Saturday afternoon recruiting football recruiting tidbits

It’s been a pretty eventful weekend across Texas in terms of recruiting news.

It sounded like UNT was going to land a commitment from an offensive lineman last night. That story fell through, but there are a couple of other items of note I wanted to get to.

First off, late 2016 target Raveon Hoston is going to announce his decision on June 1 at a signing ceremony at Los Angeles Valley.

UNT already has a commitment from LA Valley running back Anthony Wyche.

Could UNT get the package deal?

That’s the plan, but Nebraska has come into the picture late for Hoston. Like a lot of other prospects in similar situations, it comes down to this for Hoston — take a near guaranteed prominent role at UNT or roll the dice and see if he can carve out a role with a national power.

UNT has not had a whole lot of luck in those situations historically.

Another player to keep an eye on is quarterback Will McBride. The Clear Springs product is a good prospect with a half a dozen offers who committed to SMU a while back.

SMU has since landed a higher rated player in Lake Travis quarterback Charlie Brewer.

UNT smartly came in and offered McBride. There are a number of schools who could try to take McBride out heading to SMU with Brewer headed to Dallas.

Friday evening notes (Littrell’s first pitch at Rangers game, recruiting tidbits)

Tonight is North Texas Night at the Rangers game.

UNT has had a number of different coaches and players throw out the first pitch over the years. New UNT football coach Seth Littrell took his turn this time around.

Evan Nemec posted the video of the pitch at the top of this post. Nemec worked in radio and television as a student at UNT and is now an intern at CBS 11.

Littrell will probably take some grief for bouncing it. Just remember, that’s a tough spot to be in. You take a coach/player out of his element/sport, stand him up there in front of thousands of people and a television audience and ask him to throw a strike, something he hasn’t done in years.

To his credit, Littrell was a good sport about the whole deal.

And in other news, I spent time today on a wild goose chase for what sounded like it would be UNT’s next football commitment.

I didn’t find the goose, but as is the case with a lot of these deals, I did run across a few ducks along the way.

Josh Donovan, a highly regarded center/guard prospect from College Station will visit UNT on Monday. UNT will have a chance to make a good impression on the three-star prospect, who said how the visit goes will impact his decision.

Seth Scott, a guard from Dallas Skyline, was another suspect. He said he hasn’t committed, but that UNT is his top choice. E.J. Holland, who has been around in Texas recruiting circles for a long time, recently predicted Scott would end up signing with UNT on 247 Sports crystal ball. I totally agree.

Segun Ijiyera was suspect No. 3. I chatted with him at Lake Dallas’ spring game a few days ago. He’s another guy I think could be headed to UNT. He has not yet committed to a school. I will have a story on him in the next few days.

Key questions UNT’s new AD will face Part II — How can the school expand its fan/donor base?

One area North Texas has struggled in over the last few years of Rick Villarreal's tenure as the school's athletic director is attendance. UNT finished with one of the lowest per-game attendance averages in Conference USA for men's basketball last season. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

One area North Texas has struggled in over the last few years of Rick Villarreal’s tenure as the school’s athletic director is attendance. UNT finished with one of the lowest per-game attendance averages in Conference USA for men’s basketball last season. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

There are a number of challenges North Texas’ new athletic director will face when he or she takes over for Rick Villarreal, who is stepping down after more than 15 years.

We began our series looking at some of those issues a few days ago by posing the question of what he/she will do in terms of the athletic department staff. Just to reiterate, UNT has a lot of good people in the athletic department who do great work.

Personnel decisions are a short-term issue.

How UNT can go about building a larger following has been a dilemma for years and will continue to be an issue for the school’s next athletic director.

UNT ranked dead last in Conference USA in home football attendance last season, when the Mean Green averaged just 13,631 fans in five home football games. That was the lowest total UNT has posted since 1998.

Attendance at UNT’s men’s basketball games last season averaged 1,979 fans per game, a total that ranked 11th out of 14 teams in C-USA and a 50.6 percent decrease from the 2011-12 season.

