For an athletic department head football coach is the most important hire. Football programs are the bread winners for most universities, or they should be. A well run football program, i.e. one that wins, can be a cash cow and an entry to the university. Applications and donations go up with wins.
North Texas is a pretty good job all things considered. Great - upgraded facilities, a stable conference, large enrollment, and a lush recruiting base within 30 minutes of campus. McCarney’s salary was in the top 3-4 of Conference USA head coaches. Staff salaries are in upper half of non-power five schools. Staff salaries are an area where UNT can make up some ground and sweeten the deal.
The task of hiring a football at North Texas will be undertaken, as long as he doesn’t get canned, by Rick Villarreal. So what are Villarreal’s options? Before we get there we may as well look at UNT’s recent hiring history.
Darrell Dickey was hired from SMU in 1998 after stints as a offensive coordinator for both the Mustangs and UTEP. Prior to that Dickey had been a position coach at places like Mississippi State, Memphis, and LSU. Dickey was 38 when he was hired. After three seasons of sub .500 results the Mean Green went on their most successful stretch of seasons in school history, winning the Sun Belt four consecutive years, only losing one conference game in those four years, and going to four straight bowl games. Dickey ended much the way he began, with consecutive losing seasons.
Villarreal made his first football hire at North Texas in Dickey’s successor, Todd Dodge. Dodge was 43 when he took over at North Texas. His experience was mostly in the high school ranks starting with Cameron High School and eventually settling at Southlake Carroll. Carroll won five state titles in six years under Dodge. His college coaching experience was limited to two seasons at North Texas in the early 2000’s. Dodge's tenure as head coach at UNT was rough with six wins in just under four seasons with the Mean Green.
North Texas turned to Dan McCarney next. McCarney came to North Texas from the University of Florida, where he was the associate head coach and with responsibilities for coaching the defensive line, a position he held at South Florida as well. Prior to that, McCarney spent 10 years as the head coach at Iowa State, overseeing one of the most successful periods in Cyclone history. McCarney was 57 years of age when he came to UNT. In parts of five seasons McCarney was 22-32 with a bowl victory.
So, a synopsis, North Texas has hired an experience OC with no head coaching experience and some ties to the state, a high school coach from a very successful DFW program, and an experienced head coach with few ties to the state. Success has been spotty, but Dickey’s four titles and McCarney’s nine win 2013 season show that you can win at UNT.
So who should North Texas be targeting. To get an idea just look south.
Remember when Baylor was the laughing stock of the Big 12? Guy Morris won 18 games in five years, and he was the gold standard for Baylor Big 12 coaches. Under Morris Baylor finished 5th in the Big 12 South for the first time in school history, other than that, they were the division's doormat. Enter Art Briles, a former high school coach with Texas ties, a voracious recruiter, and a coach who teaches an identity. Briles came from Houston and brought a skinny kid from Copperas Cove named Robert Griffin III who was recruited by all the big boys as a safety with him. Three years later Griffin won the Heisman and Baylor was legit. Briles made Nick Florence into Baylor’s single season passing leading. Nick Florence!
What about Tom Herman at Houston? Again, extensive Texas connections from his first job at Texas Lutheran to his stint as OC at Rice. He’s brought a downhill running, physical identity to Houston. Herman has drawn a circle around the beltway 8 corridor and is poaching top talent from all across Houston. He’s also known as the quarterback whisperer. He left a room full of first round talent at Ohio State and has taken a kid at Houston in Greg Ward Jr. who was play wide receiver last year and made him top 10 in QBR.
And what about Chad Morris? Yes, Chad Morris of 1-8 SMU. Chad coached high school football all over the state before becoming the offensive coordinator at Tulsa and later Clemson. He inherited a giant dumpster fire at SMU, but we still think he’ll get the Mustangs turned around. He’s brought an offensive identity to the Hilltop. He’s also recruiting the Metroplex better than any coach at SMU since Bobby Collins was cutting checks. Morris took Matt Davis, who started last season third on the Mustang depth chart, and as coached him into a candidate for American Athletic Conference honors.
