The Sunday leftovers (Kouassi visit list, DMN area top 100 in football, et cetera)

It’s Sunday night and time for the Leftovers, our weekly look back at what took place over the last few days that allows us to pick through the good stuff — and some of the bad — while hopefully putting it all in perspective.

In case you missed it, last night we pointed out that the late signing period in basketball finished up this week.

UNT is hitting the transfer market to find some help in the paint. One guy on UNT’s radar all along has been former Kennesaw State forward Willy Kouassi. Alabama Alumni has been spot on in terms of tracking the noticeably mum post player and came out with his visit list this week. Kouassi has already visited UNT, but will also visit Western Kentucky, Arkansas, Memphis and Ole Miss.

The question now is if Kouassi will head back to the SEC, where he started out at Auburn, land in Conference USA at UNT or WKU, or head elsewhere.

The competition is going to be pretty tough for his services for a year.

And in other news, our friend Corbett Smith from The Dallas Morning News put out the Area Top 100 today. There is one player on the list who is listing UNT — defensive tackle Douglas Tucker of Parish Episcopal School in Dallas.

There is a long way to go. UNT typically has the most success in the weeks before national signing day and appears to be looking past DFW more these days.

Stay tuned on that front.

And in other random Texas football related news, rapper Drake showed up at Houston over the weekend, which created a bit of a stir.

And in a side note, the late signing period is over

Benford

Benford

The NCAA’s late signing period came to a close this week. The final day was Wednesday.

I bring it up because the UNT men’s basketball team is still in the market for some help in the paint. Tony Benford said that he would like to add two additional post players before the start of next season. The Mean Green are looking for players who will be eligible next season.

Grad transfer Willy Kouassi, who started out at Auburn and then graduated from Kennesaw State, remains a prime suspect.

UNT could still get a conventional high school/junior college signee in late. Kedrick Hogans was a late addition several years ago now.

It looks more and more likely that if UNT does manage to add some help late, though, it will be in the form of a graduate transfer. It’s a common move these days for players who have already graduated from a school and transfer to another one for their final year of eligibility.

With the late period over, it just seems less likely that UNT lands a high school/junior college player before next season.

A couple of rankings of college position units that include UNT

There were a couple of items of interest when it comes the inevitable string of summer rankings of teams and position groups on those teams that came out in the last couple days.

We already knew how well UNT’s offensive line has performed under Mike Simmonds over the last several years when it comes to protecting quarterbacks.

UNT led the country with seven sacks allowed a couple of years ago and came in among the national leaders in the list above that rates offensive line coaches and how well their units have performed.

What will be interesting to see is how UNT fares without several of the key players who made that accomplishment possible, including a couple who are now with NFL teams in Cyril Lemon and Antonio Johnson. UNT also lost a four-year starter at guard in Mason Y’Barbo.

And speaking of rankings, the Morning News came out with their ranking of the top linebacker groups among Texas college football teams today. UNT checked in at No. 11.

UNT lost Derek Akunne, arguably the best player on the team, after last season.

The Mean Green have several linebackers who have at least seen the field, and in some cases contributed quite a bit. Fred Scott, Sed Ellis and Calvin Minor have all contributed. JUCO transfer Cortney Finney also looks like he will live up to high expectations, judging from what he showed in the spring.

I rated UNT’s linebackers a little higher than the rest of the guys voting this year. We will find out this fall if they are in fact a bit under rated.

Mitchell’s contract approved, here are the details

New North Texas women's basketball coach Jalie Mitchell speaks at her introductory press conference last month at at Apogee Stadium. The UNT board of regents approved Mitchell's contract on Friday.

New North Texas women’s basketball coach Jalie Mitchell speaks at her introductory press conference last month at at Apogee Stadium. The UNT board of regents approved Mitchell’s contract on Friday.

New UNT women’s basketball coach Jalie Mitchell’s contract was approved by the school’s board of regents today.

Here are the details:

– Mitchell’s contract runs through April of 2019, making it a four-year deal.

– The contract starts out with Mitchell receiving a base salary of $155,000 a year.

– Mitchell’s base salary jumps to $165,000 a year on Sept. 1, 2017, and increases to a pro-rated $175,000 a year on Sept. 1, 2018, through the end of the deal. The total base salary for the entire contract is $656,250.

– There are several other incentives written into the contract, including …

1. $600 a month car allowance

2. $15,000 a year radio stipend

3. $90 a month cell phone stipend

– The total value of the contract is just more than $750,000

– If Mitchell severs the contact at any point, she will owe UNT $100,000

Former UNT coach Mike Petersen was making just less than $200,000 in base salary.

UNT track regional qualifiers, is Houston setting an example by keeping local players?

