If you’re putting your money on one thing in this upcoming coaching market, make it this: North Texas will hire an offensive-minded coach to replace Dan McCarney.
Put it this way: If you’ve got the first (Baylor), second (TCU), third (Texas Tech), fifth (Houston) and sixth (Western Kentucky) ranked scoring offenses in your figurative and literal neighborhoods, you can’t rank 124th. The North Texas brass, namely president Neal Smatresk, is aware of this.
“We want someone who is going to be offensive minded, can recruit and put us in position to be successful,” athletics director Rick Villarreal told the Denton Record-Chronicle Monday.
There is a factory production line of Kliff Kingsbury facsimiles within an afternoon’s drive of UNT’s campus, from Doug Meacham and Sonny Cumbie at TCU, Kendal Briles at Baylor, Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma, Sterlin Gilbert at Tulsa, Jake Spavital at Texas A&M to Major Applewhite at Houston. However, is there a fit among that group?
Looking outside the young offensive coordinator demographic, a guy like Willie Fritz at Georgia Southern would be the home-run hire for the Mean Green. His Eagles led the nation in rushing last year and rank second this season, and Fritz has won everywhere he’s been, including skyrocketing Sam Houston State from a 6-5 debut campaign to back-to-back FCS title game appearances in 2011-12. However, after a career of climbing, the 55-year-old Fritz may see now as his opportunity to finally land a Power Five job.
The North Texas job is not without risk. At 0-6 this season and 3-13 since drubbing SMU in last season’s home opener, a Power Five coordinator could be wary of jumping into a rebuild and never getting out.
But where there is risk, there is also tremendous upside. The program has upgraded its profile tremendously in recent years, leaving the Sun Belt for Conference USA and trading decrepit Fouts Field for glistening Apogee Stadium, one of the finest stadiums of its size in the country. The recruiting trail is hotly competitive with a dozen FBS programs in state and surrounding the border, but that’s because the recruiting trail is overflowing with talented players. North Texas brass would be wise to remind candidates far and wide that the ability to recruit in Texas is a skill that can be useful at a job anywhere in the country. And, of course, there is the glory to be won of taking a program from worst to first.
McCarney made $720,000 at North Texas according to the USA Today salary database, toward the top end in Conference USA. (The school also owes its former coach a $2.1 million buyout.) However, that’s slightly below what Middle Tennessee pays Rick Stockstill, what Rice pays David Bailiff and what Marshall pays Doc Holliday, and well below the $1 million former Sun Belt bunk mate Louisiana-Lafayette finds to pay Mark Hudspeth. None of those schools are public institutions with a 35,000-plus enrollment figure located in a top-five market, as is North Texas.
Consider how the program found itself in this pit of quicksand. Darrell Dickey was fired two seasons removed from winning four straight Sun Belt championships. In the nine seasons since, the Mean Green has recorded one winning season. If push comes to shove and $200,000 separates North Texas from the right hire, that figure is mere pennies compared to what four years of employing the wrong coach would cost.