February 2010 may be the month the North Texas Mean Green Football Team turned the corner—or may be the moment when the program stopped making progress and totally jumped the shark.
The month started in the best possible way as head football coach Todd Dodge and company pulled in the finest recruiting class North Texas has landed in years, despite having to replace one of the coordinators (offensive coordinator Todd Ford) right before the signing day.
UNT can now roll out three-star recruits at nine of their 11 starting defensive spots if they choose. Has UNT ever been able to say that? Probably not.
Last year, UNT seemed to want to play a pressure scheme that allowed them to come after the passer and lock up their opponent's receivers. In retrospect, it appears the coaching staff felt they lacked the horses to lock up opposing receivers.
They likely have those horses this year.
UNT football loses a key supporter
UNT President Gretchen Bataille resigned mysteriously.
There are reports suggesting that friction between her and Chancellor Lee Jackson may have caused her to resign after a series of disagreements.
Bataille and Jackson disagreed on the relocation of the UNT systems' headquarters away from Denton in a move that has been uncharitably described more as cutting commute times for people in temporary positions than for creating any net positive growth for UNT.
Bataille wanted to keep the university system's headquarters in Denton.
Bataille had gone to the students and felt she had the support for a 5 percent tuition increase to fund university improvements and increased research activity that would ultimately increase the value of a UNT degree.
Jackson feared a tuition increase. He was agreeable to a 3.5 percent increase and ultimately the Regents agreed to a 3.95 percent increase.
(From an outsider's perspective the dispute seems to be the kind of disagreement that is frequently seen at low end academic schools. The more conservative majority tends to look at the school and think that the only draw the unversity offers is cheap tuition. The progressive who targets improvement in specific high yeild areas often loses those battles and the university continues to flounder.)
That vote seems to have been the straw that broke the camel's back as Dr. Bataille became the second UNT president in a row to resign without another job in hand.
This is very much an opinion piece, so I am going to put some forward.
It should be a huge red flag when capable presidents are resigning without the pull of another job. It suggests that they have grown weary of running headfirst into short sighted management.
Is there anything about UNT that suggests this university has not been run by very short sighted people for the last 20 years at least?
Dr. Bataille was rapidly transforming UNT into a much higher caliber of institution with the support of the student body. She took the time to explain the fundamental goals to the students and let them decide. She treated the students as valuable partners in building a better university and was rewarded with their support.
She got a lot of things done on her watch and appears to have run head first repeatedly into the conservative status quo that has stunted UNT's growth in years past.
(At the groundbreaking ceremony for New Mean Green Stadium, AD Rick Villareal talked about when he took the job at UNT. He recalled making a list of every facility that had to be improved and he was told repeatedly be everyone he spoke to that he would not be able to get those improvements done at UNT.
This same conservative foot-dragging and naval-watching probably ran off Dr. Bataille, will likely attract a lesser candidate for the post next time, and will likely lead UNT to fall behind similar universities with far more aggressive, progressive leadership and or academic advantages like Texas State, UT-Dallas, Houston, Texas Tech, and UTSA.)
The importance of Dr. Bataille's leadership cannot be understated.
UNT is a school that has traditionally taken a very hostile view of football and athletics. It is largely seen as a "music school," which in real terms means that UNT attracts a much higher proportion of "band geeks" (my wife being one) who come in with an axe to grind against high school football and a willingness to grind it against college football as well.
Traditionally, this has lead UNT to make some decisions that probably weren't in the school's best interest. Under Bataille this dynamic has been kept in check as students and alumni worked together for UNT's best interest, even if it happened to be in areas that didn't specifically interest a lot of UNT students.
The president prior to Dr. Bataille was an overt supporter of sports. Dr. Bataille was also a very strong supporter of UNT sports, but in my opinion in a much more practical way and for much healthier reasons—because she was charged with making the university prosper in all areas.
Under Dr. Bataille's leadership, the students got on board to help finance a new stadium. The often dysfunctional relationship between the students and the alumni saw some of its best days ever were when both groups worked together with the administration to really sell the idea of a new stadium.
Dr. Bataille's leadership in selling overall collaboration to achieve larger goals was a big key in getting it done.
Dr. Bataille also played a large role in the institutional collaboration with UTA and UTD in pushing for legislation to improve UNT's ability to transform itself into a "research University" (sometimes refered to as a "Tier 1" university, although that term should not be confused with the US News's "Tier 1" designation for "National" doctorate-granting universities).
It is probably not a stretch to say that in her short time at UNT, Dr. Bataille did more to transform UNT into what UNT fans want it to be—a legit FBS program at a respected major university that is a peer to many state flagships—than most of our past leaders can say.
Dr. Bataille was a very effective leader who understood that athletics can actually play a very positive role in helping UNT achieve better academic standing and serve as a platform to promote the areas of excellence at the university.
Dr. Bataille put sports in its place at UNT. She supported them, promoted them, and treated them fairly as an equal part of the UNT experience—equally as deserving of support as other areas—but not at the expense of other areas.
Lesser hands are once more in control of the direction of the university. Who knows how that will play out for UNT and UNT athletics.
WR coach Clayton George resigns
In earlier articles I have expressed my admiration for WR coach Clayton George.
George transformed Casey Fitzgerald, a former walk-on into an All-American WR. He developed Darius Carey and Jamaal Jackson into All-Conference receivers and landed All-Conference running back Lance Dunbar as a recruiter.
I thought of all the Dodgite high school coaches, George was the one who really got it at the collegiate level. As readers of my columns know, I advocated George as a potential offensive coordinator after Todd Ford left and far down the road as a potential head coach of the Mean Green.
My admiration for George (a Mean Green alum and former player) was not shared by all.
