UNT AD search update — press conference likely next week

Baker

Baker

North Texas will likely wait until next week to hold a press conference to introduce its new athletic director, a school spokesman confirmed on Wednesday.

The Denton Record-Chronicle reported in this morning’s edition that Missouri interim athletic director Wren Baker is the leading candidate heading into a teleconference for the UNT regents on Friday.

Several national outlets have picked up on the report and said that Baker will be UNT’s next athletic director.

Baker’s hiring won’t become official until the UNT regents vote to approve a contract.

The school requires the board to approve employment contracts that exceed $1 million for the duration of the deal.

It’s all semantics at this point, but nothing becomes official until that vote takes place.

One UNT official said this morning that the “cat is out of the bag.”

Baker, 37, has turned around programs at multiple stops, has regional ties and is the type of young, dynamic administrator with connections that UNT officials have been seeking.

Baker worked at Memphis before joining the staff at Missouri. He has also served as the athletic director at Northwest Missouri State and Rogers State in Claremore, Oklahoma.

Baker graduated from Southeastern Oklahoma State in Durant.

Once Baker is officially approved on Friday, he will begin the process of trying to rebuild UNT’s program.

UNT has posted just one winning football season in its last 11 and hasn’t finished over .500 in men’s basketball in the last four years. UNT’s women’s basketball program has suffered through 10 straight losing seasons.

 

 

Breaking — UNT wide receiver arrested on DWI charge

North Texas wide receiver Turner Smiley caught 25 passes for 255 yards last season. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

North Texas wide receiver Turner Smiley caught 25 passes for 255 yards last season. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

Smiley

Smiley

Turner Smiley, a key member of the North Texas football team, was arrested on a DWI charge early this morning, according to Denton Jail records.

Smiley was picked up just before 4 a.m. and booked into Denton City Jail.

His bond has yet to be determined, according to the Denton City Jail website.

Smiley is UNT’s leading returning receiver from last season, when he caught 25 passes for 255 yards and a touchdown.

“We are aware of the situation regarding Turner Smiley from earlier this morning and are still in the process of collecting all the facts,” UNT coach Seth Littrell said in a prepared statement. “Until I have an opportunity to talk with him I will refrain from further comment. We have high expectations for all of our student-athletes and we take situations like this very seriously. We will take an immediate and appropriate course of action after I speak with him.”

Smiley struggled during spring practice with a broken hand that limited him and dropped off UNT’s post-spring depth chart. 

Smiley was expected to make a run at a spot in the Mean Green’s starting lineup in the fall after recovering from the injury. He was also under consideration for a role as a punt and kick returner.

UNT is making the move from a pro-style offense that leaned on a power running game to a spread attack under Littrell. UNT has been trying to develop wide receivers to power that attack.

Darvin Kidsy, another wide receiver who was expected to play a key role for the Mean Green this year, was charged in a hit-and-run accident in January and has since been removed from UNT’s roster. Kidsy caught 17 passes for 240 yards last season.

If Smiley is suspended or does not return next season, Tee Goree would be UNT’s leading returning wide receiver. He caught 15 passes for 118 yards last season.

UNT opens the season on Sept. 3 at home against rival SMU.

Littrell talked at length at Conference USA media days this week about the depth problems UNT has heading into his first season. The Mean Green are expected to have 67 scholarship players, well under the limit of 85.

If UNT were to lose Smiley, it would further cut into the team’s depth and overall talent.

Smiley expressed confidence in the depth of UNT’s receiving corps this spring.

“There are so many guys who can go out there and contribute because of the fact that they are getting more reps now,” Smiley said. “Before only the ones and twos [first- and second-team players] were getting time in practice. Now everyone is out there making plays.

“I definitely think there is the depth there to run the spread.”

Oh, yeah. C-USA media days

Littrell

Littrell

Under normal circumstances, I would have spent a lot of time this week posting stories and tidbits about the goings-on at Conference USA media days.

Only this time around, there were other things, uh, going on.

Namely, UNT’s search for a new athletic director.

If you’ve been following along here and in the paper, you are well aware of how that story has picked up steam in the last few days.

Monday afternoon, we reported that UNT’s regents are expected to discuss a new AD on a teleconference on Friday and could have someone in place by the end of the day. We also reported that Texas official Arthur Johnson was not UNT’s guy.

We followed that up Monday night with a report that Missouri interim AD Wren Baker was a name to watch out for.