The simple answer is UNT needs put better teams on the field/court. The school has really struggled to reach that goal over the last decade.

UNT has enjoyed just one winning season in the last 11 in football, has suffered 10 straight losing seasons in women’s basketball and hasn’t posted a winning season in men’s basketball since Johnny Jones left for LSU in 2012.

UNT has gone .500 or worse every year since Jones departed and finished 12-20 twice, including last season.

Winning would certainly help UNT build and maintain a following, but history shows that at UNT winning isn’t the cure-all it seems like it should be.

UNT posted one of the best seasons in the 100-year history of its football program in 2013, when the Mean Green finished 9-4 and beat UNLV in front of a crowd of nearly 40,000 people in the Cotton Bowl. A study on the UAB football program included a season-by-season rundown of season ticket sales by Conference USA schools.

UNT’s ticket sales actually declined slightly after its bowl win – falling from 4,468 to 4,285.

UNT’s basketball attendance grew under Jones and hit a high of 4,006 fans a game in 2011-12, but never really exploded like one would have expected during a run of six straight winning seasons, including five 20-win campaigns, and two NCAA appearances. Jones put a ton of effort into promoting the program and was generally loved around town.

Jones spoke several times over the years about his frustration over attendance during the good years.

The idea that consistent winning with wins over relevant teams would fix UNT’s attendance/fan base problems has been offered up.

UNT beat Oklahoma State, Texas Tech and LSU during its run under Jones and consistently won games while bringing in some of the greatest players in school history, including Josh White, Tristan Thompson and Tony Mitchell.

Once Jones was gone, UNT fell off the map to 12-20 and saw its attendance issues worsen.

UNT’s men’s basketball per-game attendance last season ranked 11th out of 14 teams in C-USA and a marked a 50.6 percent decrease from the 2011-12 season.

If UNT is going to get to where it wants to be as a program, it is going to have to grow its fan base and home attendance, not to mention its donor base. A study conducted by Houston showed that UNT brings in fewer donations to its annual fund, in UNT’s case the Mean Green Club, than any other FBS program in the state.

The study listed UNT with annual donations of $800,000.

One of the key challenges for UNT will be improving those attendance and donation totals.

Here’s our list:

No. 1 — Decide what to do with UNT’s administrative staff that is already in place

Thursday night notes (Could a hoops shakeup be coming? Et cetera)

It’s Thursday night and time for a quick lap around the bases as far as North Texas athletics goes.

There have been a number of tidbits I have been meaning to get to that have stacked up in the last few days.

First off, on the recruiting front, a couple of quarterbacks UNT offered have come off the board. Colleyville Heritage product Cam Roane committed to San Diego State.

Lake Travis quarterback Charlie Brewer is off to SMU, UNT’s No.1 rival.

As far as the upcoming football season goes, Vegas Insider has set its over-under win totals. The site set the bar at two wins for the Mean Green.

There just isn’t a lot of faith out there in UNT making a big move up this fall after a 1-11 season a year ago.

And finally, on the hoops front, word in the coaching community is that there could be a shakeup coming as far as the UNT men’s basketball coaching staff goes.

I was told this week that everyone is still under contract.

Stay tuned.

Revisiting our list of UNT’s top rivalries

A lot has changed over the last few months since we last looked at who North Texas' biggest rivals are. One fact that hasn't changed is that SMU is at the top of the list, especially after the Mustangs' win in Dallas last season. (DRC file photo)

A lot has changed over the last few months since we last looked at who North Texas’ biggest rivals are. One fact that hasn’t changed is that SMU is at the top of the list, especially after the Mustangs’ win in Dallas last season. (DRC file photo)

Last March, we look a look at North Texas’ top rivalries. It was an interesting list in a time of change in Mean Green athletics.

UNT had just gotten out of the Sun Belt Conference at the time and was adjusting to Conference USA. One of the big selling points when UNT made that move is that it would be able to develop some rivalries within the conference and Texas, where the Mean Green seemed to fall off the map once Sun Belt play began each year.

