I met Todd Dodge awhile back at the groundbreaking ceremony for the New Mean Green Stadium. I had seen the guy on the sidelines for years and known of him from his days at SouthLake High school, where he was a DFW institution, but I had never met him up to that day.
It was an odd meeting.
Dodge seemed very sheepish to be at the groundbreaking ceremony. Reading it as positively as you could, one might assume Dodge was distracted as he wanted to be out getting his team ready for the game.
I think that was not the correct read. To me he seemed almost embarrassed to be there. It was as if he felt he hadn't done anything on the field to make the stadium happen. Like he hadn't pulled his weight.
He may have also felt some angst about his position at the school. At the time, he was under fire from fans, alumni, and boosters and there was no guarantee he would even be back for the 2010 season. He very well may have felt awkward breaking ground on a stadium that he might not even be around to see built, let alone to see the first bulldozer go to work on preparing the foundation.
It was an awkward moment for me as a UNT fan to see my team's coach, who so obviously carries a great deal of swagger normally, looking so uncertain about his fate and where he stood.
You could see the doubts had crept in.
Dodge clearly thought that 2009 would be the year his team turned the corner. He had badly misjudged the importance of senior leadership, gutting his team of it early on. I felt for him. The team lost several close games last season and the talent was probably there for a near .500 season.
Clearly Dodge expected more.
His personnel decisions clearly implied he had thought players like Riley Dodge, Sam Owusu-Hemeng, Micheal Outlaw, Adryan Adams, Kelvin Drake, Royce Hill, Kylie Hill, Craig Robertson and others would play at a higher level than they did in 2009.
With the season almost over Dodge seemed to realize that he had less talent than he thought and he had oversold his team's chances to his players, the fans, the alumni, the boosters, and his bosses, putting his job and his staff's jobs at risk and making the whole ceremony even more immensely awkward.
Today one has to think Dodge is a much happier coach and one much more comfortable in his skin.
His employment is settled. He will coach this season and it seems likely that a very achievable .500 finish in 2010 will see him likely retain his job.
His embattled offensive coordinator Todd Ford resigned giving Dodge a number of options with that $90,000 coaching slot. Ford had a lousy year in 2009. He did not seem to be contributing all that much and the move may end up adding one or more coaches with more skins on the wall who do contribute to the staff.
While the move may not have been one Dodge championed, it seems pretty likely UNT was not going to give Dodge money to hire any supplemental staff members. The move does allow Dodge a ton of flexibility which he would not have otherwise had.
Plus, it is human nature to be somewhat excited about new people coming in. That spark might help as well.
Finally the offseason recruiting plan is proceeding well. One can tell there are areas as a collegiate head coach in which Todd Dodge excels.
Dodge is a strong coach in the off-season. Dodge and his staff do a good job of identifying the right players to pursue, coming up with an acquisition plan, and then closing the deal.
UNT needed more talent on the defensive side of the ball and has landed a lot of talent including six three-star recruits who might challenge for playing time immediately to help populate proven defensive coordinator Gary DeLoach's defense.
OLB Forlando Johnson, Butler (Kan.) CC
OLB Brad Graham, Navarro JC
S Jamison Hughes, Pearl River (Miss.) C.C.
S Ryan Downing, Butler (Kan.) CC
DE Aaron Bellazin, Everman
MLB Zach Orr, DeSoto
The odds are at least a couple of these guys are going to force their way into the starting lineup and at least one of them will be a playmaker next season. The staff has also landed some players at CB who may surprise.
I was worried about the team this year as I think the returning players and coaching staff needed a little more help. I didn't know if UNT would land any defensive help or if the coaching staff would show any improvement.
The offseason so far has restored my batteries as a fan. This is at worst a middle of the pack Sun Belt recruiting class overall, but is really loaded with quality defensive help.
You cannot recruit this well coming off a two-win season if you are haunted by doubts. As a UNT fan and a human being I am pleased by what this kind of class suggests—that Todd Dodge has his groove back.