And that grew into today’s report that Baker is UNT’s leading candidate. I would be stunned at this point if Baker doesn’t end up being trotted out for a press conference after UNT’s regents get together on the phone to vote on approving the parameters of a contract.

Meanwhile, back at C-USA media days, I have written a couple of stories I wanted to point out that have already appeared in the paper.

– UNT has gone through one of the wildest offseasons I can remember. UNT has added about 10 (the number is still somewhat in question) transfers of the junior college and four-year variety. Those players have been showing up over the summer when UNT also lost a few players, including key backup offensive lineman Ryan Rentfro. UNT’s scholarship numbers are really low. One C-USA coach I was chatting with was stunned when he heard UNT has about 68 scholarship players, well under the limit of 85.

– I also had a little notebook in today’s paper that included running back Jeffrey Wilson expressing confidence in UNT’s rebuilt offensive line that is a key concern heading into the season.

I will have some additional material on the plight of C-USA’s contingent of Texas teams tomorrow along with a notebook.

Until then, I leave you with this great quote from Louisiana Tech coach Skip Holtz from a discussion of recruiting territories as they relate to LA Tech and UNT.

“If you look at North Texas and [the Dallas-Fort Worth area], you don’t have to go far,” Holtz said. “We talk about how we don’t have to go far and how we recruit out of a car because we don’t have to go outside of a three-hour circle. [Littrell] can recruit on a scooter. His circle doesn’t need to be very big.”

Sources: Baker is leading candidate for UNT job

Baker

Baker

Wren Baker, the interim athletic director at Missouri, is the leading candidate for the North Texas athletic director’s job, multiple sources have confirmed to the Denton Record-Chronicle.

The DR-C first reported late Monday night the Baker is a candidate for the job. Those sources later confirmed that UNT is zeroing in on the Oklahoma native as its top candidate for the position heading into a teleconference on Friday.

Sources confirmed that that purpose of that call is to consider a replacement for Rick Villarreal. UNT’s former AD announced he was stepping down in late May. His tenure ended June 20.

A press conference to introduce UNT’s new AD is expected to be held shortly after the call. Baker is expected to be UNT’s selection.

Central Arkansas athletic director Dr. Brad Teague was the other candidate who was strongly considered.

Baker has served as Missouri’s interim AD since Mack Rhoades left to take over in the same capacity at Baylor. He served as Missouri’s deputy director of athletics for external relations prior to taking over the school’s athletic program on an interim basis.

Baker did not immediately return messages seeking comment. The Oklahoma native has turned around programs at multiple stops, has regional ties and is the type of young, dynamic administrator with connections that UNT officials have been seeking.

UNT’s board of regents will have to approve a contract for Baker. The school requires its board to approve employment contracts that exceed $1 million for the duration of the deal.

Brint Ryan, the chairman of UNT’s board of regents, said Monday that the school has settled on its choice for an athletic director to replace Villarreal. Ryan expressed confidence that the combination of the athletic director the school has identified and new football coach Seth Littrell would put the program on course to improve dramatically in the next few seasons.

Baker’s varied background is among the reasons he is an attractive candidate for UNT to pair with Littrell, who is also an Oklahoma native. Baker has worked at Power Five conference schools, but also has experience guiding at schools that compete at the Group of Five level and at schools that compete below the Division I level. UNT is a member of Conference USA, a G5 league.

Baker previously worked at Memphis, where he served as deputy director of athletics/external affairs from February 2013 to May 2015.

Baker began his rise as a college administrator as the first AD at Rogers State in Claremore, Oklahoma, where he oversaw the start-up program for five years. He then worked as the AD at Northwest Missouri State, where he oversaw one of the top Division II athletic programs in the country.

Before getting into college administration, Baker was the principal and athletic director for Valliant Public Schools in his hometown of Valliant, Oklahoma. He was the youngest principal in Oklahoma when he was named to the position at 26.

Valliant is 157 miles from Denton and is located in Southeastern Oklahoma.

Baker’s time in college athletics dates back to four years as a basketball operations assistant at Oklahoma State from 2001-05 under legendary coach Eddie Sutton. The Cowboys went to the Final Four in 2004.

Baker graduated from Southeastern Oklahoma State in Durant, Oklahoma.

If Baker does take the UNT job, he will face a challenging rebuilding process.

UNT has posted just one winning football season in its last 11 and hasn’t finished over .500 in men’s basketball in the last four years. UNT’s women’s basketball program has suffered through 10 straight losing seasons.

