While we've got some time here in the offseason, let's go over our history. Those who don't know their history are bound to think that the world started and stopped with Nick Saban. Perish the thought. If we're going to pull together to start a new, beautiful Southwest Conference, we may as well know who the hell we're inviting. This week a program that tried so dang hard to get into the big boy table, North Texas. In our fictional world, they're in. We're cool like that.
North Texas played Decatur Baptist College eleven times from 1915 to 1929, winning all eleven games by an aggregate score of 413-6. North Texas won 97-0 in 1929. In 1915 the two teams met twice with North Texas winning the first game 75-0 and the second 53-0.
What's in a Name?
Does one refer to North Texas as the Eagles, Mean Green, or even the Screaming Eagles? Back at the dawn of the interweb, the early 2000s, the North Texas website even had a disturbing Eagle cry sound that played every time the page loaded. It was a real bitch to explain at work.
North Texas hasn't even been North Texas for that long. The school was founded as Texas Normal College and Teacher Training Institute. Then it morphed into North Texas Normal College, or Denton Normal as some newspaper articles referred to it tweaked to North Texas State Normal College and dropped the Normal altogether when the campus was renamed North Texas State Teachers College. Then the school dropped Teachers from its name and just went by North Texas State College. In 1961 the school changed its name to North Texas State University and in 1988, became the University of North Texas, no more Normal, Teachers, or State.
The source of the Mean Green moniker goes back to North Texas great Mean Joe Greene, just minus that last "e," and his cohorts on the North Texas defense, According to Wikipedia, the arbiter of all factoids, the Mean Green name started in 1966 with one of three sources based on Joe Greene's disposition to some degree. The first reference we find to anything Mean Green associated with North Texas' football team comes from the November 20, 1966, Denton Record-Chronicle, and only applied to the team's defense. The paper continued to label the defense with the Mean Green title through the spring.
North Texas defense became a juggernaut, leading the nation in rush defense for most of 1967 after finishing second in 1966. As the Mean Green defense's reputation grew, so did the lore of the Mean Green. By midseason, the name transitioned into use for the entire team. After Joe Greene departed for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the name stayed. Even the band called itself the Mean Green Marching Machine.
That One Time Ray Renfro Rushed for 207 Yards at 16 yards a Carry
Ray Renfro burned El Paso DOWN! The skinny kid from Leonard had himself a night back in '51.
Renfro rushed for 207 yards, three scores and threw for a fourth as North Texas State beat Texas Western 33-0.
And it could have been so much better. Renfro had an 82-yard touchdown run nullified by a clipping penalty.
If you're the best linebacker at North Texas, you win the Gabe Gross Award. Never heard of Gabe Gross outside of a Plaque? Let's learn ya.
In familiar coach speak the phrase "big time players make big plays in big games" is thrown around a lot. It's an oversimplification of course like most coach speak phrases, but it applies to former North Texas linebacker Byron Gross. When North Texas needed a play, the 1990 First Team All-American, Byron Gross was usually around to make it.
Exhibit A. In I-AA North Texas' 29-24 win over Texas Tech back in 1988, Gross recovered two fumbles in the third quarter, both leading to scores, as the Eagles came from fourteen points down to beat Spike Dykes' Red Raiders.
Exhibit B. In North Texas' 14-7 win over SMU. The Mustangs and quarterback Mike Romo threatened to take the lead near the end of the first half. As SMU closed in Romo fired a ball near the goal line but into the waiting arms of Byron Gross to help preserve the Eagle win.
Exhibit C. In a 16-15 win over SWT; Gross tackled Bobcat quarterback Gilbert Price in the end zone for a safety and what proved to be the difference in the game.
Exhibit D. In the controversial 1988 loss to Texas in Austin, Texas scored to come within one of the Eagles in Austin. Texas went for two and gave the ball to SWC Player of the Year Eric Metcalf. Gross crashed through and tackled Metcalf for a three-yard loss, preserving the lead until the referees decided the world couldn't survive North Texas beating Texas.
The San Antonio Marshall product made All-Southland first or the second team every year of his four-year career and led North Texas in tackles each of his four seasons starting. A two-time team captain, Gross finished the 1990 seasons with a career-best 122 stops. His 387 tackles are good enough for second in Mean Green history. The Southland saw fit to name Gross to its All-Decade team as well.
More than just a tackling machine, Gross was a two-time Academic All-American.
