Breaking — UNT paying consultants $20,000 to evaluate athletic program

North Texas football coach Seth Littrell speaks at a meeting at Apogee Stadium for UNT fans and boosters as consultant Trip Kuehne looks on. Kuehne and Michael Sicuro have been hired to evaluate the school's athletic program. (Al Key/for the Denton Record-Chronicle)

North Texas football coach Seth Littrell speaks at a meeting at Apogee Stadium for UNT fans and boosters as consultant Trip Kuehne looks on. Kuehne and Michael Sicuro have been hired to evaluate the school’s athletic program. (Al Key/for the Denton Record-Chronicle)

North Texas is paying a pair of Dallas businessmen $20,000 to evaluate the school’s athletic program.

Trip Kuehne and Michael Sicuro both signed contracts with UNT on June 7 for $10,000. Their deals included non-disclosure agreements and stipulated that they report their findings to UNT president Neal Smatresk no later than Aug. 31.

The Denton Record-Chronicle obtained copies of the contracts on Thursday.

Those contracts stipulate that Kuehne and Sicuro “examine and assess the resources, staffing and facilities of the UNT Athletics Department, making a full report to the UNT President.”

UNT contracted both Kuehne and Sicuro just days after Rick Villarreal announced on May 23 that he was stepping down as the school’s athletic director. Villarreal’s tenure at UNT officially came to an end on June 20.

Michael Sicuro talks with North Texas fans at a meeting to discus the state of the school's athletic program on June 27. (Al Key/for the Denton Record-Chronicle)

Michael Sicuro talks with North Texas fans at a meeting to discus the state of the school’s athletic program on June 27. (Al Key/for the Denton Record-Chronicle)

UNT reached a series of milestones under Villarreal, including opening Apogee Stadium, its $78 million football venue, in the fall of 2011, UNT also joined Conference USA in the summer of 2013.

UNT’s football team played in the Heart of Dallas Bowl in 2013, but the school’s athletic program stalled overall late in Villarreal’s tenure. The football team’s 9-4 campaign in 2013 was the only winning season UNT has produced in any of the three key revenue sports of football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball in the last four years.

Smatresk named longtime athletic department official Hank Dickenson the school’s acting athletic director on June 6. Smatresk announced that Kuehne and Sicuro would be paid to evaluate UNT’s athletic program at the same time.

Kuehne is a well-known amateur golfer and the son of UNT booster Ernie Kuehne. He is the founder and senior managing partner of the Westlake-based investment firm Double Eagle Capital Management, LP.

Sicuro works for Venture Capital & Private Equity. He has more than 30 years of experience with public and private companies with revenue of up to $4 billion in annually.

The pair have since met with several UNT coaches in addition to the school’s lettermen and fans over the last several weeks.

Kuehne said that UNT has a “fan base that is fractured” in his opening comments before he and Sicuro met with more than 100 of the school’s fans on June 27.

Kuehne and Sicuro are in the process of evaluating UNT’s athletic administrative staff and the inner workings of the department in addition to meeting with lettermen, fans and coaches.

The pair’s examination of the UNT athletic program is taking place as the school searches for Villarreal’s replacement. UNT hired Eastman & Beaudine Inc. to help with its search for a new athletic director. The firm is well known for assisting colleges with searches for athletic department officials.

Bob Beaudine, the firm’s CEO, is leading the search. UNT has kept the process quiet, but multiple sources close to the situation told the Record-Chronicle late last month that Dickenson had spoken with the search firm about the job.

UNT picked to finish last in C-USA West Division in preseason poll

North Texas was picked to finish last in Conference USA's West Division in the league's preseason media poll released on Thursday. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

North Texas was picked to finish last in Conference USA’s West Division in the league’s preseason media poll released on Thursday. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

North Texas was picked to finish last in Conference USA’s West Division in the league’s preseason poll that was released today.

Media members who regularly cover the league voted in the poll. (Full disclosure, I was among them).

Southern Miss was picked to win the West Division. Louisiana Tech was picked second and Rice third.

Middle Tennessee was picked to win the East Division with Western Kentucky second and Marshall third.

