Matt Brune | Staff Writer
I’m from San Antonio and an avid sports fanatic. I watch more than my fair share of college football, basketball and baseball, and am familiar with most Texas universities.
Two years ago, when it was time to choose a school, I chose North Texas — a school almost no one, including myself, knew anything about. Most people associate large, powerful schools with having grandiose sports teams. With that in mind, it’s painfully obvious why a majority of people, like my 16-year-old self, had not heard of UNT.
In general, athletics at North Texas has historically sucked, especially the revenue generating powerhouses of football and men’s basketball.
But that’s all changing.
The Mean Green are a few years from no longer being cellar dwellers and a few years from being a top-four program in Conference USA. I say this with confidence, because first-year Athletic Director Wren Baker has shown a vision, a plan and a concise approach for making North Texas better now.
While he did not make the decisions to hire women’s basketball head coach Jalie Mitchell or football head coach Seth Littrell, Baker has given them the resources to succeed and had their backs throughout these growing times.
North Texas has six core sports in football, volleyball, men’s and women’s basketball, women’s soccer and softball. The 2016-17 average winning percentage in Conference USA play across those six sports is 46.5, up exactly five percent from the 41.5 percent average in 2015-16.
That’s including the dumpster fire that was men’s basketball.
Excluding men’s basketball, the other five sports had an average C-USA win percentage of 53.5 — an 11.5 percent increase from the 2015-16 year.
Volleyball had to rebuild from losing Carnae Dillard, women’s soccer had to come back after arguably the best team in program history in 2015, while football and women’s basketball both had young coaches at the helm. All of these teams, including the revamped men’s basketball program, appear to be trending upward in the near future.
If they don’t, Baker has made it clear he has little patience for lackluster programs.
Ask Tony Benford.
Baker has also stepped outside of Denton in an effort to grow the Mean Green brand. Recently, he outsourced all media in a partnership with Learfield. He also made his first hire in men’s basketball, coach Grant McCasland from Arkansas State University. Doing so, he showed his willingness to spend what it takes to make a team competitive.
UNT President Neal Smatresk hired Baker with aspirations to see improvement in the near future and so far, Baker has upheld his end of the bargain.
Now it’s up to the players and coaches.
They have all the tools to succeed. Men’s basketball and women’s basketball should take significant strides next season while soccer, under head coach John Hedlund, will work towards maintaining their prowess in conference.
The 2016-17 school year displayed several talented players across all sports and showed fans, students and recruits that North Texas has taken the proper steps to becoming a prominent school for athletics sooner rather than later.
Soon, more than just Texans will know the Mean Green name.
On Monday, radio and television host Colin Cowherd sat in his studio with Joel Klatt, a college football commentator and analyst for Fox Sports 1. Cowherd mocked Iowa University’s football program — as he has for the last few years, because of their nonconference schedule — and in doing so, also summarized a school in Denton fairly accurately when it comes to their national perception.
“[Iowa] is facing, Wyoming, Iowa state, and something called North Texas,” Cowherd said emphatically.
Cowherd said what I asked myself when I first saw the name North Texas on a computer screen three years ago.
What is North Texas?
That is what Wren Baker has been tasked with changing. He’s on the right track.
Featured Image: Wren Baker is the University of North Texas’s athletic director. Baker transferred as athletic director from the University of Missouri. File