Earlier in the offseason, there was a rumor reported on the Mean Green Blog that AD Rick Villareal had told Dodge that he needed to fire three members of his staff to keep his job. The way the story went, this was leaked to Brett Vito and Vito posted it on his blog as an unconfirmed rumor and then set about trying to confirm it.
If the rumor was true, it appears it may have leaked before Dodge could talk to his staff, which would make a lot of sense of what came next. Dodge became enraged and drew a line in the sand to protect his staff, saying that he would not be firing any of his staff.
The administration at UNT denied the rumor.
If there was a power struggle (and it looked like there may have been), Dodge won the power struggle, earning the right to retain his entire staff.
The apparent cost of Dodge's stance was the implimentation of a new bottom-line approach by Villareal. The new rules more or less said that another losing season will lead to Dodge's dismissal.
It seems to have been a tradeoff both Dodge and Villareal could stomach.
Dodge got the control and the percieved control he wanted.
Villareal now can fire Dodge if the team struggles with no backlash from Dodge supporters and can give his coach of choice (Dodge) another year with little criticism from fans who want the bottom line of wins and losses addressed. (They wanted Dodge gone last season due to the lack of wins.)
Interestingly, reportedly George and Ford were two of the three coaches on Villareal's scratch list. (Let's not talk about the third coach on that list as there is no point to that discussion.)
It seems like George may have realized that he was a point of contention that put the coaching staff in a less stable position and may have begun looking for another job.
Todd Dodge's decision to immediately go outside of his staff for his next offensive coordinator rather than considering George may also have played a role.
(The official reasons stated for the George departure deal with proximity to his wife and kids who respectively work and go to school in the area.)
George returned to Southlake High School to take the offensive coordinator job he used to have. It is a great, high-profile job dealing with motivated, well-coached kids who take football seriously and is a very good stepping stone for George should he ever want to return to the collegiate ranks.
One hopes George might one day earn a position on an established winning collegiate coaching staff so he can learn how a winning collegiate program is run (In my opinion, that is the most glaring weakness of Todd Dodge's resume and his ignorance of that probably cost Dodge at least a year in turning around this UNT program). I could see George following a career path like that of former Irving MacArthur coach and current Rice offensive coordinator David Beaty.
I would still not be surprised to see Clayton George coaching the Mean Green in 2022-5 or so if he can get that kind of experience on a winning staff.
William Cole and Darien Williams leave the program
UNT lost two guys who are players.
With the transition of UNT to a three receiver spread, there is one fewer receiver slot available. We don't know why Cole left, but Cole may have simply felt there was too much quality competition.
Williams was a pretty good safety in run support, but looked likely to be squeezed out with all the incoming defensive backs. He should be a top player at the D-II or FCS level.
Thank God February is over
March brings the news of UNT hiring former Colorado State offensive coordinator Greg Peterson as it's new WR coach. Peterson was very successful in the past as Kansas State's WR coach and passing game coordinator.
Some quick facts about Peterson:
- Former member of wide receiving corps of the USFL's Houston Gamblers, one of the premeire run and shoot offenses of all time. Peterson played for longtime successful NFL and Collegiate head coach Jack Pardee and caught passes from NFL hall of Fame QB Jim Kelly.
- Recruiting coordinator for CSU with focus areas being Colorado Springs, Arlington, and DFW.
- Has developed a lot of good players as a WR coach, including eight Biletnikoff candidates.
- Has served as recruiting coordinator at Kansas State, Colorado State, and Washington State.
- Position coach for a couple years under John L. Smith at Idaho. The Vandals went 20-5 those years.
- He coached for Bill Snyder at Kansas State and filled various roles on a staff that went 109-40. It should be noted that their better seasons occurred when he was the passing game coordinator. It is always good to have guys who have been a part of winning programs on your staff. It is noteworthy that he was demoted to WRs coach his last year at Kansas State.
- He was the offensive coordinator at Colorado State before being demoted. The team went 7-4 in 2008 with him "running the offense" and started out 3-0 last year before going into a season long losing skid. He was demoted to recruiting coordinator in November after 6 straight losses and ultimately was forced out the door.
He seems to be a good recruiter, a pretty darned good position coach, and a plus as an offensive mind. His exit from CSU sounds messy and is probably the only reason UNT was able to land this caliber of coach as our WR coach for what is likely a pretty small salary. It sounds like the head coach, Steve Fairchild, made Peterson the scapegoat for the failings of the offense - although Fairchild apparently called the plays...
One wonders how ugly things got between Fairchild and Peterson as the offense struggled. Did Peterson suggest changes that Fairchild took offense to, leading Fairchild to replace Peterson with a younger, unproven, and more malleable replacement? (all speculation)
Peterson could really help Canales if Canales uses him like a peer sounding board helping Canales develop a more focused and streamlined offense. Those Kanas State offenses rarely beat themselves with turnovers. Peterson could really help UNt in that regard. Hopefully that is how Canales sees it.
In the words of Oglivy, “If we hire people who are smaller than we are, we will become a company of dwarfs. If we hire people who are larger than we are, we’ll become a company of giants.”
Hopefully Peterson will be a passing game coordinator/WRs coach here, freeing Canales from busywork so he can work with the QBs more.
Plus it usually doesn't hurt to have someone who was a big part of a dominant BCS program for over a decade on staff. Getting a few guys who have been a part of winning programs on staff generally helps. UNT doesn't have a lot of that on staff.
Still it is curious that Snyder did not scoop this guy up again when he became available...
Pros: knows what he is doing, has been the passing game coordinator on several offenses that didn't make a lot of mistakes, and is a plus recruiter who has long term realtionships with coaches in the DFW area where UNT has not excelled recruiting.
Cons: May not play well with others. (entirely speculation.)
Some links on Peterson:
With the hiring of Peterson, it look like UNT has some positive momentum again.