The poll projects the hierarchy of the conference to remain pretty much unchanged from last season. Southern Miss and LA Tech were clearly the best teams in the West, while the trio of MTSU, WKU and Marshall dominated the East.

UNT finished 1-11 in 2015 and is entering its first year under new coach Seth Littrell. The Mean Green are hoping the arrival of the former North Carolina assistant sparks the program.

Littrell and his staff could very well give the Mean Green new life, but UNT has a lot to prove before it is going to get the benefit of the doubt heading into a season. UNT has posted just one winning season in the last 11 years.

The safe assumption ever since the end of UNT’s four-year reign as Sun Belt Conference champions in 2004 is that the Mean Green are going to finish at the bottom of whatever conference they have been playing in at the time.

UNT’s underdog status was further cemented yesterday when the league’s preseason all-conference team was released. Safety Kishawn McClain was UNT’s lone representative.

LA Tech had seven preseason all-conference selections. Southern Miss had six, UTEP five, UTSA 3 and Rice 1.

Here is the poll:

Conference USA preseason media poll

West Division

Team 2015 record (conference)
1.  Southern Miss 9-5 (7-1)
2.  Louisiana Tech 9-4 (6-2)
3.  Rice 5-7 (3-5)
4.  UTEP 5-7 (3-5)
5.  Texas-San Antonio 3-9 (3-5)
6.  North Texas 1-11 (1-7)
East Division

Team 2015 record (conference)
1.  Middle Tennessee 7-6 (6-2)
2.  Western Kentucky 12-2 (8-0)
3.  Marshall 10-3 (6-2)
4.  Florida Atlantic 3-9 (3-5)
5.  Florida International 5-7 (3-5)
6.  Old Dominion 5-7 (3-5)
7.  Charlotte 2-10 (0-8)

Thursday morning notes — Wilson, Scott to appear at C-USA media days

North Texas linebacker Fred Scott reaches to pick up the ball during a game against Western Kentucky last fall. Scott and running back Jeffrey Wilson will be UNT's representatives at Conference USA media days next week. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

North Texas linebacker Fred Scott reaches to pick up the ball during a game against Western Kentucky last fall. Scott and running back Jeffrey Wilson will be UNT’s representatives at Conference USA media days next week. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

It’s Thursday morning and time for a quick rundown of items of interest at North Texas and in Conference USA.

C-USA media days start Monday down in Irving. The league put out a list of players who will attend.

UNT is brining running back Jeffrey Wilson and linebacker Fred Scott. Wilson is one of UNT’s top returning players, while Scott has long been one of the team’s veteran leaders.

The league releasing its list of players who will represent their schools is just another step in the build up toward the season.

The Preseason All-Conference USA team came out yesterday. Safety Kishawn McClain was UNT’s lone representative. I mention this in my story on the team from today’s paper, but UNT tied with Rice for the fewest players selected among West Division teams.

Louisiana Tech had seven, Southern Miss six (including quarterback Nick Mullens, C-USA’s Preseason Offensive Player of the Year), UTEP five and Texas-San Antonio three.

Having just one player on the preseason all-league team indicates just how big a challenge UNT is facing this year.

Another indication of what UNT is up against is its conference schedule. We mentioned earlier this year that UNT having cross-over games against Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee and Marshall is just brutal. Those are the three best teams from C-USA’s East Division.

Well, Sean Isabella from the News-Star crunched the numbers. UNT’s conference opponents have the highest combined winning percentage in C-USA games from the 2015 season.

And in an odd side note, Scout.com has a story on Ohio running back Maurice Edmondson, a 2018 prospect who has an offer from UNT and Old Domininon.

Preseason All-C-USA team out

North Texas safety Kishawn McClain was the Mean Green's lone representative on the Preseason All-Conference USA team. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

North Texas safety Kishawn McClain was the Mean Green’s lone representative on the Preseason All-Conference USA team. (Denton Record-Chronicle/David Minton)

The Preseason All-Conference USA Football team came out this morning.

North Texas had one player selected — safety Kishawn McClain.

The junior had a terrific season for a defense that struggled most of the year, finishing with a team-high 110 tackles.

McClain ranked third in C-USA in tackles and also made a series of game-changing plays. He forced two fumbles, recovered another and intercepted a pass.

