We’ve moved to a new site

We are still working out the kinks, but Denton Record-Chronicle is moving all of its UNT coverage from the paper and from the Mean Green blog to a new website:

http://beta.dentonrc.com/sports/mean-green

We should have it all worked out in the next day or two.

The beta tag on the front of the URL will eventually go away.

Here is my take on UNT hiring Grant McCasland as its new men’s basketball coach. The move shows a big commitment to hoops at what has always been a football-first school:

http://beta.dentonrc.com/sports/mean-green/2017/03/14/commentary-commitment-basketball-big-news-day

This is the lead story from the paper:

http://beta.dentonrc.com/sports/mean-green-1/2017/03/14/new-unt-coach-confident-future-due-commitment-program

And the accompanying notebook:

http://beta.dentonrc.com/sports/mean-green-1/2017/03/14/notebook-mccasland-plans-talk-star-forward-combs-soon-plans

Quick Grant McCasland notes

McCasland

McCasland

North Texas held a town hall forum today with new men’s basketball coach Grant McCasland. I sat down with McCasland for a few minutes following the event and also talked to a few other UNT officials.

Here are the quick news highlights:

– Our report from last night about what McCasland will make at UNT was correct. McCasland will make about $600,000 a year with a base salary of $500,000. Tony Benford was making a base of $400,000 and had incentives in his deal that pushed his total compensation toward $450,000.

– McCasland plans to sit down and talk with senior forward Jeremy Combs about his plans for his senior season. Combs endured an injury-plagued junior year and left open the possibility of transferring to another school for his final year of eligibility. Combs was not at today’s press conference.

– McCasland plans to bring his assistant coaches from Arkansas State to UNT, if they are still available. Associate head coach Ross Hodge could be in the mix to take over the program at Austin Peay, according to people covering that search.  ASU could also consider Hodge to take over for McCasland.

– UNT is going to upgrade the Super Pit from a cosmetic standpoint and renovate it so that it will adhere to ADA standards in addition to revamping the locker rooms. UNT athletic director Wren Baker said UNT will assess the possibility of building a new basketball venue on campus to replace the Super Pit.

– UNT is committed to playing Arkansas State $500,000 to buyout McCasland’s contract. Baker said UNT will protect itself going forward with its contract with McCasland. There will likely be a large buyout in the new deal.

 

McCasland contract details

McCasland

McCasland

North Texas has agreed to a five-year contract with new men’s basketball coach Grant McCasland with a yearly base salary of $600,000.

A total of $2.5 million in the contract is guaranteed

UNT will also pay Arkansas State a buyout of $500,000.

UNT announced it had hired McCasland on Monday.

UNT has yet to release the details of the contract, but a source confirmed the contents of the deal to the Jonesboro Sun. The paper published a report on what UNT offered McCasland to lure him to Denton tonight.

UNT paid former coach Tony Benford $400,000 per year.

The contract represents an unprecedented investment in the program for UNT. The school also has plans in place to renovate the men’s locker rooms in the Super Pit this summer.

“The biggest cost is not having a winning program,” UNT athletic director Wren Baker said on Monday after hiring McCasland.

Arkansas State AD: UNT has made “huge commitment”

Mohajir

Mohajir

Arkansas State athletic director Terry Mohajir held a press conference today in the wake of Grant McCasland leaving the school to take over as the head men’s basketball coach at North Texas.

Mohajir pulled back the curtain a little on how UNT landed McCasland and how big of a financial commitment the school is making in the process.

While Mohajir didn’t directly say what UNT is paying McCasland, he did said the Red Wolves’ former coach will be the second-highest paid coach in Conference USA.

Tony Benford made $400,000 in his final season at UNT this year. Mohajir  said ASU offered McCasland a five-year contract at $400,000 per year a few days ago.

“I am surprised about the money,” Mohajir said. “They have made a huge commitment.”

That commitment will include a significant buyout payment. McCasland has a $500,000 buyout in his contract that drops to $300,000 after his first year is up. He signed his original deal at Arkansas State on April 2 of last year.

Mohajir said UNT has 20 days to cover that buyout payment.

Mohajir said family issues played a key role in McCasland’s decision to leave the school for UNT.