A name to keep in mind for UNT athletic director job — Wren Baker

Baker

Baker

North Texas is nearing the conclusion of its search for a new athletic director.

The Denton Record-Chronicle reported Monday afternoon that the school’s regents will hold a teleconference on Friday and could announce UNT’s new athletic director shortly after that call.

Central Arkansas athletic director Dr. Brad Teague is one name that has been mentioned by several influential boosters and school officials as a potential candidate for the job. Another name that has come up in connection with the position is Wren Baker, who is currently the interim athletic director at Missouri.

Baker has turned around programs at multiple stops, has regional ties and is the type of young, dynamic administrator with connections that UNT officials have been seeking.

Baker has served as Missouri’s interim AD since Mack Rhoades left to take over in the same capacity at Baylor. He was previously Missouri’s deputy director of athletics for external relations, a role he had held since May 20, 2015.

He previously worked at Memphis, where he served as deputy director of athletics/external affairs from February 2013 to May 2015.

Baker began his rise as a college administrator as the first AD at Rogers State University in Claremore, Okla., where he oversaw the start-up program for five years. He then worked as the AD at Northwest Missouri State, where he oversaw one of the top Division II athletic programs in the country.

Before getting into college administration, Baker was the principal and athletic director for Valliant Public Schools in his hometown of Valliant, Oklahoma. He was the youngest principal in Oklahoma when he was named to the position at 26.

Baker’s time in college athletics dates back to four years as a basketball operations assistant at Oklahoma State from 2001-05 under legendary coach Eddie Sutton. The Cowboys went to the Final Four in 2004.

Baker graduated from Southeastern Oklahoma State in Durant, Oklahoma.

UNT is looking for its first new athletic director since Rick Villarreal took over the spring of 2001.

Villarreal announced he was stepping down after more than 15 years on the job in late May and completed his tenure at UNT on June 20.

UNT’s athletic program reached several milestones during Villarreal’s tenure. The school opened Apogee Stadium, its $78 million football venue, in 2011. UNT also played in five bowl games and two NCAA men’s basketball tournaments during Villarreal’s time at the school. Those accomplishments have faded while the school has struggled in key sports over the last several years.

UNT has posted just one winning football season in its last 11 and hasn’t finished over .500 in men’s basketball in the last four years. UNT’s women’s basketball program has suffered through 10 straight losing seasons.

Brint Ryan, the chairman of UNT’s board of regents, said Monday that the school has settled on its choice for an athletic director to replace Villarreal. Ryan expressed confidence that the combination of the athletic director the school has identified and new football coach Seth Littrell would put the program on course to improve dramatically in the next few seasons.

UNT will soon announce its new AD. Sources with knowledge of the situation have said over the last few days that Teague is among the officials UNT has talked to about the position.

Baker appears to be the other finalist for the job and could be UNT’s top choice heading into Friday’s conference call.

Breaking — UNT expects to have new AD in place by Friday

The North Texas board of regents is planning to hold a conference call on Friday regarding its search for a new athletic director.

Former UNT AD Rick Villarreal announced his departure after more than 15 years in late May and officially stepped down on June 20.

UNT has already identified Villarreal’s replacement and is in the final stages of bringing him in to run the school’s athletic program, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.

Brint Ryan, the president of UNT’s board of regents, sent out an e-mail within the last few days informing key university officials that an announcement is imminent.

“He is going to be fantastic,” Ryan wrote, according to a person with direct knowledge of the situation. “He is the strongest we have ever had and his connections are unbelievable.”

Multiple sources with knowledge of the process detailed to the Denton Record-Chronicle where the school stands in the process of hiring a new AD:

– Only a few key members of the school’s administration and influential boosters know the identity of the official UNT’s regents will consider on Friday.

– It is highly unlikely that UNT will promote someone from within the department to take over for Villarreal. Longtime UNT official Hank Dickenson has been serving as the school’s interim athletic director since shortly after Villarreal stepped down.

UNT has used Eastman & Beaudine Inc., a well-known search firm, to help with the process of interviewing candidates for the job and has kept the process under wraps.

A few names have come up in connection with the job, including Central Arkansas athletic director Dr. Brad Teague and Texas executive senior associate athletics director Arthur Johnson.

Johnson confirmed Monday afternoon that he has not interviewed for the job or spoken to UNT’s search firm.

Teague did not return a message seeking comment.