McClain and fellow safety James Gray were one of the best tandems in the league last season.

Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens was named the Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, while Florida Atlantic defensive end Trey Hendrickson was named the Defensive Player of the Year.

The league’s coaches selected the team that illustrates just how big a challenge UNT is facing heading into the first season of Seth Littrell’s tenure as head coach.

Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech had six players selected to the team.

UNT doesn’t have many players who are considered among the elite talents in the league heading into the season.

The release of the preseason all-conference team is part of the week-long buildup to C-USA media day next week.

C-USA’s preseason poll that includes coaches and media members will be released in the next few days.

2016 C-USA FOOTBALL COACHES PRESEASON AWARDS
Offensive Player of the Year

Nick Mullens, Sr., QB, Southern Miss

Defensive Player of the Year

Trey Hendrickson, Sr., DE, Florida Atlantic

Special Teams Players of the Year

Jonathan Barnes, Jr., K, Louisiana Tech
Dalton Schomp, Sr., P, Florida Atlantic

Offense

QB — Brent Stockstill, So., Middle Tennessee; Nick Mullens, Sr., Southern Miss
RB — Kalif Phillips, Sr., Charlotte; Ray Lawry, Jr., Old Dominion; Ito Smith, Jr., Southern Miss; Aaron Jones, Sr., UTEP; Jarveon Williams, Sr., UTSA; Anthony Wales, Sr., WKU
OL — Michael Montero, Sr., FIU; Reggie Bain, Jr., Florida Atlantic; Darrell Brown, Sr., Louisiana Tech; David Mahaffey, Sr., Louisiana Tech; Michael Selby, Sr., Marshall; Clint Van Horn, Sr., Marshall; Maurquice Shakir, Sr., Middle Tennessee; Cameron Tom, Sr., Southern Miss; Forrest Lamp, Sr., WKU; Will Hernandez, Jr., UTEP
TE — Jonnu Smith, Sr., FIU; Ryan Yurachek, Jr., Marshall
WR — Trent Taylor, Sr., Louisiana Tech; Richie James, So., Middle Tennessee; Zach Pascal, Sr., Old Dominion; Taywan Taylor, Sr., WKU

Defense

DL – Larry Ogunjobi, Sr., Charlotte; Trey Hendrickson, Sr., Florida Atlantic; Jaylon Ferguson, So., Louisiana Tech; Gary Thompson, Sr., Marshall; Rashaad Coward, Sr., Old Dominion; Dylan Bradley, Sr., Southern Miss; Nick Usher, Sr., UTEP; Marcus Davenport, Jr., UTSA
LB – Anthony Wint, Jr., FIU; Azeez Al-Shaair, So., Florida Atlantic; TJ Ricks, Sr., Old Dominion; Alex Lyons, Sr., Rice; D’Nerius Antoine, Sr., Southern Miss; Alvin Jones, Jr., UTEP
DB – Ocie Rose, So., Florida Atlantic; Jalen Young, So., Florida Atlantic; Xavier Woods, Sr., Louisiana Tech; Jeremy Cutrer, Sr., Middle Tennessee; Kishawn McClain, Jr., North Texas; Justice Davila, Jr., Old Dominion; Picasso Nelson Jr., Jr., Southern Miss; Michael Egwuagu, Sr., UTSA

Special Teams

K – Jonathan Barnes, Jr., Louisiana Tech
P – Dalton Schomp, Sr., Florida Atlantic
KR – Kylen Towner, Jr., WKU
PR – Warren Redix, So., UTEP
LS – Darrell Travis, Sr., Louisiana Tech

Texas transfer Ryan Newsome names top six

 

Former Aledo wide receiver Ryan Newsome, top, celebrates with former Texas teammate Chris Warren following  a 23-17 win over Baylor at McLane Stadium in Waco on Dec. 5. Newsome is transferring, but didn't include North Texas on his list of potential destinations. (Jae S. Lee/The Dallas Morning News)

Former Aledo wide receiver Ryan Newsome, top, celebrates with former Texas teammate Chris Warren following a 23-17 win over Baylor at McLane Stadium in Waco on Dec. 5. Newsome is transferring, but didn’t include North Texas on his list of potential destinations. (Jae S. Lee/The Dallas Morning News)

North Texas recruited former Aledo standout Ryan Newsome back in 2015, when he ended up signing with Texas.

