North Texas fired men’s basketball coach Tony Benford at the end of his fifth season on Sunday night.
The Mean Green finished last in Conference USA this season at 2-16 and never finished over .500 overall in five seasons under Benford.
One question several UNT fans posed is why Baker waited until the end of the season to fire Benford instead of making the change in the middle of the year.
Baker addressed that question in an interview this week and cited three key factors — taking time to conduct a complete evaluation of the program, putting the team in the best position to win this season and build a winner going forward after changing coaches.
“For me it’s important to look at the body of work,” Baker said. “I understand coach has been here five years, but I have only been here since August. I had never met him before July. It takes a while to get to know a staff and measure all the metrics, not just wins and losses. How are the players doing academically and socially? You also have to evaluate the program’s infrastructure. Was it just the coach? Did you provide him the tools to win? You are evaluating all that. I understand that there is one metric that stands above others with fans. I don’t get to be emotional with every win and loss. I have to be practical and strategic. You have to make sure that you are treating the issue and not just the symptom.”
Baker said he he has been a part of about parting ways with about 12 coaches during his career. He has also studied how other programs have handled coaching changes.
That experience helped guide him during the process of electing to fire Benford.
“Generally speaking, mid-season coaching changes – other than making some fans happy – do more harm than good,” Baker said. “Less than five percent of coaching changes are made mid-season. It’s more destructive the constructive. It rarely greatly changes the trajectory of a season.”
Baker’s concern as he handled the process was putting UNT in the best position to turn the program around under a new coach. Baker believed the best course of action was to keep Benford and his staff in place through the end of the season.
“If you talk to coaches who have taken over after mid-season coaching changes, it’s tougher,” Baker said. “Kids don’t respond to interim coaches like they would head coaches. Generally speaking that is the players’ worst academic semester. They are less focused in the weight room and in life. There are going to be more issues with behavior. For all of those reasons, I felt it wasn’t the right thing to do.”
Baker was fully aware that a few UNT fans and boosters wanted to see him make a mid-season coaching change. He stuck to his timeline and his plan to completely evaluate the program anyway.
“This is a job where you are trying to please a lot of people, but I wasn’t raised to try to try to please people,” Baker said. “I felt like the right thing for our kids and program going forward was to do what I said I would do and that was to evaluate at the end of the year.
“People can disagree with that and I can respect a difference of opinion,” Baker said. “I am friends with people who have different opinions on politics, religion and what is the best restaurant in town. I felt like it was the right thing to do and at no point did I feel like the safety of our student athletes was in jeopardy.”