Trip Kuehne, a consultant hired by North Texas to evaluate the school’s athletic program, called for UNT’s fans and boosters to unite what he termed a divided fan base on Monday night.
Kuehne and Michael Sicuro were hired by the university to examine the state of its sports program in the wake of athletic director Rick Villarreal stepping down late last month after more than 15 years on the job.
Kuehne and Sicuro met with more than 100 UNT fans and boosters at Apogee Stadium.
“The reason we put this event together is North Texas has a very passionate fan base,” Kuehne said. “Things around this institution haven’t been really great, but they haven’t been going bad. We have some phenomenal facilities, but we have a fan base that is fractured. We have a fan base, alumni base and boosters that need to be brought together. This is the first step in bringing all the boosters and fans of this fine university together.”
UNT football coach Seth Littrell and men’s basketball coach Tony Benford spoke after Kuehne made his opening comments.
Kuehne then asked that all members of the media and employees of the school’s athletic department leave before what was expected to be an open discussion of the state of UNT athletics.
Kuehne declined comment on why he and Sicuro elected to close the discussion of the state of UNT athletics to members of the media and UNT staff. Sicuro would only comment on the general purpose of the meeting.
“The purpose of this night is to engage and get feedback from the fan base of the University of North Texas,” Sicuro said.
UNT held a similar meeting for former lettermen late last week.
A few UNT fans indicated before the closed portion of the meeting that they would be able to speak more freely about the state of the department because of the closed format.
The school has struggled in the three key sports of football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball for the last several years.
UNT has posted just one winning season in the last 11 in football. The UNT women’s basketball program has suffered 10 straight losing seasons, while the UNT men’s basketball program has not posted a winning season in the last four years while posting a 1-4 record in the postseason.
UNT averaged just 13,631 fans for home games during a 1-11 season in football in 2015. That was the school’s lowest attendance average since 1998.
“I am amazed at the number of people here,” UNT fan Joe Holland said. “There is a lot on everyone’s minds. We are hungry for success. We have put everything in the right order and have everything but wins.”
Both Littrell and Benford expressed confidence in their teams’ chances to improve in their upcoming seasons before the closed portion of the event.
Littrell talked about the assets UNT has at its disposal from facilities to booster and administrative support.
“If I didn’t think this place was a gold mine, I would never have accepted the job,” said Littrell, who is entering his first season at UNT. “I didn’t want to be a head coach bad enough to just go to a place. I wanted to have everything that we need to not only be successful, but to win championships.”
Benford acknowledged that he and his staff have made some mistakes in their first four seasons at UNT, but said the program is in the best shape of tenure. UNT returns all of its key players other than Eric Katenda from last season and is hoping to improve on a 12-20 finish.
UNT has yet to post a winning season in four seasons under Benford, who is entering the final year of his contract.
“The wins are going to come,” Benford said. “They are coming this year. I understand that we have to get the job done.”
Littrell joined Kuehne in pointing to uniting UNT’s fan base as a key step in the process of helping the school’s athletic program reach its potential.
“We can make this program as big as we want to make it,” Littrell said. “It will come down to all of us together. We all have to get on the same page and pull the rope in the same direction.”
UNT’s fans who attended the event expressed hope that it would help the school reach that goal.
“I hope for some positives like increased attendance and promotion,” longtime UNT fan Jim Woolverton said. “I am encouraged that they are trying to do something like this.”
Roger Franklin, who played for the UNT basketball team from 2012-13, was at the event and also expressed hope about the potential impact it could have on the direction of the program.
“It’s good for people to voice their opinions,” Franklin said. “They are going to do it anyway on social media and other places. This way we can correct our mistakes.”