Breaking — UNT picks up commitment from Junius King

Mesquite Horn defensive tackle Junius King was planning to hold off a bit longer before deciding where he would continue his football career in college.

Those plans quickly changed over the last few weeks when King began to consider what North Texas has to offer.

“I was looking around trying to find the best for me,” King said Monday morning. “North Texas is a rebuilding team that is close to home and I like the coaching staff.”

Those factors led King to commit to UNT on Monday morning.

The 6-1 and 315-pound nose tackle was a first-team All-District 10-6A selection last season. He was recruited by UNT defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler.

King was part of our summer UNT recruiting target series. Here is the story I wrote on him a few weeks ago.

Lamar and Texas A&M-Commerce also offered King a scholarship. He is planning to attend UNT’s camp for elite prospects later this week.

King projects as a nose tackle in UNT’s new 3-3-5 alignment and likes the way he fits into the Mean Green’s new defense.

“I am really excited about playing that spot,” King said. “We moved from a 4-3 to a 3-4 last year. It fit my personality and characteristics. I have experience playing in it. I feel I can bring some talent to the team.”

One of those talents is being a rock in the middle of a defensive line.

“From what I have seen, I am hard to move in the middle,” King said. “I will do whatever it takes to help the team.”

The Sunday leftovers — C-USA media days storylines Part III: What about UNT’s overhaul?

Littrell

Littrell

It’s Sunday night and time for the leftovers, where we pick though the events of the weekend, reheat the good stuff — and some of the bad — while hopefully putting it all in perspective.

Not much has gone on to go over in the Sunday leftovers for the last six weeks or so. The grind resumes tomorrow with the first day of Conference USA media days down in Irving.

C-USA’s head coaches and two players from each team will be on hand for the annual event, where the upcoming season is discussed.

Over the last couple of days, we have gone over a few of the story lines:

C-USA storylines:

Part 1 — What about conference realignment? 

Part 2 — Will huge gulf between the top and bottom of the league remain?

And that brings us to Part 3 — What about UNT’s huge offseason rebuild?

UNT has gone whole hog (or Eagle/Mean Green in this case) on quick-fix transfers. There are about 12 in all.

It’s a high risk/high reward proposition. The transfers UNT brought in will be around a year or two. Teams can can benefit from quick-fix guys. If they don’t, it can be a slippery slope. There are fewer high school guys in classes to fill the void for transfers if they turn out to be busts or take their place when they graduate.

UNT saw the downside at the end of the Todd Dodge era.

New UNT coach Seth Littrell will be around to talk about why he decided to take on so many transfers heading into his first season. He could also be able to shed more light at this point on if all of his transfers will make it to campus.

C-USA media days storylines Part II — Will the divide between the top and bottom remain?

One of the interesting aspects of the way the Conference USA race unfolded last season was that there was a clear divide between the haves and the have-nots in the league.

Southern Miss won the West Division at 7-1, just edging Louisiana Tech, which finished second at 6-2.

Western Kentucky went 8-0 and won the East Division, with Marshall and Middle Tennessee both finishing at 6-2.

Four of those five teams won at lest nine games overall and all of them went to bowl games. MTSU finished 7-6.

No other team in the league won more than three conference games or five games overall.

Every league has their elite teams and their bottom-dwellers. The divide usually isn’t as clear as it was in C-USA last year, though.

The five teams that finished at the top of the league were projected to finish there again this year in the preseason media poll.

Is there a divide in C-USA? And are there any teams that finished in the bottom of the league last year that can break through?

It’s a question that is sure to be addressed next week.

C-USA storylines:

Part 1 — What about realignment? 

C-USA media days storylines Part I — What is said about realignment?

One of the key milestones in the lead-up to North Texas’ season will arrive early next week when the league hosts its annual media days down in Irving.

There will be a number of topics discussed over the course of two days from the league race to new coaches to top players.

Over the next couple of days, we’ll take a look at a few of them.

Up first today, conference realignment.

The Big 12 set off a feeding frenzy when it announced it would study the possibility of adding teams.

Schools are jumping into the fray one after another.

Houston seems to be picking up momentum, thanks to the backing of several key power brokers in the region. SMU is making its case. 

But what about the teams in C-USA? None of them are making the jump to the Big 12, but there is a good chance that the American could lose teams and look to reload by raiding C-USA.

Southern Miss and Old Dominion have both been mentioned as potential candidates. We could know more about where those schools stand after media days.