North Texas regional track qualifiers

Mona Landry long jump/100
Jazmine Martin triple jump
Shahaf Bareni high jump
Troy Taylor 1,500
Collin Heard 200, 4×400
Connor Bey 4×400
Caleb Pryor 4×400
Jamal Marshall 4×400
Kedron Sowells 4×400 (alternate)

The UNT track team announced that it has nine athletes headed to the NCAA Outdoor West Preliminaries beginning Thursday down in Austin.

UNT has elevated its program to the point it is sending athletes to the regional meet on a regular basis these days.

Mona Landry made it in both the long jump and the 100, while Collin Heard will compete in the 200 and the 4×400 relay.

UNT fans are already well aware of how fast Jamal Marshall is. He showed that speed at linebacker last season and made the move to cornerback during spring practice. The fact Marshall made UNT’s 4×400 relay team that qualified for the regional meet is just another indication that Marshall really is that fast.

And in other news, I found this story about new Houston coach Tom Herman saying he wants to build a fence around Houston when it comes to keeping top recruits interesting.

UNT has pulled a host of top recruits out of Houston over the years. It’s not like the Cougars are going to get every last recruit out of town. UNT will still pull key players from the Houston area.

The Houston situation will be interesting to watch, though, for the simple reason that the the Cougars are in a position similar to UNT when it comes to Denton County.

If Houston can land most of the players it wants out of H-town, it’s going to win and win big. I pointed out yesterday that Houston landed five-star defensive tackle Ed Oliver. Well, today Houston added another local standout in nationally ranked guard Dixie Wooten III.

Believe me, if UNT can hang on to the best players in the Denton area, it will be in a great spot. Just look at this year’s NFL draft. Denton Ryan was one of 14 high schools nationally that produced multiple players selected in this year’s NFL draft. So who are some of the top greater Denton area players out there UNT can fence in?

Trophy Club tight end Kellen Diesch is one, as is his teammate, wide receiver/defensive end Brandon Bowen.  Flower Mound Marcus defensive end Andrew Fitzgerald is another top local prospect.

UNT has offered all three.

All three are probably out of UNT’s reach, but there is always a chance the Mean Green pull off a stunner like they did with Guyer tight end Kevin Dillman.

Stay tuned.

A couple of tidbits from college football

There were a couple of stories from the college football world today that caught my attention and might also be of interest for UNT fans.

First off, we are closing in on the point where UAB will make a decision on whether or not to reinstate its football program.

There were a couple of conflicting stories today. …

Al.com’s story covers both angles — a report that indicates a decision has been made and that UAB football is toast and another report that indicates a decision has not yet been made.

It will be an interesting story to follow that will have an impact on Conference USA and thus UNT.

If UAB does bring its football program back, it will come back with a whole lot of additional financial backing that could elevate UNT’s conference rival in the long-run. It would also keep an elite men’s basketball program in C-USA for the Mean Green to contend with.

And in other news, there was a bit of stunner in college football recruiting today.

Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver, the second-rated player in the state and the fifth-ranked defensive tackle in the country, committed to the hometown Houston Cougars.

It’s hard for a mid-major program to keep a hometown stud home, just ask UNT. The Mean Green have seen several leave town over the years, although UNT deserves a lot of credit for pulling off a bit of a stunner in keeping Guyer tight end Kevin Dillman around.

If Houston can see it through to the finish line and get Oliver to campus, he would likely become an immediate star. Oliver has offers from Alabama, Texas and LSU.

Interesting projection on C-USA, Looks like UNT has new assistant, et cetera

North Texas coach Dan McCarney and the Mean Green are hoping to bounce back from a 4-8 season this year.  (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

North Texas coach Dan McCarney and the Mean Green are hoping to bounce back from a 4-8 season this year. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

We are into that time of the summer when the projections for the upcoming football season start to roll out.

I bring it up because Billy Connelly of SB Nation came out with his advanced stats projection that weighs a program’s five-year history (if you were good before, chances are you will be again), returning starters and recruiting history.

Connelly has the same philosophy as I do. Highly rated and highly recruited players tend to be better than players who weren’t highly rated.

There are exceptions to the rule, but we are talking the big picture. I will bet on 20 five- and four-star guys to have a greater overall impact as a group than 20 two-star and unrated players.

Here’s Connelly’s ranking for Conference USA:

(National rank) Team Projected change
41. Marshall Down 20
50. Louisiana Tech Down 16
61. Western Kentucky Down 10
87. Middle Tennessee Staying at 87
88. Rice Down 12
99. UTEP Down 11
101. Florida Atlantic Down 4
107. Florida International Up 4
108. Southern Miss Down 5
110. Old Dominion Down 8
120. Charlotte Staying at 120
121. UTSA Down 11
125. North Texas Up 1

What really sinks UNT in this particular projection is having just one winning season in its last five, the loss of several starters and recruiting classes over the last few years that haven’t been particularly highly ranked.

