By Jeff Greenberg
Every football coach has a goal in their career. For some, high school football is their calling, with the opportunity to help develop boys into young men. For others, the goal is to make it onto the staff of a college football program. Then there is the ultimate dream that crosses the mind of successful college coaches. “Can I make it in the NFL?” What does it feel like when that call comes from an NFL franchise and opens the door to that dream?
Well, one college coach received that phone call this week. Gunter Brewer, the wide receivers’ coach for the University of North Carolina, accepted an offer to become the wide receivers coach for the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. It was surprising news for many, as Coach Brewer had become an institution during his time at North Carolina. Everybody that came into contact with him walked away a fan of him, but also a fan of the Tar Heels. Coach Brewer was everything you want in an ambassador for your school. He loved everything about North Carolina, but this was an opportunity he couldn’t turn down. It’s an opportunity to coach at the highest level in football.
Coach Brewer took another phone call, from undertheheadset.com, and shared his thoughts on the door that opened for him this week.
- When this offer came from the Philadelphia Eagles, what was your reaction and what went in to the decision process and you saying “yes”? – “Well, when the offer came I can honestly tell you it was a complete surprise and an honor to get it. To even be considered to be hired to coach at the pinnacle of the football world, let alone the reigning Super Bowl champions, was humbling. To be included with the names that were interested in this job was, again, just an honor. So to actually get the offer was a little bit of a shock to me. After the reality set in that the offer was on the table it brought me back to a feeling I knew from the past. It was the same feeling I got when Larry Fedora called me to come to Chapel Hill with him and coach at North Carolina again. When he called me then I was excited and giddy about that opportunity. Well, after the shock settled down, that excited feeling like I had when I came to Chapel Hill took over. When I talked to my wife about it we just felt like God was opening a door for us, and everything about it felt right. But leaving a place I consider home was tough to get past. Carolina and the state of North Carolina have given so much to me and my family, and I can’t put into words what that has meant. This school and this state will forever be in my DNA. So it wasn’t an easy decision because you’re leaving the place you call home and you’re leaving people you consider to be family.”
- Was it hard for you to make that call to Coach Fedora? – “Oh man yes. I dreaded doing it. First of all, he’s a great friend to me. He’s a guy that I’ve respected and loved working for during my time here. He’s been more than just somebody I work for. After the interview and before I knew whether or not I was going to get an offer, he gave me a call and said, “It’s a beautiful day. Let’s get out and play some golf.” We got out there and just talked. We didn’t care about our scores or how many balls we lost. We just enjoyed the fellowship with each other. We worked together but our relationship transcended the job. It covered everything in life from A to Z, and few people can say that about the head coach they work for in this profession. I can say that about Larry. I know he is happy for me and Rhonda, but it was hard for me to tell him I was leaving Carolina.”
- You’re on the flight to Philadelphia for your first day on job in the NFL. What’s going through your mind on that flight? – “You find yourself sitting there thinking about doing something you’ve never done before, but you’ve always dreamed about doing it. Now it’s here and it’s time to show what you can do. I wouldn’t say you’re doubting yourself, but you’re wondering what the next chapter in your book is about to look like. To use a baseball analogy, you just got called up to the show. Now you’re about to face the best pitcher in the major leagues every week and you know that heat is coming. You think you’re ready for it, but are you really ready for it? You know you’re going to step up to the plate and dig in. You’re hoping all of the things you’ve done before in your career to prepare for this moment helps you hit that ball. So I was thinking about that and then I was thinking about everybody in my life that helped get me ready for this moment. Do they know what they mean to me? Do they know I’m carrying them and everything they’ve taught me with me on this journey? My career wouldn’t be anything or mean anything without the people who have been part of my career.”
- You mentioned that feeling you got when Coach Fedora called you to join his staff at North Carolina. What do you remember about that call? – “I was at the University of Mississippi at that time and had just gone through a really rough season. It was a tough year personally for me as well. My mom had passed and going through that situation with my dad who had just lost the love of his life was rough on me. Then we had a bad season and not knowing if we would be let go left me with the anxiety of wondering what my opportunities would be. My plate was overflowing and overwhelming. But I remember being in the indoor facility there when my phone rang. It was Larry Fedora. He told me he was going to have the opportunity to take the head coaching job at North Carolina and would I be willing to come aboard with him. I remember that feeling of relief, but mainly I remember that feeling of excitement and giddiness like a school kid with his new backpack and new outfit for the first day of school at a place I knew was special. I actually hung up the phone and thought to myself that I just accepted the job that would be the last job of my career. That was the plan.”