Has anything changed?

In some ways it has, in others, it has remained the same.

Here’s a look at where UNT stands now in terms of rivalries:

1. It’s still SMU, and there really isn’t any question about it

Pretty much nothing went right for UNT last season during a 1-11 football season.

What might have been the worst part of the whole affair for the Mean Green was going to Dallas with high hopes of getting back on track after a 4-8 season and promptly being dumped by SMU 31-13.

UNT fans showed up in droves expecting to see the Mean Green win consecutive games against the Mustangs for the first time in a series that began in 1922. That was understandable considering the Mean Green won 43-6 the year before.

UNT fans paid to fly a “Go Mean Green” banner before the game.

The disappointment of seeing the Mustangs roll UNT and increase their lead in the series to 29-5-1 is something Mean Green fans really never got over last year.

The rematch at Apogee this fall will be intense. The teams have alternated wins in the last six games of the series. A win against SMU would give UNT a chance to say it’s back on track and on equal footing of late with the Mustangs. A loss would be tough for the Mean Green.

2. UTSA because of its rapid rise in college athletics

The nature of the UNT-UTSA rivalry really hasn’t changed in the last few months. UNT got the last laugh, beating the Roadrunners by the skin of their teeth last season 30-23, largely due to a blocked extra point.

In the end it’s still a battle for Texas bragging rights and recruits between a team that has been playing football for 100 years and a team that decided trying this whole football thing might be a good idea in 2008.

Don’t think for a minute that the fact UNT fans don’t resent the fact that UTSA set up shop and ended up in Conference USA in a matter of years, while UNT fought for decades to become an FBS team in a Texas-based league.

3. Middle Tennessee because of the teams’ history.

MTSU and UNT has a terrific history in multiple sports that is always fun to look back on.

The Blue Raiders took a couple of cheap shots at Ja’Mel Branch while he was returning kicks in the early years of the Sun Belt. UNT also knocked off the Blue Raiders 24-21 in 2001, when Middle Tennessee was 5-0 and had one of its best teams in recent program history.

A few years later, in the final game of the 2011 season, UNT ran the score up in a 59-7 season-ending win over the Blue Raiders. MTSU did the same to UNT last year, pounding the Mean Green, 41-7.

The really fun quote and part of the rivalry remains in women’s basketball, though. MTSU has long fielded an elite women’s basketball team that had a heated exchange with UNT a couple of years ago. The Blue Raiders hammered UNT 113-58 in 2009 and ran the score up on a night they hit 13 of their 25 attempts from 3-point range. MTSU kept jacking up 3s in the closing minutes while UNT collapsed in on star forward Alysha Clark.

Anne Marie Lanning hit six of those 3s and then hit UNT with this quote in the next day’s Daily News-Journal.

“I don’t know if we take offense to it, but we’re just like, ‘Are you going to be that stupid?,’” Lanning told the DNJ of UNT’s decision to not guard the 3-point line. “But when they do come out on us, Alysha [Clark] does what she did last week at Troy (50 points).

“They’re in a lose-lose situation. But if they want to be stupid and leave us open, then we’ll put it to you.”

MTSU has been putting it on UNT for years and extended its run of dominance last season, pounding the Mean Green 76-52 for its 13th straight win in the series.

4. UNT men’s basketball vs. Shawn Forrest

Shawn Forrest was once one of the highly respected and valued members of the UNT athletic department who helped Johnny Jones build the Mean Green men’s basketball program into a power that went to two NCAA tournaments. He helped bring great players like Tony Mitchell and Jordan Williams to Denton. Jones left for LSU in 2012.

Forrest wanted to replace Jones, but ended up taking a series of jobs as an assistant and has been a huge thorn in the side of UNT and Tony Benford, the coach who got the job. UNT has faced teams on which Forrest has been an assistant six times since — and lost every single time. Among those six losses are season-enders in the Sun Belt tournament to Louisiana-Lafayette and last season’s Conference USA tournament against Western Kentucky.

