(Note: It was announced Todd Dodge will be let go today as I was finishing this article. Offensive Coordinator Mike Canales will be taking over as the interim coach for the rest of the year. I have decided to print the article in it's entirety anyway as it covers many scenarios including this one.)
UNT: The Mean Green Elephant in the Room (Will Todd Dodge Be Fired Soon?)
I have admitted many times to wanting Todd Dodge to succeed here, but the homecoming no show - an asskicking at home by a less talented team - is the kind of high profile loss in front of boosters that often gets coaches fired.
After the game Brett Vito raised the issue with Todd Dodge of whether he thinks he will coach out this season. Here are his quotes of Dodge from the report on the Mean Green Blog.
"I am going to keep coaching this football team...It's not my decision. When the season started they handed us a 12-game schedule and we are going to fight through all 12 games."
"It [the 7 win ultimatum] hasn't been much of a secret since January...If I am here for the next five games, I am going to lead this team the best I can in an adverse situation to keep them together. We are going to do everything we can to win football games. I can't stop to think about my future. That is not my decision."
"I am going to have my staff meeting tomorrow, bring my players in and watch the video, get into the off week and hit the recruiting trail."
At this point in a losing tenure, a reporter's job requires him to ask the questions after a game like this. Although I never like someone asking a coach (the one guy who ultimately has no say in the decision) this kind of question, it's a reporter's job.
So I don't think anyone should have problems with Mr. Vito asking the question.
That blog alone asking that question would not seem that impactful. I take that blog to be a casual conversation area for fans to touch bases with a very tuned in beat reporter. I think Mr. Vito is a fine reporter but the blog is not the same thing as the newspaper. In throwing out discussion topics, the topic of Dodge being fired soon or the mechanics of how firing Dodge would work are topics. That is just the reality of that kind of forum and does not reflect poorly on Mr. Vito at all or imply that anything at all is pending.
But there are further rumours kicking around that a coaching change may be imminent. That is a little different and suggests it may be time for this article.
I want to start by voicing a general complaints about college football.
What does a contract mean in college football?
I find the management of college athletics a bit dodgy when it comes to firing coaches.
Lets look at UNT specifically. Prior to hiring Dodge, UNT had one of the smallest budgets for a coach and coaching staff at the FBS level and even at the Sun Belt level. They had just lost a referendum on funding a stadium expansion, tried to use the UNT student Body to ram it through behind the backs of the student body and embarrassingly got caught.
Their coach fell apart and managed to turn four straight Sun Belt titles into absolutely nothing on the recruiting trail over a what 4, 5 years? - in part because the facilities were so atrocious. The team probably had a dozen kids with the talent to eventually become good starters at the FBS level --- and about half of them played tight end (a role not used in the Dodge offense).
They needed a big name coach to sell getting the stadium built and bring in facility revenue. They pulled on some emotional heartstrings and got Todd Dodge to take the job. He was hands down the highest profile coach they could land with the money they were offering and the facilities they had.
They promised him he'd have the stadium in hand for recruiting in a year or two and they gave him a five year contract to turn the program around.
Well Dodge's name helped deliver the stadium, but it is only being built now.
While I recognize coaches almost never are allowed to fulfill their contracts at the collegiate level and that it is a two way street - successful coaches almost never honor their deals - it does bother me.
Contracts should have some meaning. Your word should as well. UNT hasn't delivered anything they promised to Dodge. Dodge for his part has at least built up the talent level to a point where this is clearly a team with talent in the top half of the Sun Belt.
Are there questions whether he can win at this level? Absolutely.
But that doesn't change the fact UNT hasn't delivered.
To put it in perspective, it would be like if UNT hired a builder for a 1 year project to build something...lets say a new stadium. They promised to give the builder access to the land on such and such date so the builder could hit their schedule, but some local politics lead to the university not giving them access to the land until 5 months later. And then at 9 months the boosters decided they weren't sure they liked the look of the stadium and insisted the university break the contract with the builder.
I don't say this to say that Todd Dodge should not be fired at this point. While this example is specific to Dodge, my issue is more the general concept of contract management for college football coaches.
If it is a five year rebuilding job - which the contract would seem to imply and most UNT fans would have admitted after seeing the talent Dodge inherited - it is a five year job. You need talent to compete and it takes time to get it. It doesn't matter who the coach is.
But that isn't how things works at the collegiate level. Especially at losing schools. Their coaching histories are loaded with coaches hired for 5 year rebuilding projects who were fired after 2-4 years.