I have a very hard time believing that UNT is one of the worst teams in the country. The Mean Green were regulars on ESPN’s Bottom 10 under Todd Dodge, but has improved dramatically since then under Dan McCarney.

Those projections will be a talking point, though.

I also had a feature story in today’s paper on Craig Robertson, a former UNT standout who has enjoyed a big season on the field with the Cleveland Browns and also hit some milestones off of it. He was named the Brown’s Man of the Year, married his UNT sweetheart and had a little girl.

Robertson was a great player for UNT in a dark era in program history.

It’s nice to see him doing well in the NFL.

And finally, it sounds like Jalie Mitchell has hired her final assistant coach. I mentioned in my Gainesville Caravan notes that Mitchell said that she was going to hire an additional coach to go along with Kasondra Foreman and Bobby Brasel.

Mitchell announced at today’s stop that she has hired Aisha Stewart, who was at Arkansas State for a year. I didn’t go to that particular stop. Hat tip to our friend Harry Miers who did and posted a note about it on GoMeanGreen.

I could be wrong about this, but I was at the neighborhood gym on the south end of town last night and thought, “Hey, that’s odd. There’s a woman here in an Arkansas State T-shirt.” The wife was rushing me out, so I didn’t get a chance to say hello. Now that I look at Stewart’s bio, I’m wondering if it might have been her.

The hire makes a lot of sense, when one looks closer at it. Stewart was a longtime assistant at South Alabama, where she worked with Brasel, before spending a year at Arkansas State.

Stewart replaces Tron Griffin, who was hired just a few weeks ago and is no longer on staff, from what I can tell.

Wednesday night notes (DaMarcus Smith says thanks, et cetera)

There were a couple of interesting tidbits to come down on the UNT front today. Here’s a quick rundown.

Quarterback DaMarcus Smith made a good move, thanking his coaches, teammates and Mean Green fans for their support over the last few months while he worked to become academically eligible in a note he posted on his Twitter account.

Smith will get a long look in the fall, when he will look to beat out Andrew McNulty.

There are a host of UNT fans that are hoping the Butler County College transfer will be the missing element that will send the Mean Green over the top.

I just wouldn’t count out McNulty. Experience carries a lot of weight with head coach Dan McCarney, who is on record saying that McNulty is way ahead in the race for the starting job heading into the fall.

And in other news, the Morning News continued its position rankings for Texas college teams. UNT’s defensive line checked in at No. 8 in the state. UNT has some key players back in a year the other mid-major programs lose a ton.

On the NFL front, former UNT offensive lineman Antonio Johnson was signed by the New Orleans Saints after one of their mini camps. Turns out Johnson originally went to a mini camp with the Jets, went unsigned, landed with the Saints and was signed.

That move reunites Johnson with former UNT teammate Cyril Lemon.

Evan Woodbery of the New Orleans Times-Picayune goes through how it all went down, which is where I picked up the information. Hat-tip to Evan.

Which comes first, the chicken (attendance) or the egg (winning)?

McCarney

McCarney

What was said last night during UNT’s first stop in its coaches caravan brought up an age old question when it comes to athletics.

What comes first, the chicken (attendance) or the egg (winning).

It’s not the first time the subject has come up in conversations I’ve had around UNT over the last several months.

And since attendance and season ticket sales are the subject du jour …

There are two sides to the argument.

What I often hear from UNT officials and coaches is that there ought to be a sense of loyalty among the school’s graduates and fans that leads them to show up in droves no matter what.

Dan McCarney has famously made that argument over the last couple of years and did again last night.

“We have to expand,” McCarney said. “We can’t stay where we are at. The fans we have are phenomenal. It has to grow if we want to compete for championships in every sport.”

McCarney isn’t the only one who has made that argument. I have heard that same sentiments on the basketball front dating back to the early Johnny Jones years, before UNT really got it rolling there for about six years.

McCarney makes a great point. It’s a whole lot easier to win and build a program when there is support behind a program. And there are more reasons now than ever to support UNT’s efforts. Apogee Stadium is a terrific place to watch a game and UNT is in Conference USA, which means better conference opponents and several Texas rivals are on the schedule regularly. There is a continuing series with SMU in place.

UNT has “laundry fans” who are going to answer McCarney’s appeals and those of the rest of UNT’s coaches no matter what. The term isn’t one a lot of people are familiar with in comparison to the old T-shirt fan description of fans who have no real connection to a school other than the T-shirt they bought when they started rooting for a team.

The best reference to the laundry fan on the opposite end of the spectrum is from an old Jerry Seinfield stand-up routine about American sports fans:

I talked to one of the biggest laundry fans who ever pulled on a UNT T-shirt last night. He readily said that it’s all about UNT to him, not people. Winning and losing doesn’t impact his feelings or his level of support. Neither does who is actually wearing the laundry.