Forrest has moved on since and landed at Louisiana Tech, which is naturally one of UNT’s biggest C-USA rivals in the league’s West Division.

Gulp.

5. Louisiana Tech because it does so much with so little

And speaking of Louisiana Tech, the school is quickly developing into a rival for UNT because it does so much with so little and usually has its way with the Mean Green. LA Tech has one of the smaller budgets in C-USA and is located in one of the smaller media markets. The school doesn’t have the greatest facilities, either, even after adding a nice end zone complex in its football stadium.

The Bulldogs have won four of the last five football games between the schools anyway. LA Tech whacked UNT 56-13 last season.

UNT and LA Tech has split the last four meetings in men’s basketball, but it’s been the Bulldogs who have had more success in the postseason.

That isn’t easy for UNT to swallow.

 

Thinking back on UNT-Baylor in 2003

North Texas Hall of Fame running back Patrick Cobbs scores a touchdown during a 52-14 win over Baylor back in 2003. (DRC file photo)

North Texas Hall of Fame running back Patrick Cobbs scores a touchdown during a 52-14 win over Baylor back in 2003. (DRC file photo)

The hammer finally fell in the Baylor sexual assault scandal today when head coach Art Briles was fired as the Bears head coach.

Briles built the Baylor program into a national power at his tenure at the school.

The news got me thinking back on how far the Bears had come over the years following one of the landmark wins in North Texas history.

Baylor was struggling when the Bears rolled into Fouts Field back in 2003 to face what was one of the better teams UNT has fielded in the last 20 years.

Future NFL running back Patrick Cobbs was playing for the Mean Green, as was Cody Spencer, another player who would have a long professional career. UNT Hall of Fame defensive tackle Brandon Kennedy and quarterback Scott Hall were on that team as well.

UNT hammered Baylor 52-14. Kennedy returned a fumble for a touchdown. Cobbs and Roy Bishop both ran for more than 100 yards.

The Mean Green ended up playing in the New Orleans Bowl that year, the second of four straight. Baylor finished 3-9 and didn’t begin to turn the corner until Briles arrived in 2008.

A coaching change sparked the Bears.

UNT’s run of success lasted just one season after that 2003 campaign. The Mean Green have enjoyed just one winning season since their run of four straight Sun Belt Conference titles ended in 2004.

Baylor found the spark it needed with Briles, whose tenure ended was a spectacular crash.

It’s been more than a decade since UNT’s big win over the Bears. Now the Mean Green are again hoping they have the coach who will provide the spark the program needs in Seth Littrell.

Seeing Briles’ depart brought back some memories of where the Bears were before he arrived. It also brought back memories of where UNT was — and where the Mean Green hope to be again under Littrell.

Key questions UNT’s new AD will face Part I — What about the AD staff?

Whoever takes over for North Texas athletic director Rick Villarreal will have several big decisions to make, including if he wants to make any changes to  the administrative staff. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

Whoever takes over for North Texas athletic director Rick Villarreal will have several big decisions to make, including if he wants to make any changes to the administrative staff. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

North Texas is entering a time of transition following the announcement that Rick Villarreal is stepping down as the school’s athletic director after more than 15 years.

Over the course of the next few weeks, we will take a look at some of the key issues UNT’s new athletic director will face.

Make no mistake, UNT has a lot going for it both as a school and in terms of its athletic programs.

The bottom line, though, is that any large operation can improve. That’s true of every paper I’ve ever worked for and every institution or program I have covered.

And that brings us to the first key question UNT’s new athletic director will face: What does he/she do in terms of the people in the athletic department running the program?

That one of the first places UNT’s new AD could look to make his/her mark.

There are people who do a lot of great work in the UNT athletic department. There’s no question about it. The school’s student-athletes generally do a terrific job in the classroom and UNT has run a clean ship in terms of NCAA regulations.

That’s just for starters.