And the reality is that Dodge has built the talent to a level where if they changed coaches this would be a 3 year job. Don't believe me? Let's look at next year's roster.
QB - Riley Dodge, Derek Thompson, Chase Baine
HB - Lance Dunbar, James Hamilton, Brandin Byrd
TE - Jamize Olawale, Austin Fitzpatrick
WR - Darius Carey, Brelan Chancellor
FL - Chris Bynes, BJ Lewis
WR - Tyler Stradford, (Casey Schutza/Willie Taylor)
OT - Matt Tomlinson, (Ayodele Adedipe)
OT - Jeremy Bean (?), (Antonio Johnson)
OG - Mason Y'Barbo
OG - Coleman Feeley
C - JJ Johnson, Aaron Fortenberry, Nick Leppo
WDE - Brandon Akpunku, Aaron Bellazin, (Frank Gaines)
DT - Tevinn Cantly, Richard Abbe
DT - Kyle White,
SDE - Brandon McCoy, KC Obi
WLB - Forlando Jackson, Brad Graham, Julian Herron
MLB - Zack Orr, Daniel Prior
SLB - Jeremy Phillips, Brad Graham
CB - Steven Ford, Will Wright,
CB - Royce Hill, D'Leon McCord
FS - Ryan Downing, Will Wright
SS - DaWaylon Cook, John Shorter
P Will Atterberry, Trent Deans
K Zach Olen
PR/KR Brelan Chancellor
DS Troy Kokjohn
Almost all of these guys could be on the two deep at most schools in the Sun Belt. The team needs a few offensive linemen, another CB, maybe a safety, and a pair of DTs and they should be just as talented as any team in the Sun Belt
That is a far cry from what he inherited. That does seem to imply a program headed in the right direction.
That should be a point in his favor, but realistically probably works against him. There are a lot of factors pulling against him.
On firing a coach in midseason
I am also not an advocate of firing a coach during the season in general.
While in Dodge's particular case it can be argued that RV and Dodge effectively renegotiated their contract when Dodge went all in on his staff, protecting three of them from dismissal following last season, there is an understanding that Dodge will be given a shot to win 7 games this year.
That would mean UNT would be free to fire him as soon as the school loses a seventh game and not violate the understanding they reached.
I don't like mid-season firings because it seems disrespectful, seems to violate your word in the written contract, and frankly seems silly and pointless in general as it doesn't usually change anything on the field, but Athletic Director Rick Villareal is going to have to think about what he wants to do.
In my opinion, there are only four reasons firing Todd Dodge should be considered today and they all have the prerequisite condition that RV would need to have decided Dodge is definitely not coming back next year.
(It has been argued that the injuries have essentially stolen Dodge's ability to compete for his job this year and as such he should be given a fair shot in a make or break year. I am not going to argue whether that argument is valid or not, I am only noting it. If RV shares that opinion, then obviously the scenario fails that pre-requisite condition.)
1) If RV believes Dodge has quit on the season. If Dodge is going to win next year, he has to get this team to win some games this year and move up to that middle of the pack Sun Belt cluster. This team doesn't know how to win close games. Just adding new talent next year isn't going to change that. If Dodge has checked out, someone who hasn't needs to guide this team to protect the potential of .500 or better record next season.
I can't dismiss out of hat the idea that Dodge has checked out. Mostly because the Riley Dodge situation is hard for me to read.
It is curious as a fan to see Reilly Dodge went from emergency backup for the next few weeks to the Dodges opting for season ending surgery as soon as UNT lost the ASU game. That was just weird. Was more damage done? Did the idea look too risky to continue with in the light of day? Those would be acceptable reasons.
Then this week, with Dodge's head apparently on the block Riley is back competing for the starting job? I really don't get that.
It could just be poor reporting. Maybe Riley's surgery was never deemed season ending. I am not plugged in on that situation.
There has been reports that over the bye the team will start playing youngsters in preparation for next year. Again, I do not know if that is accurately reported. There were a lot of minutes given to youngsters last week, but that might have just been because it was a blowout.
I think the high school concept of going with youth to get a payoff the following year is a big part of what killed the team's season this year.
Eventually, you need to learn to win a few games. If UNT had gone with seniors last year at their best spots, I think they would have been in the 4-5 win region. They would have come in with slightly fewer returning starters, but the players would have a much better idea how to finish games.