“Purely family,” Mohajir said. “I am going to be candid with you. He said this is a better job, a top three job in the Sun Belt. He has family in Texas. His dad had a stroke a couple of years ago. He wants to be there to support his family.

“He has said multiple times that it wasn’t for the money, although it is significantly more.”

Mohajir said Baker called him on Friday to ask to talk with McCasland.

The process moved quickly from that point. Mohajir said that McCasland’s agent is close friends with UNT athletic director Wren Baker.

“I found out this last Friday that he as in serious discussions with another institution,” Mohajir said. “I found out this morning that he had an official offer and accepted it.”

 

 

 

 

Mohajir also mentioned that UNT athletic director Wren Baker is close fr

 

 

Breaking — UNT has hired Grant McCasland as it new basketball coach

North Texas hired Arkansas State coach Grant McCasland as its new men's basketball coach on Monday. (Arkansas State sports information)

North Texas hired Arkansas State coach Grant McCasland as its new men’s basketball coach on Monday. (Arkansas State sports information)

Wren Baker vowed just a few days ago to find a proven head coach to take over the North Texas men’s basketball program.

UNT’s athletic director came through on that promise Monday, when the school announced Grant McCasland was hired to replace Tony Benford.

The Denton Record-Chronicle reported early Monday afternoon that UNT was close to finalizing a deal to hire Arkansas State’s head coach to take over its program.

UNT announced McCasland had been hired a short time later.

McCasland spent only one season at ASU. He was previously the head coach at Midwestern State and Midland College before a five-year stint as an assistant at Baylor.

“I have watched Grant from afar for a long time,” Baker said. “I told [Arkansas State athletic director ] Terry Mohajir that he hit a home run by hiring Grant and that he beat me to the punch. I am excited about what he will bring to the program.”

McCasland, 40, grew up in Irving and played at Baylor before going into coaching.

McCasland will replace Benford, who was fired at the end of his fifth season with the Mean Green. McCasland credited Baker and UNT President Neal Smatresk for playing key roles in convincing him to take over the school’s program, in a prepared statement announcing his arrival. McCasland vowed to revive a once-proud program in that same statement.

“We are going to strive daily for excellence in every aspect of our program, do things the right way and establish a winning culture that values relationships,” McCasland said.

McCasland has a $500,000 buyout in his Arkansas State contract. That buyout to be paid by UNT will drop to $300,000 in the second year of the deal. McCasland signed his original contract with ASU on April 2.

“If you want a sitting [NCAA] Division I coach, there is going to be a buyout,” Baker said. “We are prepared to do what we need to do there. The biggest cost is not having a winning program.”

UNT officials are confident McCasland will quickly get the Mean Green back on track.

In McCasland’s lone season at Arkansas State, he led the Red Wolves to a 20-12 finish. He has a track record of success and a long coaching history in Texas that extends back before his short stint in Jonesboro, Arkansas.

McCasland started his career as the director of operations at Texas Tech in 1999 before his stints at Midland and Midwestern. He also served as the head coach at Abilene Christian for two months before joining the staff at Baylor.

McCasland led Midland to the NJCAA national title in the 2006-07 season and guided the Chaparrals back to the finals in 2008-09. He later took Midwestern State to the Division II Elite Eight in consecutive seasons beginning in 2009-10. He has a 219-56 career record.

McCasland will take over a program that has fallen on hard times. UNT had won at least 18 games in six straight seasons beginning in 2006-07 and made two NCAA tournaments in that span under Johnny Jones, who left for LSU after the 2011-12 season.

Benford took over following Jones’ departure. UNT went .500 or worse in five straight seasons and finished 8-22 this year under the former Marquette assistant. UNT was one of just two teams in Conference USA to fail to advance to the league’s postseason tournament after finishing last in the conference standings at 2-16.

UNT will have several key players returning for McCasland, including sophomore guards A.J. Lawson and Ryan Woolridge. Lawson led UNT with an average of 11.4 points per game this season, while Woolridge averaged 9.6.

Jeremy Combs endured an injury-plagued junior season and said late in the year he would not consider his future until after the season. The junior forward averaged 10.2 points in 14 games before Benford shut him down for the year due to an ankle injury. Combs was a preseason All-Conference USA selection.

McCasland will now have the opportunity to convince Combs to return to UNT for his senior season and help rebuild the program.