Every school has its struggles, though. Whoever takes over at UNT will have to look at what the school has to work with and if it is getting the most out of its assets.

Athletic directors also tend to hire people they have worked with in the past. UNT currently has a couple of administrators with backgrounds at Southern Miss, where Villarreal worked before coming to Denton. There were a few more Southern Miss products who have left the department over the last couple of years.

If UNT goes outside of the school and its recent former employees to hire a new athletic director, he/she could look to bring in some familiar faces after evaluating the current staff.

Those personnel decisions will be the first — and some of the most important — UNT’s new athletic director will face.

 

Conference USA announces TV package

Conference USA announced its television package as expected today. The big changes that have been anticipated for several weeks is that ESPN is back as a partner with C-USA, while beIN SPORTS has come in as a new TV partner.

The video at the top of this post was included in beIN SPORTS’ release on becoming a TV partner with the league.

Here’s the official announcement …

Comprehensive Television Packages Announced For Conference USA

ESPN Continues Coverage of C-USA Football Championship; CBS Sports Network to Carry Basketball Championships; beIN SPORTS and ASN Will Televise Multiple C-USA Sports

IRVING, Texas — Conference USA Commissioner Judy MacLeodannounced today that the conference has reached a new multi-year agreement for a comprehensive national television package with four leading outlets; ESPN, CBS Sports Network, the American Sports Network (ASN) and beIN SPORTS.

“We explored a number of traditional, digital and additional outlets during the negotiation process,” MacLeod said. “Our interests are aligned and we are very excited about the potential of these partnerships. All parties will reap the benefits of these agreements.”

ESPN will broadcast the C-USA football championship game five regular season games in each of the next two years.

ESPN replaces Fox Sports as one of C-USA’s television partners.

CBS will broadcast the C-USA men’s and women’s basketball tournament title games in 2017. CBS will also air six football games and six men’s basketball games during the regular season.

American Sports Network will show a minimum of 15 football games, 13 men’s basketball games and two women’s basketball games per season.

BeIN SPORTS is global conglomerate of sports channels attempting to get a foothold in the U.S. The network will broadcast 10 C-USA football games, 10 men’s and 10 women’s basketball games, 12 baseball and 12 softball games, 10 men’s and 10 women’s soccer matches and 10 women’s volleyball games.

C-USA is expected to distribute about $500,000 less per school in television revenue under the new agreement, according to Harry Minimum of the Virginian-Pilot.

C-USA made its television package announcement at its spring meetings and will announce its complete football television schedule next week.

 

What’s UNT’s top football tradition? The Mean Green nickname stands out

One of the great traditions at North Texas is the nickname Mean Green, but it didn't come from UNT Hall of Famer and former Pittsburgh Steeler "Mean" Joe Greene. (Associated Press file photo)

One of the great traditions at North Texas is the nickname Mean Green, but it didn’t come from UNT Hall of Famer and former Pittsburgh Steeler “Mean” Joe Greene. (Associated Press file photo)

North Texas has developed several fun traditions over the course of 100 years.

There are ones that have been around for years, including the eagle claw hand sign and the eagle mascot. UNT has newer traditions as well, including players touching Spiriki, an eagle statue on their way on to the field at Apogee Stadium.

When it comes to traditions, though, there might not be a more colorful or interesting one than UNT’s Mean Green nickname.

The common myth is that the nickname is a reference to “Mean” Joe Greene. The former UNT defensive tackle is one of the greatest players in college football history, NFL history and just plain football history.

The nickname actually started as a way to refer to UNT’s hard-hitting defense in the 1960s that included Greene, Charles Beatty and Cedric Hardman. Beatty and Hardman also went on to play in the NFL.

What began as a nickname for UNT’s defense, eventually grew into a nickname for the entire team. UNT later expanded the nickname to all of its sports programs.

The UNT women’s basketball team was the last holdout, but switched from Lady Eagles to Mean Green several years ago.

