Tuesday, December 08, 2015

North Texas hires a new football coach

Welcome to Denton, Mr. Littrell:
North Carolina offensive coordinator Seth Littrell will be named head coach at North Texas, the school announced on Saturday night.

Littrell and the Tar Heels are in their first ACC title game Saturday against Clemson.

Littrell, 37, has been at UNC the past two seasons. Before joining the Tar Heels, he was an offensive coordinator at Indiana (2012-13) and Arizona (2009-11). He also was an assistant at Texas Tech from 2005 to 2008.
Before Littrell was hired, the Denton Record-Chronicle's Brett Vito argued that this is a hire that North Texas must get right:
(Interim head coach Mike) Canales hinted at just how important UNT’s new coach would be to the program’s hopes to improve in his final appearance with the Mean Green.

“I wish the new coach the best of luck because this place means a lot to me,” Canales said. “I want to see it be successful and back to going to bowl games. They will do great things and this program will go right back to where it needs to be.”

McCarney had the Mean Green at that point back in 2013, when UNT produced one of the greatest seasons in program history — a 9-4 campaign capped by a win against UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

UNT just couldn’t sustain that momentum, slid back to 4-8 and finally 1-11, leaving the 2013 season as the only winning campaign in the past 11 years.

The empty stands UNT played in front of for most of the year are a glaring indication that the Mean Green are going to do more than just field a team at a nice venue to convince all but their most loyal supporters to come out.

Miss on this decision, and UNT could be looking at an even longer stretch of floundering football, one that will further diminish what support the school has to work with in terms of support going forward at a time other programs UNT competes with in the state appear to be on the rise.
This is the key issue: North Texas has excellent facilities, most notably Apogee Stadium, completed in 2011 at a cost of $78 million. It is located in the recruit-rich DFW Metroplex. It has the 5th-largest enrollment in the state. There is no reason why this program cannot be competitive in Conference USA.

Yet the Mean Green continue to struggle, both on the field and at the gate. An announced crowd of 8,305 attended UNT's season-ending loss to UTEP, although as Vito reports (and as anybody who watched it on TV can attest) that the actual number of people in the stands was much lower. The program averaged 13,631 for its season just concluded - the lowest average, Vito reports, since 1998. That's not the type of return that UNT athletics expects on its investment, and it's not the type of return that makes the program sustainable.
UNT just can’t afford to miss on this hire. It’s been a long, long time since UNT was consistently successful back in the early 2000s under Darrell Dickey, who led the Mean Green to four straight conference titles beginning in 2001.

Ironically, Dickey was named the interim coach at Memphis on Sunday after Justin Fuente left for Virginia Tech.

UNT has to start stringing together winning seasons again like it did for a while under Dickey. The school and its supporters have invested far too much to see the program continue to flounder.

UNT has searched for an answer to how to spark its program ever since that run of winning seasons.

The school has a new stadium and a spot in Conference USA.

Soon it will have a new coach. For UNT’s sake, the school had better hope it will have the final piece of the puzzle with its new head coach as well.
What about Littrell's coaching experience?
Littrell has excelled while guiding UNC’s offense in 2014 and 2015. The Tar Heels are averaging 495.7 yards per game this season. Before UNC, he served as offensive coordinator at Indiana University, which finished ninth in the nation in total offense in 2013, averaging 508.5 yards per game. Littrell first became an offensive coordinator during a three-year stay at the University of Arizona from 2009-11. He was the co-offensive coordinator in 2010 and took over the job full-time the following season.

Littrell, an Oklahoma native, last worked in Texas from 2005-08, when he was the running backs coach at Texas Tech. He is a University of Oklahoma graduate and was a running back and team captain on the Sooners’ 2000 national championship team.

Littrell went into coaching after his playing days and has coached in seven bowl games.
Looks pretty good. Having been a Mean Green fan since I moved to Denton in 1999, and following the football program's ups-and-downs through the tenures of Darrell Dickey, Todd Dodge, Dan McCarney and Mike Canales (twice, in an interim capacity), I can only hope that Littrell succeeds. I guess we'll find out, starting in the fall of 2016.

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