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Why UNC’s Mack Brown says he decided to keep Tommy Thigpen, now co-DC, on staff

The grind won’t stop any time soon for North Carolina football coach Mack Brown, who spent most of Tuesday conducting media interviews before he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame later that night.

Earlier that morning, Brown began his second week back at North Carolina recruiting and trying to hire assistant coaches.

Brown has hired four assistant coaches so far, retaining Tommy Thigpen, who will serve as the co-defensive coordinator and safeties coach, and bringing in Tim Brewster (assistant head coach and tight ends), Tim Cross (defensive line), and Dre Bly (cornerbacks).

He has yet to make key hires, including the other half of the expected defensive coordinator tandem and his offensive coordinator.

Thigpen, a former three-time All-ACC selection under Brown, was the safeties coach at UNC last year, and the only coach from Larry Fedora’s staff that is expected to return next year. Fedora was fired after seven seasons at UNC.

“The reason I’m going back is players, and ex-players,” Brown said of why he kept Thigpen on staff, and hired Bly. “So I want to help those guys.”

He said he has also kept up with Thigpen, who played at UNC from 1989 to 1992 and had a stint at North Carolina as linebackers coach from 2005-08, and talked with him regularly.

“It’s so powerful when you’re sitting in a home and these guys can say, ‘Coach took care of me like he’s going to take care of you. I’m 47 years old, I walked into his office at 18, and we have a wonderful relationship this many years later,’ ” Brown said. “That’s powerful in recruiting.”

Brown said Brewster, a former head coach at Minnesota who coached under Brown at both UNC and Texas, is a great recruiter. He called Cross, who was the defensive line coach at Air Force for the past five years, one of the best in the country. And he said parents of recruits step over him to get to Bly, a North Carolina legend as a player making his first foray into college coaching.

When asked what he’s looking for in his coordinators, Brown said, “I want balance and fun on offense.”

UNC’s defense gave up 34.5 points per game in 2018, which was ranked 107th out of 130 FBS teams. Its offense averaged 27.4 points per game, ranked No. 77.

“And defense we really struggled last year in Chapel Hill, so we’re going to have to get people who can line up and figure out a way to out-coach people, and teach to be fundamentally sound,” Brown said. “But we’ve got to score a lot of points, so we’re going to do that.”

The Tar Heels have a lot of catching up to do with recruiting. They currently have eight players committed, and have the 91st ranked recruiting class in the country, and 13th out of 14 ACC teams, according to 247sports. The Early Signing Period begins on Dec. 19.

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