The last three North Texas head coaches to leave Denton with a record .500 or better are Hayden Fry, Jerry Moore and Seth Littrell. Fry and Moore are inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, and Littrell was shown the door on Sunday.
This comparison shows where North Texas is today. The program has had only brief periods of sustained success at the FBS level, and the Littrell regime counts as one of those periods: six bowl appearances in seven years, two trips to the Conference USA championship.
But Littrell’s Mean Green teams have consistently lagged behind the quality competition, especially given the investment in the program. Littrell was among the highest-paid coaches at the conference, a new indoor practice facility opened in 2019, and yet a trip to the 2022 C-USA title game couldn’t eclipse the program’s 21-27 record over the past four seasons.
By firing Littrell, North Texas is telling the world what UNT Football has been is not what it is could, should and, if it gets this attitude right, will be.
All of the reasons Littrell was fired — 7 wins this season amid big investments in facilities and pay in one of the best recruiting markets in the country — are why North Texas will be an attractive job within the coaching profession.
The website athletic director and ranked North Texas first among Conference USA AD jobs and no worse than second in any of nine categories ranging from brand perception to donor support to quality of life.
Two key variables here: 1) North Texas doesn’t currently have an AD after Wren Baker took the job in West Virginia last week, and 2) North Texas is joining the American next season.
Littrell left North Texas better than he found it, so the Mean Green believe they can buy in at a higher price than they did in 2015. That’s not to say the UNT won’t eventually hire a Power 5 coordinator (Littrell was the North Carolina offensive). coordinator when he took the job), but they are not limited to these candidates.
Several industry sources have mentioned on this front Justin Fuente‘s candidacy at Denton.
Fuente sat out the 2022 season after being fired for sin going 5-5 at Virginia Tech. He’s 69-54 at Memphis and Va Tech, with an American title in 2014 and an ACC Championship appearance in 2016. A Tulsa native, Fuente also has relevant local experience with five seasons as an assistant under Gary Patterson the TCU. With 69 career wins at the FBS level, Fuente immediately became the most successful associate in Mean Green history.
However, sources close to Fuente have indicated that there is no guarantee he would take the job if offered to him. The 46-year-old can afford to be picky on his sabbatical and only Fuente can tell if the mean green ticks enough boxes.
Specify program sources Graham Harrell would be a popular setting within the fandom. Harrell was Littrell’s first offensive coordinator at Denton, and his three years represent the peak of the previous regime. After a 5-8 debut (the staff inherited a 1-11 pre-Portal-era team), North Texas went 18-9 in 2017-18, including an 8-1 stretch in 2017 and a 6-1 start with a stunning win over Arkansas to begin the 2018 campaign.
Offensive coordinator of the TCU Garret Riley is another name that has been mentioned in industry circles. Riley is apparently Lincoln Riley’s younger brother and the coordinator of an offense in the college football playoffs. Garrett, 33, is young even by family standards. Although Lincoln was 33 when he took over Oklahoma, he had six years of experience as a coordinator, three of them at OU when he took over a turnkey operation in Norman. Taking on another program would be a whole different beast. However, the way Sonny Dykes built SMU and now TCU should be a blueprint for anyone taking over in North Texas, particularly in the way Dykes and the company have aggressively targeted Metroplex natives in the transfer portal .
TCU inside the receiver trainer Doug Meacham was a finalist for the job in the last job posting. Meacham doesn’t have the hot name of Riley, but he has the same qualifications that put him in second place behind Littrell, as well as first-hand experience on the Dykes machine. Kenny Perry and Joe Gillespie, both former Texas high school coaches, could also be solid candidates if North Texas desires an apple from the Dykes tree.
Speaking of Texas high school football, a name with high potential would be Texas Tech wide receivers coach/passing game coordinator Emmett Jones. Jones is in his eighth year as a college coach and has experience working with Kliff Kingsbury and Joey McGuire at Lubbock, including about three years in Kansas. Before that, Jones had a successful career as a high school football coach in Dallas. Jones was an assistant at three Dallas schools before taking the job as head coach at South Oak Cliff.
Observant readers will recall that last December, South Oak Cliff won Dallas ISD’s first state championship since 1958, and the Golden Bears are currently in the semifinals to retain their 5A Division II crown. While Jones obviously wasn’t coaching those teams, the 2021 title was a transformative moment for Dallas High School football, and so the SOC brand has never been hotter.
On that front, another intriguing name would be Running Backs Coach for the Los Angeles Rams Ra’Shaad Samples. At just 27, Samples would be the youngest FBS coach in the sport’s modern history, but Samples is also the most connected and most accomplished 27-year-old in the game. The son of Duncanville High School head coach Reginald Samples coached Samples in Houston, Texas and at SMU after his playing career in Oklahoma state ended. He served on the field with SMU as a running backs coach and assistant head coach, and was scheduled to fill the same responsibilities for Dykes’ current TCU team before taking the running backs job under Sean McVay in Los Angeles.
As there is currently no full-time AD, this will be a different quest than most. president Neal Smatresk made the decision to fire Littrell, and the industry expects that he will be more involved in finding Littrell’s replacement than is normally expected of a Division I president. Deputy Vice President/COO Jared Mosley is the interim AD and the clear favorite to become the full-time AD – Mosley spent 11 years as Abilene Christian’s AD and became the youngest AD in the country (26) when he got the job in 2004 – but that decision has to be made to be made at the time of going to press.
With AD and Headcoaching searches running concurrently, a conference move imminent in the near future, and significant industry interest, North Texas has the potential to become a search like no other in the 2022-23 cycle.
As always, stay tuned to The Scoop for the latest.