I think repeating that mistake and going 1-11 or whatever vs. 3-9 or 4-8 on the high end would compromise next season.
Maybe RV and Dodge have discussed that. Maybe that is why Riley is back in the mix.
RV should be able to tell if Dodge has quit.
2) If RV believes the players have quit on Todd Dodge. I know a lot of fans will insist this game was proof positive that the players have quit on Todd Dodge. That is not necessarily true. Teams that haven't figured out how to win will have games like this from time to time. It is tough losing heartbreaker after heartbreaker. Sometimes that is followed up by a no show. The ULM game was exactly the same kind of game last year and the players played well after that.
This loss doesn't conclusively prove players have had enough and are checking out on Todd Dodge. (Overall, you can't complain too much about effort from the kids this year. They appear to be trying, although I would not be surprised if DeLoach and some of the defensive coaches are struggling with their group. Mysterious benchings tend to piss off a unit.)
After the injuries, the near losses, and Josh Rake's death, this team is emotionally frayed. A stinker game was probably due. Again, RV should know whether this game was just a bad game like ULM last year, or the first of a series of bad efforts.
3) If RV believes Dodge has taken the program as far as he can. This is one of the tougher ones to consider. Todd Dodge has improved as an FBS coach every year, but his success at UNT boils down to this year and possibly (if RV is forgiving) next year. Is Dodge with this staff capable of doing what is required this year to allow for success next year?
Dodge has coached the season under the ultimatum, has had a string of season ending injuries, has had a horrible three weeks losing 3 games at home and far, far more importantly (and more deeply affecting) has lost a player who he had known for almost 10 years who was friends with his son. I can hardly imagine how difficult that must be. This would be a heck of a lot of stress for anyone. Is Dodge thinking clearly enough to give this team a shot to win each week?
If Dodge can't get this team to at least 3 wins this year, you go into next season having to rebuild a couple key areas and with a team that is no closer to figuring out how to win than they were entering this year. I think this is the tough one, but on the flip side, you need to let the season playout with Dodge in charge to see if success next year might be possible under him.
This is also the best scenario if you are going to hire a guy like Northern Alabama's Terry Bowden, who has a job today. (Bowden by taking the UNA job has proven he is will listen to any offer - one would think that would even theoretically include a head coaching job in the Sun Belt.)
4) If RV wants to try out a coach as an interim guy. This is possible due to UNT's budget and fan demands. There are factions in UNT's fan base who want to see long time UNT Defensive Coordinator Gary DeLoach get a shot on a trial basis and there are people who are fascinated with Offensive Coordinator Mike Canales and his positive nature and instructive coaching style.
If you are going to do this, now is the time to reassign Todd Dodge. With the bye week, a new head coach could implement some serious changes in time for the next 5 games, but practically playing this out today would create a very weird scenario.
The idea that both coordinators get schooled by the staff of what may be the worst coach in the Sun Belt to such a degree that their boss gets run out after the game, does not seem to suggest to me that either merits head coaching consideration. But they would be cheap head coaches next year, leaving money for either more assistants (a dedicated special teams coach please?) or higher paid assistants.
I personally would put Canales ahead of DeLoach today. DeLoach lost one player on defense to injury, Canales lost a ton on offense. There is arguably a lot of talent not being utilized on defense. An argument can be made that Caneles has done a better job of extracting optimal play from his personnel considering that he has had to change his offensive philosophy almost every two weeks to utilize a new starting QB.
At a Sun Belt school, it will be rare to have an abundance of talent. It makes more sense to go with a guy who finds creative ways to get what he needs out of the talent on hand than someone who buries talent because they don't fit his vision. (Which is also an argument for coaches like Jeff Bower and Terry Bowden - if a coaching change is needed.)
If Bower (or some other unemployed coach) is RV's only choice for the next UNT coach, a functional idea could be to fire/reassign Dodge and bring in Bower to finish out the year, kick the tires on the staff, and get a jump on recruiting. It is non-standard as it isn't the clean start most coaches like, but it could offer some benefits.
But my preference is to let the season play out if Dodge and the team are still committed
As I said at the start I do not favor RV firing Dodge in mid-season. I think it is always smart to wait until the season is over and then see what you have. Surprise turnarounds do happen.
(Ultimately, UNT bowed to angry boosters and moved on. The record wasn't there for Dodge for a number of reasons I will touch on following the season. While I am sad for Coach Dodge, the bottom line in the coaching business is wins).