“I am excited about what he will bring to the program,” Baker said of McCasland. “He knows the state and the area.”

UNT closing in on naming new coach

North Texas expects to finalize its search for a new men's basketball coach within the next week and could have a coach in place within the next two or three days. (DRC file photo)

North Texas expects to finalize its search for a new men’s basketball coach within the next week and could have a coach in place within the next two or three days. (DRC file photo)

North Texas is close to hiring a new head coach for its men’s basketball program, a source with knowledge of the situation confirmed to the Denton Record-Chronicle late Sunday.

The source detailed where the school is in its search process.

UNT has narrowed its field of candidates to two or three coaches, including one who has emerged as the top option.

The school is expected to have its new coach in place by the end of the week and could have a decision finalized within the next two or three days.

UNT fired Tony Benford at the end of his fifth season this spring and has been looking for his replacement for the last few days.

UNT athletic director Wren Baker, a former college basketball coach with an extensive background in the game, said shortly after firing Benford that he is targeting current Division I head coaches. 

UNT’s search has progressed quickly since. ESPN analyst and longtime college head coach Fran Fraschilla said the job is attractive due to UNT’s location and administrative support. Baker has made getting UNT’s basketball program back on track a priority and has plans in place to renovate the locker rooms in the Super Pit this summer.

Fraschilla’s name came up in connection with the UNT job after Johnny Jones left for LSU in 2012. UNT hired Benford instead.

Fraschilla said he is not interested in the job this time and will continue in his role as a broadcaster.

The NCAA tournament bracket as well as the NIT bracket came out on Sunday evening. The NIT begins on Tuesday, while the NCAA tournament starts on Thursday. Those event could keep several current Division I coaches occupied for the next several days.

UTA coach Scott Cross, Texas State coach/UNT alum Danny Kaspar and Arkansas State coach Grant McCasland are among coaches in the region who fit the profile of the type of coach UNT is seeking and could pursue.

The coach UNT hires will take over a program that failed to finish over .500 in any of its five seasons under Benford. The Mean Green finished last in Conference USA this season with a 2-16 mark in league play. The Mean Green were 8-22 overall.

UNT strung together six straight seasons with at least 18 wins and played in two NCAA tournaments during one of the best runs of success in program history before Benford’s arrival.

Baker took over as UNT’s athletic director in the fall of 2016 and is preparing to make his first major coaching hire.

Saturday night notes — Report: ASN on way out, LA Tech snags 2 with UNT offers

American Sports Network, one of the outlets that broadcasts, Conference USA games will cease operations at the end of the month, according to a report released today.  (DRC file photo)

American Sports Network, one of the outlets that broadcasts, Conference USA games will cease operations at the end of the month, according to a report released today. (DRC file photo)

It’s Saturday night and time for a quick lap around the bases when it comes to North Texas athletics and news items that could affect the program.

– First off, a report came out tonight that American Sports Network will cease operations at the end of the month. ASN is one of the networks that broadcasts Conference USA games.

– This is also the time of year that schools have their junior days that result in recruiting runs. UNT has its event coming up in a few weeks. UNT has a lot to sell after stunning the college football world while making a bowl. It will pay off and already has with UNT picking up a commitment from Ryan defensive tackle Dayton LeBlanc.

I bring it up because Louisiana Tech, one of UNT’s key rivals in Conference USA, picked up three players today, including two from West Mesquite who have offers from UNT. Dayven Coleman, a highly regarded three-star safety, and D.J. Jackson, a defensive end, both committed to the Bulldogs.

There is often a feeling among UNT fans that the school should never lose a battle to Louisiana Tech for DFW players. It doesn’t work that way. Both schools have something to sell. Louisiana Tech has won bowl games in the last three years, and two of them were played in Dallas-Fort Worth. The Bulldogs beat Navy in the Armed Forces Bowl this past season.

– The C-USA basketball tournament wrapped up today. It played out just like it was supposed to with the Middle Tennessee men and the Western Kentucky women taking the tournament titles. The Blue Raider men are 30-4 and could be in line for a favorable seed in the NCAA tournament. Kermit Davis really has it rolling in Murfreesboro.

– And finally, the UNT softball team won the first two games of a three-game series with UTEP today.