So it was only natural to think UNT might be a consideration again when Newsome elected to transfer this summer.

UNT has long been a landing spot for players from Power Five programs looking to start over. Oklahoma transfer Marcus Trice was a hit. Oregon transfer Anthony Wallace was also a starter.

UNT is hoping for big things from Kansas State transfer Bryce English, a defensive tackle who is expected to make an impact when he becomes eligible — whenever that is.

Newsome won’t be the next in that line.

He told Jeremy Clark of 247 Sports last night that he has a list of six schools he is considering: Tennessee, Alabama, Michigan State, Texas A&M, Arizona State and USC.

Newsome told Clark that list of schools likely won’t change.

Be sure to check out Jeremy’s story.

Here we go again, college football realignment thoughts

North Texas came out as one of the big winners the last time the college football landscape changed.

The moves that played out allowed UNT to escape the Sun Belt and land in Conference USA, giving the Mean Green three in-state rivals it desperately needed. Playing Rice, UTEP and Texas-San Antonio has been a huge boost for UNT.

The question now is where realignment will take UNT and its key rivals next after Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said today that the league will examine the possibility of expanding.

Chuck Carlton from The Dallas Morning News has the story that the league could add new members by 2017. He mentions BYU, Cincinnati, Memphis, Houston, Colorado State, UConn as possibilities. 

The question is how the dominoes will fall if the league follows through and how any future moves could impact UNT.

Cincinnati, Memphis, Houston and UConn are all members of the American Athletic Conference of which SMU is also a member. 

Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports wrote this spring that if the American loses one team, it would probably look for a replacement. If it loses two, it could stand pat with 10 teams.

And that is just one of the possibilities. What if the Big 12 expands by four teams and takes three from the American?

There has been a lot of talk from people across C-USA about members of the league being potential candidates for slots in the American. Southern Miss has been discussed consistently. 

Old Dominion and Marshall have also been brought up.

The attraction of the American for C-USA schools is easy to see. C-USA’s television revenue dropped significantly under the terms of  a new deal this year. Schools will receive about $200,000 per school, down from about $1.1 million a team.

Harry Minimum from the Virginian-Pilot came out with those figures and also pointed out that the AAC distributed about twice what C-USA did in 2014-2015 — $4.7 million to every school.

Bottom line, if schools from C-USA can make the move to the American, they are likely going to do it. If that happens, it will affect the makeup of C-USA that is so attractive to UNT.

Losing a school like Southern Miss would affect the strength of C-USA. Would the league look to replace a school like Southern Miss and Marshall if it left?

UNT would never be considered for a spot in the American, not with SMU in the league. SMU would fight tooth and nail to keep the Mean Green out.

And if C-USA did decide to expand to stay at 14, there is one obvious place to pull from. UNT, Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky are all former members of the Sun Belt. Could UNT end up in a league with Louisiana-Lafayette or Arkansas State again? Those schools seem like obvious possibilities if C-USA elects to expand.

That is the fun of conference realignment. There are a ton of possibilities to consider.

And they are all in play once again this afternoon.

Five years at Apogee series thoughts, et cetera

My series on the state of North Texas athletics as the school approaches the five-year anniversary of the first game in Apogee wrapped up today.

Today’s story focused on the challenges a new athletic director will face after Rick Villarreal wrapped up his tenure than lasted more than 15 years.

Those challenges are going to be pretty significant.

UNT is struggling in all three key sports — football, men’s basketball and women’s basketball. The school’s fans and boosters are not happy with the state of the school’s athletics program. Football attendance hit lows not seen in nearly 20 years last fall during a 1-11 season and the school’s men’s basketball program has struggled the last four years.

The UNT women’s basketball team more than doubled its win total in a promising first season under Jalie Mitchell, but that only got the Mean Green to 11 wins.

UNT has kept its search under wraps, thanks to the school hiring a firm to handle it and the key power players keeping their mouths shut. Acting AD Hank Dickenson interviewed, but that is about all the info that is out there as far as candidates go.