What do they have in common? Aggressive, LOCAL recruiters with an offensive identity, who can develop quarterbacks. That’s a pretty decent template for the Mean Green to follow.
So who fits that description? A tougher question to answer but we have a few thoughts.
Lincoln Riley - Offensive Coordinator Oklahoma
Riley, all of 32 years of age, is a Muleshoe native who coached in Lubbock at his alma mater for six seasons before moving to East Carolina with Ruffin McNeal. Riley is a Mike Leach/Dana Holgorsen/Kliff Kingsbury disciple. Leach thought he was prodigy at 23. His youth may scare some folks away but he’s got the chops. He’s currently developing a new minted Heisman candidate in Baker Mayfield. He runs a version of the spread and if he can find a defensive coordinator that can hold things together, UNT may be well on its way.
Sonny Cumbie - Offensive Coordinator TCU
Cumbie is an old hand at 34 is a Snyder native who played at Texas Tech and coached for the Red Raiders as well. He is currently the Offensive Coordinator at TCU. Cumbie has led a tremendous offensive turnaround at TCU. Gary Patterson changed his philosophy to encompass a more aggressive offensive strategy and hiring Doug Meecham and Sonny Cumbie were at the fore front of this change. Cumbie has worked hands on with Trevor Boykin, the TCU quarterback turned wide receiver turned Heisman candidate. Again, his choice of defensive coordinator would go a long way to ultimate success, but that’s a hire that people have made in the past and lived to tell about.
Willie Fritz - Head Coach Georgia Southern
Some outlets are reporting that Willie Fritz has already poo poo’d the idea of coming to Denton, whatever, dream big. If I were an AD, anywhere, I’d interview Willie Fritz. All he does is win, win, win no matter what. It’s all a negotiation. Fritz is 55 years of age, and has experience coaching at the high school and collegiate level in the state. Fritz turned Sam Houston State into a title game regular and walked into Georgia Southern and won a share of the Sun Belt title in the Eagles first year in the FBS. Fritz brings a power running identity to the game and a great reputation as a talent evaluator.
Kendal Briles - Offensive Coordinator Baylor
Briles is all of 33 years of age and in first season running his old man’s offense at Baylor. He’s a very good recruiter and looks like a pretty decent play caller. He’s never coach outside of Waco, but he grew up in places like Wofforth and Stephenville. He was good enough to get a scholarship to UT as a player. Briles will implement an offense that has baffled coaches from the Big 12 to the AAC to the MAC. Art is sure to put in a good word among high school coaches for his kid.
Mike Canales - Interim Head Coach North Texas
Canales is an interesting name, he'll get an interview, he's made the Mean Green somewhat competitive down the stretch and he's in his second stint as the interim coach at North Texas. Canales has the benefit of familiarity, though that may be a double edged sword. Think of the signature UNT moment offensively in the last 7 years. It's difficult. What is the Mean Green's identity offensively or otherwise. Canales is 54 years of age and he's been unable to develop a great North Texas signal caller.
Those are the names that everyone is listing. Minus Spavital at A&M or another coordinator here or there.
So how about a couple dark horses:
Colby Carthel - Head Coach Texas A&M Commerce
Carthel took over in Commerce for the 2013 season and has promptly won two straight conference titles. The Lions run the spread, like everyone else, but Carthel cut his teeth coaching defenses for his old man Don Carthel at West Texas A&M. Prior to his arrival Commerce hadn’t had a winning season since 2001 and were 5-26 in the three years prior to Carthel’s arrival.
Houston Nutt - Analyst CBS Sports
Houston Nutt would like a job. Any job. North Texas has a job, so why not. He’s coached at Arkansas and Ole Miss. He knows the NCAA rule book well enough to get around a lot of it. He’s cheesy great at press conferences and is slick enough convince you that this time will be different. It won’t. But what the hell, give him an interview. At least you can ask him about the Wild Hog formation.
Whichever choice Villarreal makes, he cannot afford to miss. His job already dangles by a thread, that thread is fraying and fraying. Whoever he hires will have the facilities and resources to win. But so did the last guy.