Fran Fraschilla: UNT job is a great one

Fran Fraschilla, left, laughs as he moderates a discussion with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski during  an SMU athletic forum at the Hilton Anatole hotel in Dallas in 2011. Fraschilla said Monday that North Texas has everything in place to attract a top coach to replace Tony Benford and guide its men’s basketball program. (File photo/The Dallas Morning News)

Fran Fraschilla, left, laughs as he moderates a discussion with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski during an SMU athletic forum at the Hilton Anatole hotel in Dallas in 2011. Fraschilla said Monday that North Texas has everything in place to attract a top coach to replace Tony Benford and guide its men’s basketball program. (File photo/The Dallas Morning News)

Baker

Baker

New North Texas athletic director Wren Baker vowed earlier this week to find a proven coach to take over the school’s once-proud men’s basketball program.

The goal is one ESPN analyst and former college coach Fran Fraschilla believes Baker can reach due to the program’s assets, including its location, the leadership now in place and the program’s history of success.

Baker is a former college basketball coach who had oversight of the programs at Missouri and Memphis earlier in his career as a college administrator. He took over as UNT’s athletic director last fall.

“I think Wren can get a head coach,” Fraschilla said. “There are some young head coaches out there who are proving that they can be successful and turn a program like North Texas around who will be interested. What North Texas has besides an athletic director with vision is a location in a recruiting hot bed.”

Fraschilla’s name came up in connection with the UNT job in 2012 after Johnny Jones left for LSU.

Fraschilla said he has no interest in getting back into coaching now. He served as the head coach at Manhattan, St. John’s and New Mexico before going into broadcasting.

While he is not interested in the position, Fraschilla expects UNT to field calls from coaches across the country.

“North Texas won before when Johnny Jones was there,” Fraschilla said. “Someone can use that program as a stepping stone like he did.”

UNT strung together six straight seasons with at least 18 wins and played in two NCAA tournaments in that span beginning in 2006-07 under Jones.

The program quickly fell apart under Tony Benford, who didn’t post a winning season in five years after replacing Jones. UNT finished last in Conference USA this season with a 2-16 record in league play and was just 8-22 overall.

Jacksonville State coach Ray Harper, UTA coach Scott Cross and Arkansas State coach Grant McCasland, a former Baylor assistant who grew up in Irving, are among the head coaches who could be of interest to UNT as it looks to rebuild.

UNT has hired the search firm Eastman & Beaudine to assist with its search. The firm helped Wichita State hire Gregg Marshall and Baylor hire Scott Drew. Both are considered among the elite coaches in college basketball.

“They can look at young head coaches who see North Texas as a sleeping giant,” Franchilla said. “If they can’t convince a young head coach to take the job, there will be good assistants at SEC- and Big 12-type programs who will be interested.”

Notes from Friday’s scrimmage/practice

North Texas defensive lineman Julius Combes goes through drills on Friday.

North Texas defensive lineman Julius Combes goes through drills on Friday before the Mean Green’s scrimmage at the Darrell R. Dickey Football Practice Facility.

North Texas held its first scrimmage of spring practice this morning at the Darrell R. Dickey Football Practice Facility, where the Mean Green’s offense held the edge early before their defense responded late.

Tight end Kelvin Smith made a great touchdown grab over the middle for a 20-yard strike from backup quarterback Quinn Shanbour. Jalen Guyton later broke free for an 80-yard touchdown on a pass from Mitch Cason.

UNT’s first-team offense also moved the ball effectively at times early behind starter Mason Fine. The sophomore hit Rico Bussey Jr. for passes of about 40 and 20 yards. He later found Kelvin Smith for a 20-yard completion.

The Mean Green’s defense bounced back late when linebacker E.J. Ejiya intercepted a tipped pass from Shanbour. Cornerback Nate Brooks capped the scrimmage by picking off a pass from Fine.

North Texas' defensive linemen go through drills on Friday.

North Texas’ defensive linemen go through drills on Friday.

A couple of impressions from the proceedings …

– UNT’s quarterback pecking order looks pretty set. Fine continues to play well while facing UNT’s first-team defense. He is healthy, knows the system and isn’t going anywhere.