There is a sense that candidates view the job with a little trepidation due to the challenges involved.

Whoever jumps into the job will have nowhere to go but up. There is something to be said for that, but whoever takes the job is going to have to make some serious headway to get UNT to where it wants to go.

There are links back to the first two stories in the series on today’s piece, if anyone missed the first two parts.

There is some other good news that came out in the last day or so that I wanted to get to. Offensive lineman Jalen Thomas and quarterback Devin O’Hara have officially reported and will be added to the Mean Green’s roster later today. Hat tip to UNT’s sports info guys for the heads-up.

And finally, the Conference USA site is being updated this summer and isn’t available, but Grant Traylor of the Huntington paper posted a list of C-USA’s scholar athlete award winners.

Bryce McAndrew (cross country), Cory Churchman (golf) and Connor Bey (track) of UNT were among the award winners. Marshall led the way with four winners, but UNT was right behind with three.

C-USA has a host of players on watch lists for awards, but none are from UNT

Conference USA came out with an updated list of players in the league who have been included on watch lists for major college football awards today.

I have been meaning to put together a comprehensive list, but since the conference office has already done it, I decided to reformat it for the blog.

The interesting aspect of it is that UNT had a player nominated this year.

I spent a whole lot of time over the last few years cranking out little stories on the latest UNT player to be nominated.

Cyril Lemon and Mason Y’Barbo were on the watch list for the Lombardi Award before the 2014 season. Lemon was also on the watch list for the Outland Trophy that year. Linebacker Zach Orr was on the watch list for the Lombardi Award in 2013. Wide receiver Carlos Harris was on the watch list for the Biletnikoff Award last summer.

It’s been pretty quiet for UNT this summer. The nominees for the Lombardi and Ted Hendricks Award that goes to the nation’s top defensive end are not out yet, but the Mean Green have yet to have a player nominated.

There are probably some good reasons for that, including the fact that UNT has a new coaching staff.

C-USA has several teams with a lot of players nominated. Western Kentucky, Middle Tennessee and Louisiana Tech are among a host of teams in the league with elite veterans who are on a watch list or two.

That doesn’t necessarily mean those will be the best teams in the league, but it is another indication that UNT is an underdog in the league race this year.

Here’s the list, with a hat-tip to C-USA.

Conference USA players on watch list members

Biletnikoff  (wide receiver)

Carlos Henderson Junior Louisiana Tech
Trent Taylor Senior Louisiana Tech
Richie James Sophomore Middle Tennessee
Zach Pascal Senior Old Dominion
D.J. Thompson Senior Southern Miss
Nicholas Norris Senior Western Kentucky
Taywan Taylor Senior Western Kentucky

Bronko Nagirski (Defensive Player of the Year)

Xavier Woods Senior Louisiana Tech
T.J. Ricks Senior Old Dominion
Butkus (Linebacker)
T.J. Ricks Senior Old Dominion

Davey O’Brien (Quarterback)

Rick Stockstill Sophomore Middle Tennessee
Nick Mullens Senior Southern Miss

Doak Walker (Running back)

Ray Lawry Junior Old Dominion
Aaron Jones Junior UTEP
D’Andre Ferby Sophomore Western Kentucky
Anthony Wales Senior Western Kentucky

Hornung (Most versatile)

Zach Pascal Senior Old Dominion

Jim Thorpe (Defensive back)

Xavier Woods Senior Louisiana Tech
Jeremy Cutrer Senior Middle Tennessee

John Mackey (Tight end)

Jonnu Smith Senior Florida International
Ryan Yurachek Junior Marshall
Connor Cella Senior Rice
Hayden Plinke Senior UTEP

Lombardi (Lineman/linebacker)

Will be announced at a later date

Lou Groza (Kicker)

Jonathan Barnes Junior Louisiana Tech
Nick Smith Junior Marshall

Maxwell (Outstanding player)

Richie James Sophomore Middle Tennessee
Brent Stockstill Sophomore Middle Tennessee
Nick Mullens Senior Southern Miss
Ito Smith Junior Southern Miss
Aaron Jones Junior UTEP
Taywan Taylor Senior Western Kentucky

Outland (Interior lineman)

Larry Ogunjobi Senior Charlotte
Clint Van Horn Senior Marshall
Cameron Tom Senior Southern Miss
Forrest Lamp Senior Western Kentucky

Ray Guy (Punter)

Dalton Schomp Senior Florida Atlantic
Tyler Sarrazin, Senior Southern Miss
Joseph Occhipinti Senior Western Kentucky

Rimington (Center)

Michael Montero Senior Florida International
Daniel Stephens Senior Middle Tennessee
Nick Clarke Sophomore Old Dominion
Cameron Tom Senior Southern Miss
Max Halpin Senior Western Kentucky

Ted Hendricks (Defensive end)

Will be announced at a later date

Walter Camp (Outstanding player)

Nick Mullens Senior Southern Miss

The Sunday leftovers (Apogee 5-year anniversary series, et cetera)

It’s Sunday night and time for the leftovers, where we pick through the events of the weekend, reheat the good stuff — and some of the bad — while hopefully putting it all in perspective.

New UNT director of recruiting David Stenklyft and a few of the Mean Green’s other coaches posted tweets today talking about where they are headed next on the recruiting trail.

San Antonio is on the docket.

And speaking of things that are coming up, the second part of my series on the state of UNT athletics/football at the five-year anniversary of the first game at Apogee will run in the paper tomorrow.

Today’s story set the agenda for the series and talks about the facilities arms race in the region among G5 schools that is really important and largely overlooked.

UNT jumped ahead of its regional rivals when it built Apogee, but a new stadium at Houston, a new end zone facility at Louisiana Tech and the new end zone going in at Rice largely negated the school’s advantage.

Add in 10 losing seasons in the last 11 years and UNT is in a tough spot.

Tomorrow’s story focuses on UNT’s efforts to build a fan and donor base.

Be sure to check it out.

And finally, keep an eye on former Texas wide receiver Ryan Newsome, who is now on the transfer market.

UNT recruiting target series — Marvis Brown III

Marvis Brown III was well on his way to continuing his football career at a college in the DFW area a few years ago.

A few twists and turns later, it once again appears as if that might be the case.

Brown, an offensive lineman who will play this season at Tyler Junior College, recently visited North Texas. The Little Cypress-Mauriceville product originally committed to SMU back in spring of 2014.

Brown never played for the Mustangs and ended up signing with Texas Southern. He played his freshman season at TSU before leaving the school and later enrolling at Tyler JC.

UNT has offered Brown, a 6-4, 315-pound sophomore who can play any position along the offensive line. He also has offers from Arkansas State and Prairie View A&M. Here are his Hudl highlights.

“It was a great visit,” Brown said. “I saw the facilities and toured the campus.”

UNT offensive line coach Brad Davis is recruiting Brown.

“Coach said they want guys who are going to play hard, dominate and help change the program,” Brown said. “I think I can have that kind of impact. I am a physical player and work hard every day.”

Davis has made a positive impression on Brown.

“I like coach Davis,” Brown said. “He tells me what I need to hear not what I want to hear.”

Brown said most schools are recruiting him as a tackle. UNT’s coaches have told him that he could fit in multiple spots along the Mean Green’s offensive front.

“Texas State wasn’t the place for me,” Brown said. “I feel like I committed too quick. This is an opportunity to start over.

“I want to take the recruiting process slow and make a decision late November or early December.”

Brown is seriously considering UNT heading into is sophomore season after his visit to Denton and getting to know the Mean Green’s new coaching staff.

“The coaches have the mindset that they are going to do whatever it takes to be a contender,” Brown said. “They want their players to compete at a championship level every day.”

UNT recruiting target series:

OL Eleasah Anderson, Alief Taylor
WR L.D. Cox, Dallas Carter
LB Kazon Edwards, LA Valley JC
OL Segun Ijiyera, Lake Dallas
OL Justice Oluwaseun, Richmond Foster
DL Junius King, Mesquite Horn
DT Tony KraniqiSachse
QB Cade Pearson, Texarkana (UNT commit)
OL Seth Scott, Dallas Skyline
S Michael Sewell Jr. , LA Valley JC