After considering a couple of different runs, including the 1967-69 and 1975-78, we've settled on Darrell Dickey's run of Sun Belt dominance from 2001-2004.
The Mean Green of the late 1990s and into the 2000s weren't exactly showing signs of improvement. In Dickey's first three seasons North Texas won just eight games compared to 25 losses. Then in 2001, after a 0-5 start and in their first year in the newly formed Sun Belt, the Mean Green caught fire. If they hadn't, there's every chance Darrell Dickey would've been fired. Instead, North Texas ran off five straight league wins to take their first league title since 1994.
After 2001, the Mean Green weren't flukey; they were dominant.
In 2002, North Texas ran the table in the Sun Belt and beat Cincinnati in the New Orleans Bowl. That 2002 team also lost by just six to a ten win TCU team that finished the season ranked 23rd in the final AP Poll.
Scott Hall and Patrick Cobb teamed up in 2003 for the third straight league crown and nine wins. Once again the Mean Green went undefeated in conference play. Moving their league unbeaten mark to eighteen straight. The '03 team beat Baylor by 38 in Denton.
Hall and freshman sensation Jamario Thomas teamed up to win the fourth straight league title, extended their conference win streak to 25 games, and qualify for the New Orleans Bowl once again.
In a four year stretch, Dickey's team finished 25-2 in the conference and ruled the Belt.
In 2005, North Texas good fortunes ended and Dickey's team fell to 2-9. After a second straight season of poor results, the Mean Green hired Todd Dodge to take over fresh off a dynastic era at Southlake Carroll.
Dodge was bred for big-time Texas football. He led Port Arthur Jefferson to a State Title over might Mojo and Odessa Permian and signed with Texas where he played for Fred Akers. At Southlake, his Dragons won four state titles in five years, appearing in the title game all five seasons. Dodge's record at Southlake was 79-1 in his last five seasons.
He apparently wasn't bred for North Texas. In his first game coaching North Texas, Oklahoma pummeled Dodge's squad 79-10, one of three times his team allowed 66 or more points during the 2007 season, that ain't Katy over there boys.
Things didn't get better. In three-plus seasons the Mean Green won just six games and never more than two in a season. By 2010, the margin for error was gone and so were all of North Texas' quarterbacks; the Mean Green were down to a walk-on who'd never thrown a college pass.
With a new stadium coming online, North Texas' administrators let him go in October of 2010, probably a mercy firing. A familiar face came out of the bullpen for North Texas, interim coach Mike Canales won two of his last five and secured himself a gig on new coach Dan McCarney's staff.
That one time North Texas got jobbed.
September 24, 1988. For North Texas fans, it's a date you'd like to forget as Texas escaped Memorial Stadium with a controversial win. We say controversial; we mean to say North Texas got jobbed by the officials.
For decades North Texas chased Texas. Hayden Fry's teams of the mid-70s have Darrell Royals squads all they could handle. Then North Texas dropped down to I-AA and chasing Texas was the equivalent of bear hunting with a stick. Then came September 24, 1988.
The Great Scott Davis led North Texas to a score on their opening possession. The key play came on a third and 20 when Davis scrambled for 29 yards and a first down. Davis then hit Thomas Green for 42 yards and a 7-0 lead.
Texas answered, allegedly, with a seven-yard touchdown pass to Keith Cash, who had the ball in his hands, only to drop it but apparently long enough for officials to count it good. The first Cash touchdown call was the most egregious of the missed calls, and by missed we mean blown or bought. Here's the replay from two angles.
Thanks to Darren Foyt on YouTube for keeping these videos alive.
The official put his hands up practically simultaneous to the moment Cash touched the ball, then gave the knowing nod to North Texas' disapproving but correct players.
North Texas fought back and held a 21-7 lead in the third quarter.
Texas wouldn't go away and drew to within 21-20. A North Texas field goal gave the Eagles a four-point lead but also left Texas with 90 seconds to drive down the field, which they did. What followed was Shannon Kelley's 10-yard touchdown pass to Cash. At least that's what Cash and Horns would have you believe.
On replay, Cash landed outside the boundary; the non-catch was only surpassed in its definitiveness by the officials hip thrusting touchdown signal. Cash, by the way, wasn't sure he'd caught the ball either until he saw the official's signal. That's called confirmation bias kids.