There just are not 50,000 people like him out there.

That’s the challenge for UNT. It has to widen its appeal beyond the small group of laundry fans, who are going to be there win or lose.

It’s not going to be easy. College football attendance is falling. Last season was the worst for college football in general since 2003.

UNT is going to have to broaden its reach to draw in new fans. Apogee Stadium has helped in that regard. Winning will help more than anything else.

UNT also has to reach out to new fans.

The coaches caravan is a good way to go, even though a few people have questioned how effective impassioned speeches about attendance is when most of the audience consists of the core fans who already are showing up and giving to the program. I get that.

The challenge is to reach new fans and bring in more loyal customers. UNT has done a pretty good job of it, judging by the gradual climb in attendance over the last decade.

UNT is making progress.

There are new fans coming on or giving more.

UNT is just hoping for more of them to come on and help the Mean Green with winning — the other half of the equation.

Gainesville caravan stop notes

UNT head football coach Dan McCarney (right) speaks at the UNT Coaches Caravan at the First State Bank in Gainesville on Tuesday. Also pictured as men's basketball coach Tony Benford, women's basketball coach Jalie Mitchell and moderator Dave Barnett (right) look on. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Al Key)

UNT head football coach Dan McCarney (right) speaks at the UNT Coaches Caravan at the First State Bank in Gainesville on Tuesday. Also pictured as men’s basketball coach Tony Benford, women’s basketball coach Jalie Mitchell and moderator Dave Barnett (right) look on. (Denton Record-Chronicle/Al Key)

The first stop of the UNT coaches’ caravan took place tonight in Gainesville.

The big message?

Show up.

Show up to the SMU game down in Dallas to kick off the football season Sept. 12 and to the rest of of the games this year and then show up to the games Jalie Mitchell coaches in her first season as the head coach of the UNT women’s basketball team. And while you’re at it, show up to the men’s basketball team’s games as well.

UNT football coach Dan McCarney talked about how difficult it is to recruit players to play in a half empty stadium and also talked about how he brings football recruits to basketball games. He wants to see fans in the stands at those games as well.

Most of all, UNT officials want Mean Green fans to show up when the Mean Green face SMU. UNT is hoping for 15,000 to answer the call and make the season-opener feel like a home game for the Mean Green.

I go into what UNT’s coaches had to say on the subject more in the paper tomorrow.

UNT’s caravan events are part of the plan to increase attendance. UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal talked a little about how they fit into the plan after the event that was Dave Barnett’s first official function as the voice of the Mean Green/moderator.

“Some people who are not familiar with our program get to hear from our coaches,” Villarreal said of the reason for having the series of gatherings. “A lot of people are not aware of the changes that have gone on with new facilities and what is happening on campus. We work in a market that is so big it is hard to get the word out through regular media sources. To be out here in person is meaningful.”

UNT’s coaches also offered up a host of noteworthy tidbits, including …

– UNT’s golf practice facility that we wrote about several months ago is expected to be approved by the board of regents soon.

– UNT is hosting the Conference USA softball tournament next year.

– McCarney said that the SMU game will be a lot tougher than people are anticipating after UNT drubbed the Mustangs 43-6 last season.

– McCarney talked about how he saw a different Andrew McNulty in the spring than what he has seen before. He compared McNulty to Derek Thompson heading into his senior year.

– McCarney said that while McNulty is UNT’s starter heading into the fall, highly regarded JUCO recruit DaMarcus Smith will get meaningful opportunities to compete for the job.

– Summer workouts will start June 8.

– All of UNT’s scholarship players are in a good spot academically, and that includes the incoming signees.

– There were 40 members of the football team that finished with a 3.0 GPA or higher this spring. Wide receiver Daniel Khan, fullback Jared Lynn, linebacker Blake Bean and backup quarterback Quinn Shanbour all posted 4.0s.

– Mitchell is closing in on naming her third assistant coach. Bobby Brasel has already come on as associate head coach, while Kasondra Foreman is also in place as an assistant.

– Tony Benford said the UNT men’s basketball team is built to make a run at the C-USA title, which would be a huge jump from 14-17, including a 8-10 mark in conference play that left UNT in seventh place at the end of the year.

– Benford’s team did have the second longest conference winning streak last season in C-USA play at five games.

– Benford believes incoming high school recruit Rickey Brice, a center out of Arlington Pantego Christian, will have an impact similar Jeremy Combs last season. Combs was one of the top freshmen in the league last season. Brice will arrive at UNT over the summer.

– Benford said UNT will sign two additional post players before next season. He didn’t leave any doubt about it. UNT has eight scholarship players returning and four incoming recruits. That’s 12 players. The NCAA scholarship limit is 13.

– Benford said he will have a new director of basketball operations in place to replace Jeff Luster within the next few days. Benford said he and Luster mutually agreed to part ways.