It was a glib remark, in hindsight — a passing joke at the expense of an in-state rival school’s academic prowess, but a joke nonetheless. Even still, when North Carolina head coach Mack Brown saw that his quarterback Drake Maye had snuck in a shot at North Carolina State, even as a joke, he knew it would carry for miles online.
Maye later tweeted an apology and when asked about the jab on Wednesday, Brown defended Maye. He said his quarterback was joking and the off-hand remark was more a reflection of Maye trying to be funny and relaxed rather than any real vitriol. Brown, who is the oldest current Division I football coach, knows those sort of tweaks don’t fly in this day and age.
“People pick at each other all the time,” Brown said. “So at lunch, the NC State and Carolina people can pick at people and it’s OK, but for somebody to say something publicly that somebody wants to get mad — you’ve got a lot of people out there that are looking for something to get mad at. And ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got me a tweet here. I can get mad about this. This’ll be great. I can be angry and scream and shout and talk about how awful the world is.’ So, I told him, ‘I love ya, I appreciate ya, I’m glad you represent us, I want you to keep having fun, but you’ve got to be very, very respectful of people with your fun. You can’t cross the line.’ And last night, it was a joke, but the people that wanted to be angry, it crossed the line.
Brown, for his part, recalled how he would get stung by this phenomenon when he was the head coach at Texas, though to a lesser degree. He’d say something at a press conference only to get home and have his wife, Sally, ask him why he said that.
“I did that at Texas,” Brown said. “I was cutting up, laughing and Sally would say, ‘Did you really say that?’ And I’d say, ‘Yeah I was kidding.’ She’d say, ‘Well they missed that part.'”
Brown added that the dynamics of Twitter and other social media have changed press conferences, too, providing a more thoughtful answer than a garden-variety coaching rant against social media and distractions and the like.
“And I think Twitter’s also changed press conferences,” Brown said. “Because you say something early in a press conference, and you [the reporters] want to be first and you tweet it. And that’s not what the guy said. But you thought it was going to be what he said and you wanted to be first. That’s made things much different now, too, as people get pieces of stuff. I’ve always said, and I told Drake this today, ‘Sometimes it not what you say or what you mean, it’s what they hear.’ And it may not be your point at all. And that’s what’s made it tougher.”
As noted, Maye did apologize after he, Brown and UNC assistant athletic director for football communications Jeremy Sharpe got together and recognized the quip was not playing well.
Brown, at the end of the day, knows Maye wasn’t being petty or cheap. He was trying to be funny and missed the mark for some. And it’s a risk Brown has advised the quarterback avoid taking.
“He was absolutely cutting up,” Brown said. “Obviously it wasn’t true. And I talked to him after practice today a little bit. He said, ‘Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be a distraction. I didn’t mean to do anything wrong. I was just having fun.’ And I said, ‘I know, you’re 18, 19 years old. Have fun, but always be very respectful of everybody. And especially your neighbors.’ And NC State’s got a great university and again, it was fun. It was a young guy trying to cut up and enjoy you all and be relaxed before a big game and it just didn’t come across right.”