Shanbour is also playing well this spring. Seth Littrell mentioned it last week. Devlin Isadore isn’t participating in scrimmages, which pretty much ends his chances and Cade Pearson isn’t ready. Spring practice is actually a pretty short affair. UNT now has six of its 15 practices in the books. There isn’t a lot of time left for major changes.

Baring something unforeseen, look for the pecking order to be 1. Fine, 2. Shanbour heading into fall drills.

Shanbour tends to pull the ball down and run with it in scrimmages, which makes him look a little more effective than I think he would be in a live game. He’d get lit up like a Christmas tree if he pulled that maneuver without a red (no contact) jersey on against a Louisiana Tech, an SMU or anyone else, for that matter.

– It looks like the H-back/tight end is going to be a key element in UNT’s offense.

Littrell mentioned heading into spring that UNT would use Smith and its other big tight end types like Caleb Chumley in a variety of ways. The Mean Green showed that look quite a bit in the scrimmage, when UNT lined up with an H-back at times and with a big receiver in the slot at others.

North Texas offensive linemen Creighton Barr (right) and Wylie Reinhardt go through drills before a scrimmage on Friday.

North Texas offensive linemen Creighton Barr (right) and Wylie Reinhardt go through drills before a scrimmage on Friday.

And in other news and observations …

– There were a few high school players and coaches at practice today, including Bee Jay Williamson from Mesquite Horn. UNT has also offered his teammate, wide receiver Maureese Wren. Denton High coach Kevin Atkinson was also in today.

– UNT has a former NFL player working on its strength and conditioning staff. Ty Powell played at Harding, was drafted by the Seahawks and played a few seasons in the NFL. He is looking to get back into the game on the coaching side and is getting a start at UNT.

– Former UNT players Jareid Combs and Chad Davis were at practice today. Both are getting ready for UNT’s pro day on March 29.

– Tyler Wilson, Rico Bussey Jr. and Turner Smiley are rounding into a nice group of wide receivers. Throw in the tight end types UNT is working with, including Smith, and UNT will have a good group.

– Linebacker Brandon Garner made back-to-back nice plays, tackling Christian Hosley for a 5-yard loss and then breaking up a pass intended for Chumley in the end zone.

– Linebacker Calvin Minor had a nice day while working with UNT’s backups.

Key questions of the offseason Part IV — Do the coaching changes hurt?

North Texas coach Seth Littrell will have a largely revamped staff heading into his second season with the Mean Green. (DRC file photo)

North Texas coach Seth Littrell will have a largely revamped staff heading into his second season with the Mean Green. (DRC file photo)

There are a host of new faces at North Texas this spring when it comes to the Mean Green’s coaching staff.

UNT was raided by a host of Power Five conference schools after playing in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.

Defensive coordinator Mike Ekeler left for North Carolina, offensive line coach Brad Davis made the jump to Florida and defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc landed at Kentucky. Special teams coordinator Tommy Perry also left the staff after the season.

UNT head coach Seth Littrell reloaded with another batch of quality assistants. Former Notre Dame analyst Marty Biagi (special teams), former Cincinnati assistant Jeff Koonz (linebackers), former Lamar offensive coordinator Chuck Langston (offensive line) and former East Carolina assistant Marc Yellock (defensive line) all joined the staff.

UNT added some quality coaches. There is no question about it, but what one has to wonder is if that much change in a single offseason will result in some growing pains for the Mean Green.

UNT’s coaches and players felt good about where they stood heading into spring drills.

“I feel great about it,” Littrel said. “We are going to hire great coaches. We want to keep our coaches and make sure we have great chemistry and carry over, but at the same time guys get the opportunity to move their careers forward.”

One factor that has helped UNT with the transition to having so many new assistants is that the Mean Green kept their coordinators. Graham Harrell is back as UNT’s offensive coordinator. UNT lost Ekeler, but did hang on to Troy Reffett.

Reffett was UNT’s co-defensive coordinator last season and shared the responsibility of running the Mean Green’s defense with Ekeler.

The Mean Green’s scheme was largely Reffett’s. UNT won’t undergo any dramatic changes. The situation is one we went over in the paper today.

The question is if the Mean Green will have the same chemistry they enjoyed last year when the season begins in the fall.,

Here is our list so far:

1. How does the QB race play out?

2. Can UNT reload at the skill positions?

3. Can UNT fill the voids up front defensively?