artists, and the non-profits struggling for help with their mission statement. They both like people.
Brown recalls working the fields for youth baseball and softball for the summer in Cookeville, Tennessee. His grandfather, Eddie Watson, was the superintendent at the local schools. Watson stopped and talked to everyone on those fields. Brown says Watson was “the nicest and most-friendly person I’ve ever met to this day.”
“My grandad told me, ‘A gift that you have is your smile, and a gift that you have that you can give somebody else is to remember their name.”
We’re short on smiles this year, or maybe we just can’t see them through our masks. A team is used to occasional criticism on the field, but this year Carolina Athletics is receiving criticism off the field for continuing with football in the face of the ongoing pandemic. North Carolina won’t require fans attending its sporting events this fall to be vaccinated, but masks will be mandatory for all indoor events.
The school recently posted its list of safety measures on www.goheels.com Thursday, and while vaccines aren’t a prerequisite for attendance, they are “strongly encouraged,” as are masks for outdoor events.
The Tar Heels sold out their allotment of season tickets for football, one year after COVID-19 severely limited attendance, initially to just family members of senior players to eventually 7% of Kenan Stadium’s 50,500-seat capacity, or 3,535 people.
Even at outdoor events, masks are being required for closed spaces like stadium elevators, restrooms, and the Blue Zone. But as of now, UNC can operate at full capacity for all of its stadiums and arenas.
For Carolina athletes, those who are vaccinated will not be tested. Unvaccinated players on teams that have met an 85% vaccination rate, will be subject to two polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests for COVID-19 twice a week.
Football coach Mack Brown announced earlier this week that his team has met that threshold and that he is committed to communicating with fans and guests on a regular basis.
“Without communication we have nothing,” he says. “Communication helps you build up trust and respect…It gets everyone on the same page.” And he is committed to providing the safest environment possible for the fans.
“At Carolina Athletics we are excited to welcome guests and fans to Kenan and we are following all safety protocols. We have a group of athletes that are working hard, a fan base that is dedicated to safety and football, and we look forward to seeing everyone in Chapel Hill.”
Said Rick Steinbacher, Senior associate athletic director, “The hope Carolina has now is two-fold: not merely a winning season, but a safe one too, one in which players and attending fans can enjoy the sport without feeling at risk. Being vaccinated and masked are the two most important steps we can take to make sure this happens. Our athletes deserve an opportunity to compete, and we should take advantage of the opportunity to cheer them on, and move together with Mack into a future that’s bright and secure – one that brings a smile to all of our faces.”
Laurie Paolicelli is the Executive Director of the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau.