Perhaps no team in America disappointed last season more than the Mean Green. North Texas was projected to win its division, push for 10 wins and compete for an elusive conference title.
But things were completely off the rails just halfway through the season. The Mean Green lost four of their first five FBS games, barely survived a rebuilding MTSU and then blew a road game against Charlotte. When the dust settled, North Texas finished 4-8 and ahead of only UTEP in the C-USA West division, an unacceptable result for a program that won 18 games the previous two seasons.
“First and foremost, it starts with me, I’ve always said that,” head coach Seth Littrell said. “I’m the leader of this group and I have to hold myself to the standard that I expect for everybody else. Some of it was guys not being on the same page philosophy-wise. Sometimes you just need someone to take a fresh look at things. That’s why we felt we had to make a change.”
Those changes were significant. Both coordinators were let go after the season, with five assistants leaving the program overall.
Littrell promoted receivers coach Tommy Mainord and added offensive line coach Mike Bloesch from Tulsa as co-coordinators. After falling more than 30 spots nationally in total and scoring offense, Littrell is taking over play-calling responsibilities for the first time as a head coach.
“If you’ve prepared enough during the week, it doesn’t really matter who’s calling plays to be honest with you,” Littrell said. “People put too much stock in that. As long as people put egos aside, game days are the easy part. Or they should be the easy part.”
On the defensive side, Littrell cut defensive coordinator Troy Reffett, who had been with the staff in some capacity since Littrell arrived in Denton. He didn’t venture too far away from his roots, though. Littrell hired Clint Bowen, who he worked as a graduate assistant at Kansas with Mark Mangino in the early 2000s.
Bowen briefly served as UNT defensive coordinator in 2011. However, he spent most of his 24-year career coaching every group imaginable at Kansas, headlined by serving as co-defensive coordinator during the 2007 Orange Bowl season. The bar has risen dramatically since his season in Denton – and competing at the highest level is a huge draw.
“When I talk to the people here, it’s not if we’re going to win Conference USA, it’s when we’re going to win,” Bowen said. “There’s no doubt in my mind that that’s what should happen. We’re in a position to recruit players that are physically able to compete, we have the facilities. (UNT Vice President and Director of Athletics) Wren Baker has taken away all excuses for us as football coaches. It’s on us now.”
Even coming off a 4-8 season, that’s how everyone talks. The standard is winning championships and winning bowl games. But after losing several key starters, getting back to that standard won’t be easy.
Quarterback Mason Fine is out after an illustrious career, leaving the Mean Green with just 40 total returning pass attempts on the roster. Defensive end LaDarius Hamilton, safety Khairi Muhammad and receiver Rico Bussey are also gone. The schedule doesn’t give the Mean Green much time to grow. Non-conference games against SMU, Houston and Texas A&M will physically and mentally test this team.
Nevertheless, there’s a reason expectations are still high. Littrell has completely transformed the roster during his tenure in Denton. The Mean Green are fresh off their two best recruiting classes in more than a decade. The state-of-the-art indoor practice facility recently opened. Across the board, the University of North Texas has put in the work to create a winner. The 2020 season is a critical time to prove that the best is yet to come.
“You gotta stay strong and positive at the top and talk about what we are going to do, not what we’re going to go back to,” Littrell said. “I feel good about the leadership of this team. There’s no doubt, we’re only going one direction, and that’s up.”
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