When Greene was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, people assumed Mean Green was a reference to him. The nickname stuck to Joe Greene like it did to the Mean Green back in Denton.

There are plenty of teams with nicknames like the Jaguars or the Eagles.

There is only one team that is known as the Mean Green, which makes the tradition all the more significant.

 

Where does UNT go from here? A couple of notes/thoughts

North Texas president Neal Smatresk was heavily involved in the school's search for a new head coach that led to Seth Littrell, left,  coming to UNT. What happened in that search could indicate the way UNT's search for a new athletic director will unfold. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

North Texas president Neal Smatresk was heavily involved in the school’s search for a new head coach that led to Seth Littrell, left, coming to UNT. What happened in that search could indicate the way UNT’s search for a new athletic director will unfold. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

We are now a full day past when news came down that Rick Villarreal is out as North Texas athletic director.

The question now is where UNT goes from here.

After talking with a few people and considering some recent history, it seems highly likely that UNT will end up going through an extensive search for a new athletic director.

UNT president Neal Smatresk said Monday that he would name an interim AD and then make decisions about a national search for Villarreal’s replacement. Villarreal isn’t officially departing until June 20.

If UNT is going to need an interim AD, it won’t be for at least a month. And I don’t think UNT would go through the process of putting someone in that position if he wasn’t going to be there for some time.

The school year is quickly coming to a close. Smatresk and several other UNT officials are likely to take some time off in the next few weeks.

The UNT board of regents also just met on May 19-20. UNT certainly knew what direction it was headed with its athletic program at those meetings, but the board won’t get together again for some time. The regents will likely want to have some input.

We can also look at UNT’s hiring practices during Smatresk’s short term as president for some clues as to how this search will unfold. UNT has only made a few major hires since that time university wide.

The school has consistently used search firms during Smatresk’s tenure.

UNT hired DHR International during its football coaching search that resulted in the school hiring Seth Littrell. Smatresk was heavily involved in that search.

Smatresk will now have a chance to hire his own athletic director. UNT’s official statement on the departure of Villarreal referenced a national search.

That is likely what will transpire.

UNT will have to find someone to guide the department in the meantime.

The obvious pick is Deputy Athletic Director Hank Dickenson. He’s steadily climbed the ranks in the UNT athletic department for more than 20 years and has been one of UNT’s top administrators for a long, long time.

The ink had barely dried on the release announcing Villarreal’s departure before George Dunham made his case for Dickenson to be UNT’s new athletic director on his morning radio show on The Ticket.

Dumham, the former radio voice of the Mean Green and a member of the school’s Hall of Fame, made a lot of good points. I have no doubt that Dickenson will be considered.

It’s just hard to imagine UNT hiring a current member of its staff after the program has struggled over the last few years in the three high profile sports — football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball.

As far as other candidates go, it’s all guesses at this point.

Allen Ward worked at UNT and is now the athletic director at Murray State. He is one former member of the UNT athletic department who might make sense.

Ward worked at UNT under Villarreal, though, and knows the challenges the school faces. Would UNT want a Villarreal era employee to return and work with some of the same people, or make the decision to dismiss them? Would Ward be interested at taking on a challenge like the one at UNT at this point in his career?

UNT could look to start fresh by hiring someone with a new perspective and no preconceived notions or relationships with people within the department.

Littrell was an out-of-left-field hire whose ties to the region were all in his time growing up in Oklahoma, his time playing for the Sooners and a short stint as the running backs coach at Texas Tech.  He hadn’t been around Texas consistently in years.

Smatresk could look at an administrator with few or no ties to UNT.

Smatresk could consider some of the athletics administrators he has worked with over the years. He was the president at UNLV for five years before coming to UNT.

There are sure to be people he has worked with who would make some sense and are interested in running their own athletic department.

If I had to take an early guess, I would expect UNT to target a current AD at a smaller school who has enjoyed some success or a high level administrator from a school in the region who is ready to become an AD for the first time.

What happens over the next few weeks will tell us a lot more.