Potential head coaching targets for North Texas include Garrett Riley, Graham Harrell

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Change is coming in Denton as North Texas decided to move on from head football coach Seth Littrell a week after athletic director Wren Baker took the same job at West Virginia. Littrell was 44-44 in seven seasons in charge of the Mean Green, qualifying for a bowl game six times in seven years. He led them to a Conference USA title game in 2022, but that wasn’t enough for a program with high hopes moving into the American Athletic Conference in 2023. 

UNT President Neal Smatresk and whomever he hires as the new athletic director must quickly move to find a replacement or risk losing an entire offseason. The advent of the transfer portal and the reliance on early signing day by prep recruits require colleges to make decisions faster than ever regarding the coaching staff. 

Here are five early names to watch as the head coaching search begins. 

Garrett Riley 

Riley followed Sonny Dykes from SMU to TCU as offensive coordinator and immediately transformed the Horned Frogs offense into one of the better scoring machines in the country. TCU is 12-1 and in the College Football Playoff, in large part, because of an offense that scored 40.3 points a game. Riley, the younger brother of USC head coach Lincoln Riley, is familiar with DFW and the state of Texas from time at Texas Tech and SFA. 

Graham Harrell 

North Texas fans fondly remember the offensive success enjoyed by the Mean Green during Harrell’s time in Denton as the offensive coordinator. With Mason Fine at quarterback, Harrell engineered one of the top offenses in the country that resulted in consecutive nine-win seasons. He then on to USC before winding up at West Virginia. The Mountaineers were 5-7 in 2022 and averaged 30.58 points per game. 

Emmett Jones

Former high school coaches turned prominent college assistants are in en vogue right now across the Lone Star State. Jeff Traylor is 23-4 in his last two seasons as the head coach at UTSA. Joey McGuire went 7-5 in his first year at Texas Tech and has the Red Raiders energized on the recruiting trail and in the donor base. Jones, who was the head coach at South Oak Cliff, is currently the wide receivers coach at Texas Tech. He was the interim head coach at Kansas before Lance Leipold took over. Jones is loved by his players and respected throughout the state. He’d instantly improve the talent level in Denton and put together a strong staff with plenty of DFW ties. 

Kenny Perry 

Another name to watch if Texas State looks for a former high school coach is Perry, currently the associate head coach at Texas Tech with Joey McGuire. Perry, who spent 14 years as a high school head coach in the DFW area, also made stops at TCU, Kansas, and SMU. He’s a high-energy guy with an infectious personality. He’s one of the most liked coaches in the state and would have no problem putting together a staff that can attract players to Denton. 

Joe Gillespie 

Another name to watch in the Noth Texas head coaching search is the TCU defensive coordinator. Gillespie is a Stephenville native who went to Angelo State. He spent multiple decades coaching high school football in the state of Texas. He was 72-23 as the head coach of Stephenville High School in seven years, winning the 2012 state championship along the way. Gillespie was at Tulsa before arriving in Fort Worth in 2022 as part of Sonny Dykes' staff. 

Justin Fuente 

The former coach at Virginia Tech provides experience and familiarity in DFW. He was at TCU from 2007 to 2011, working his way up from running back coach to co-offensive coordinator by the end of his tenure. He was a successful coach at Memphis in the AAC, going 26-23 in his four seasons there. That includes a 19-6 record over his final two seasons. Fuente was 43-31 in his six seasons at Virginia Tech. 

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