Remembering a UNT great in Fred McCain

I spent most of yesterday talking to people about Fred McCain, who I knew was a former UNT athletic director when I set out to write a story on his contributions to the school’s athletic program yesterday.

The more people I talked to, the more I realized he was so much more than just a guy who ran the athletic department for a few years in the 1980s.

McCain’s life was like a thread that ran through the fabric of the story of the Mean Green for 50 years. It touched just about everything when it came to UNT athletics — and often held the whole product together.

“He was a North Texas guy all the way,” Ken Bahnsen told me yesterday.

Ken Bahnsen, a former UNT player and coach, is a lot like McCain in that he pretty much dedicated his life to the UNT athletic department.

To hear Bahnsen say that pretty much says it all.

Former UNT basketball coach Jimmy Gales called him a mainstay of the athletic program for years.

Leon King credited McCain for helping him and Abner Haynes break the color barrier at UNT in the 1950s.

That would have been enough to make McCain a significant figure in UNT history.

Bahnsen also credited McCain for doing most of the recruiting work while he and the other assistant coaches served as head coaches in sports like tennis in the 1950s and 1960s. That was when Joe Greene, Steve Ramsey, John Love and a host of other UNT greats arrived on campus.

A lot of people thought McCain should have been named UNT’s head coach when Odus Mitchell retired. UNT went with Rod Rust instead. McCain stayed on as an assistant football coach for a few more years and then ran the UNT Coliseum for nearly a decade.

When UNT needed a new athletic director in the 1980s, it called on McCain. A few people credited McCain for saving UNT athletics during that time by getting the department out of debt. Gales credited him with laying the foundation for UNT’s run to the NCAA tournament just after he retired.

And that does not even take into account McCain’s playing career. He was UNT’s quarterback back in the 1940s, when the Mean Green went to the Optimist Bowl and the Salad Bowl in back-to-back years beginning in 1946.

One could make a case that McCain was a Hall of Fame worthy as a player, a coach and an administrator.

There are not a lot of people who contribute to an athletic program to that degree in all three capacities.

“If things were running smoothly at North Texas, there is no doubt that Fred was behind it,” Joe Oliver, a former UNT player, said yesterday.

Oliver was just one of the former UNT players and administrators who echoed those sentiments about McCain, who was a mainstay of the program for years.

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