- One of the things Coach Fedora said always intrigued him about the North Carolina job was the way you would always describe Chapel Hill and the university. What did that description from you sound like? – “You know, unless you understand what it means to live in the southern part of Heaven and what it means to be part of the Carolina family, it can be hard to explain to people. That’s what I used to tell Larry was you have to be a part of it to fully understand it. The uniqueness of what Chapel Hill brings to it all is special. The proximity to so many neat things like the beach, the mountains and different cities like Charlotte. Then being an awesome small-town college community with an incredible educational opportunity, not just at Carolina, but from elementary school all the way through to the high schools. When you look at it socially from local restaurants like IP3, who you build relationships with, to places like Top of The Hill, the people around town welcome you in as family and will do anything for you. You can’t beat the quality life and living in a town considered to be one of the best places to live in the entire country. When you put that puzzle together there isn’t a bad piece in it.”
- How would you describe what the players in your room meant to you during your time at North Carolina? – “The relationships are what stay with you forever. When my job depends on the people that I work with to do their job, I think it’s safe to say that those players, the Freaks, did their job way beyond my ability to coach them. They were blessed with unbelievable talent, unbelievable parents and people that put them in that position. I was just a small part of that mentorship that got them to be as good as they can be. The players are what matter. They’re the lifeblood of the program in any sport. Coaching is overrated. The people in my room were special. Over 22 guys in that room graduated and are being successful people in life now with wives and kids of their own. Those are the things that mean the most to me. Those are the rewards that nobody pays attention to, but it means the world to me. When you see your kids going to hospitals and lifting other people up and you see them becoming genuinely great human beings, then you know you’re doing something right. You’re living up to the promise you made to their parents. And personally, with what my wife and I have gone through the last couple of years with her health, I can’t put into words what these guys have meant to me. The rallied around us in a way that was well beyond their years. They were a rock for me. It was such a difficult time for me and I probably wasn’t the best coach for them that I could be, but they worked that much harder to help me help them get better. What they did for me is something that went beyond the coach and player relationship. They were my closest friends and they had my back. The loyalty they had to me is priceless.”
- What do you think you’ll miss most about coaching college football? – “The first thing people tell you when you get to the league is that you don’t have to recruit anymore. You don’t have to make all of those calls and send all of those text messages. Part of that is true when you put it into the context of the time that took you away from your own family. It’s a nonstop thing. So there is something to what it does to your quality of life when you don’t have to do that anymore. But you know what? The recruiting will be the thing that I miss the most. The relationships I built through recruiting were a blessing to me. I had the privilege to be a part of so many lives and so many communities that welcomed me with open arms on the recruiting trail. You never know what will happen in the end, whether you get the kid or not, but the opportunity to meet all of the people in those communities and at those high schools is something I will sorely miss. I will miss the high school coaches of North Carolina. Add to that the people at North Carolina itself that help take care of you like the alumni, the boosters, the academic folks, the people you get to know at the hotels over the years, you name it. There are so many people that make your life better here. That’s what I will miss about college football are the people.”
- What will you miss most about working at the Kenan Football Center? – “Well, the drive from my house to the office is about 2 miles. Just the chance to drive down that street with the old oak trees, the beautiful houses and coming up on the campus on the hill was a blessing. Then you turn down into Kenan Stadium right in the middle of campus. The feeling of coming out of that tunnel on game day. Working day in and day out with the people in that building were some of the best times of my career. I believe in what we’re doing here. Larry is building this program the right way and I don’t have a doubt in my mind that he’s got this thing going in the right direction. We’ve had great moments and there are many more of those moments to come in the future with this team. I’ll miss being a part of that process. I’ll miss going to the basketball games, walking on Franklin Street and being part of the community. There’s an aura about it that’s hard to describe, but it always made me think of the video with Charles Kuralt. His voice, the bell, the well and Chapel Hill. If you allow yourself to open your heart up and open yourself up to the people in a way where people get to know you as a person, not just a coach, it becomes a special place in your heart. I’ll miss it all.”
- Looking forward, what has it felt like so far this week walking into the building as an NFL coach? – “It’s been surreal, but the job doesn’t wait for you to get comfortable. It starts right away and you have to be ready to jump right in. Right now it’s time to get ready for the draft. The combine just finished up and now the pro days are coming up so it’s time to scout and get ready to hit the road. So I may be learning where to go in the building, but football is football and that part is like riding a bike. Coaching is coaching. I’m loving every minute of it and I can’t wait to start working with my guys. And you better believe I can’t wait for that first home game in Philly in front of the most passionate fan base in the NFL.”
One thing that’s clear from talking with Coach Brewer is the fact that while he’s excited for his chance in the NFL, he’s grateful for every part of his coaching career and the people that helped get him here. He’s a player’s coach. He’s a coach’s coach. And he’s one of the good guys in coaching.