North Texas’ impressive transition to bowl team

Derek Thompson remembers how dysfunctional things seemed when he

first got to North Texas. The quarterback even preferred playing on

the road in his early days, far away from the aging campus

stadium.

Thompson and leading tackler Zach Orr are among 17 players who

can genuinely appreciate how far the Mean Green have come during

their college careers.

That group arrived at the end of a string of losing seasons

under a coach whose high school success never translated to the

college level, moved into a new stadium with a new coach and now

will play on New Year’s Day in the school’s first bowl game since

2004.

”It’s a night-and-day difference. When I got here, I didn’t

really know what a football family really felt like,” Thompson

said. ”There’s a lot of guys that left, that quit the program. …

It’s unbelievable the change. I know a lot of programs go through

stuff like that, but I don’t think there’s another program in the

nation that was as dysfunctional as we were when I got here.”

The Mean Green (8-4) wrap up their third season under coach Dan

McCarney against similarly improved UNLV (7-5) in the Heart of

Dallas Bowl.

”He just brought a toughness, discipline and physicality to

this program,” All-Conference USA linebacker Orr said of

McCarney.

McCarney was part of impressive turnarounds with Hayden Fry at

Iowa and Barry Alvarez at Wisconsin before his first head coaching

job at Iowa State, which went from winless the season before

McCarney got there to five bowls in a span of six seasons. He was

part of a national championship with Urban Meyer at Florida before

North Texas.

The Mean Green were 13-58 the six seasons before McCarney

arrived. That included 6-37 in 3 1/2 seasons under Todd Dodge, the

first head coach since Gerry Faust at Notre Dame in 1981 to go from

high school to NCAA Division I. Dodge was 79-1 with four state

championships his final five seasons at Southlake Carroll High

School, about 30 miles from the Denton campus.

When McCarney got there, he said a lot of players viewed

consequences as punishment instead of ”things you have to do just

to give yourself a chance to be successful.” Nearly half of the

players had GPAs under 2.0 – this semester more than 50 had at

least a 3.0 GPA, and every player is academically eligible to play

in the bowl.

UNT went 5-7 and 4-8 its first two seasons under McCarney, while

there was some initial turnover in the roster.

”Some of them eliminated themselves. I eliminated some because

there were some guys here either character or academics or talent,

they didn’t want to be here and live up to the expectations and the

standards of the program,” McCarney said. ”The ones that have

stuck with me and have been with me, how gratifying and fulfilling

is that now.”

North Texas, in its 100th season of football, has won six of its

last seven games. The lone loss in that stretch, 21-13 at home to

UTSA, cost the Mean Green a chance to be in the C-USA championship

game in their first season in the league.

There are 20 seniors listed on North Texas’ bowl roster – 13

were already there in 2010, Dodge’s last season. Four other players

from then still have another season of eligibility under

McCarney.

”Coach Mac has his system in place, he’s laid the foundation,

and everybody’s buying in,” Orr said.

”To finally be the senior class that decided enough is enough

and we weren’t going to be turned away this year was pretty

special,” Thompson said. ”This senior class will be remembered

for a long time just because of what we were able to do this

year.”