Without the benefit of video replay, the call stood, Texas won. The Austin American Statesman didn't even mention Cash's controversial first touchdown drop in its "hey, at least Texas won" columns. The win overshadowed Scott Davis' massive evening in Austin. Davis torched the Longhorns for 419 yards passing, the most passing yards ever given up by a Texas defense, and three scores.
For players like cornerback Jerome Cooper, who had a front-row seat for both "catches" the entire experience left him hollow. “It was tough,” Cooper said. “That was the first time a loss really affected me. I have never had a game that I felt like it was taken away, and we didn’t have a chance to compete.”
0 National Titles
24 Conference Titles
Lone Star: 1932, 1935, 1936, 1939, 1940, 1941, 1946, 1947
Gulf Coast: 1950, 1951, 1952, 1955, 1956
Missouri Valley: 1958, 1959, 1966, 1967, 1973
Southland: 1983, 1994
Sun Belt: 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004
1990 Scott Bowles OL
1990 Byron Gross LB
1990 Bart Helsley P
1951 Ray Renfro HB
1947 Felton Whitlow OL
North Texas is 1-47 against ranked opponents. Their one win came in 1974 against 20th ranked San Diego State in Denton.
In those losses North Texas has lost by an average of 40-14.
What's the biggest give-up/beating segment on your local sports radio show? The Mount Rushmore Discussion. It's the worst. Here's a question for Dickey and the Weasel as they debate the four greatest left-handed starters for the Brewers, who's on the Mount Rushmore or Mount Rushmores? You have to put Mount Rushmore right? Or are there other Mount Rushmores more deserving? Debate that before taking "if you could start your franchise with any player besides Lebron James" calls.
Anyway, here are the seminal figures in North Texas ball history.
Joe Greene - The Icon
Greene attended Temple Dunbar High School. Never heard of it? That's because, in the segregated South, Dunbar was the "colored school" even though the Brown vs. The Board of Education decision came down in 1954; Temple didn't desegregate until 1967. Three schools recruited Joe Greene, Prairie View, Houston, Texas A&I and North Texas. Texas, Texas A&M, heck Baylor couldn't be bothered to drive 37 miles to see the transcendent star due to their segregation policies. His Houston visit was scheduled for his prom night, so he canceled that visit and headed north up 35 to Denton. At North Texas he was a three-time All-Missouri Valley selection, making All-American in 1968, still the only consensus All-American in school history. Drafted by the Steelers with the fourth overall pick in the 1969 NFL player draft, Greene went on to a Hall of Fame career as a member of the vaunted Steel Curtain defense.
Lance Dunbar - Mr. Consistency
You can't do much more in four years than Lance Dunbar did in his time with the Mean Green. After serving as understudy for a season while Cam Montgomery rushed for over 900 yards, Dunbar put together three straight 1,000 yard seasons and 41 career touchdowns. The Haltom City alum became the first Mean Green rusher to produce 1,000 yards in three seasons and set school records for career yards, touchdowns, total yards, points, and tied for first in 100-yard games. The three-time All-Sun Belt performer went undrafted but has put together a pretty decent six-year NFL career with the Cowboys and Rams.
Odus Mitchell - The Integrator
When Abner Haynes showed up at Odus Mitchell's office in 1956, Mitchell's first concern was whether little Abner could compete with North Texas' "big boys." In 1956, in the Jim Crow South, size wasn't the first thing most coaches noticed about Haynes. Haynes was African American and hoping North Texas State's new policy to admit black students would allow him to not only attend college but give him a chance to play college football as well. Mitchell invited Haynes and Leon King to try out for the football team, and the two were the first African American players to play in Texas college football.
Aside from that rather sizeable contribution, Mitchell could flat out coach. Mitchell is the North Texas leader in wins with 122, winning almost 60% of his games. He also leads with fourteen winning seasons. His North Texas teams won ten conference titles in his tenure and set the school record when his 1947 team won ten games.
Abner Haynes - Little Abner
Haynes, along with Leon King were trailblazers in becoming the first African American players to play college football in Texas. That alone is worthy of a lofty position in North Texas and College Football history, but Abner could play. Haynes averaged seven yards per touch, averaged 22 yards a kick return, 21 yards a punt return, intercepted seven passes over his career. Haynes signed with his hometown Dallas Texans of the AFL where he garnered the league's first Player of the Year award. He stayed with the organization as it moved to Kansas City and became the Chiefs. The Chief retired his number and voted him into their Hall of Fame.