North Texas Daily

UNT success causes coaching carousel for athletics

UNT success causes coaching carousel for athletics

UNT success causes coaching carousel for athletics
February 10
22:57 2014

Akshay Mirchandani // Staff Writer

There are 12 official sports in the Mean Green athletic department. Out of those 12 teams, six have a head coach in his or her first or second year.

The department’s coaching changes in the past two years are because of the previous coaches leaving for more recognized schools. Though UNT has gone through frequent switches recently, athletic director Rick Villarreal says it speaks more for the school’s recruiting in the first place.

“When you have coaches that are leaving to go places like Utah, Texas, LSU, Wake Forest then what that tells you is that you’re hiring the right kind of people,” Villarreal said. “You’re hiring the kind of people that do a great job and did do a great job here and will become in-demand by other schools.”

Despite the constant upheaval on the coaching staffs, Villarreal said it’s something that is expected.

“I think there is always going to be a changing landscape of coaches,” Villarreal said. “I would be hard-pressed to find a university even like, for instance, an Ohio State. How many different head football coaches have they had in the past six years? How many basketball coaches have they had in the past eight?”

Coaches that are in their first or second year this season include: volleyball’s Andrew Palileo, men’s basketball’s Tony Benford, women’s basketball’s Mike Petersen, cross country’s Stefanie Slekis, swimming’s Brendon Bray and softball’s Tracey Kee.

Benford said that the athletic program has grown a lot in his short time at UNT and thinks it will keep growing from here.

“The exposure that we’re going to get from Conference USA is tremendous,” Benford said. “I think with Coach [Dan] McCarney going to the bowl game, the job they did this year, is going to really help us. I think the other success that we’re having in other programs is going to help us.”

Villarreal said he is pleased with the school’s ability to persuade coaches to come here. He highlights aspects such as the student-athlete academic focus, including the 78 percent graduation rate, and athletic facilities when pitching a coaching position to a candidate.

“It doesn’t take very long to sell a coach who has been around the country to become a part of this,” Villarreal said.

Head soccer coach John Hedlund has been with the team for 19 years, making him the longest tenured coach at UNT. Hedlund said the early success the school has had in C-USA shows the school has been making the right coach decisions.

“They know what they’re doing and I think they kind of look at me, with the stability I’ve had here, that this is a great place to be,” Hedlund said. “This is a place where you can win, you have the resources here and you’ve got several that want to be here for long term.”

The newer coaches also respect Hedlund’s run here at UNT and look to him for advice, to which he tries to help as much as possible. He often gives the new coaches pointers on how he brings in new players from the area.

“Some of them try to pick my brain when it comes to recruiting in Texas, obviously the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and I try to be very helpful there,” Hedlund said. “That’s really our recruiting base and we don’t really leave the state of Texas. So most of it is about recruiting, winning and different methods I might use with my team every year.”

As one of the newer head coaches at UNT, Benford said that he believes UNT is a great spot for any coach to come to because of the fact that it is a program on the rise. The university does a great job of making all new additions feel comfortable from the start.

“First of all, you got a great athletic director to work for, great administration, you’re going to get a lot of support here,” Benford said. “Bottom line it’s about winning. You got to win, and it’s kind of like a big sleeping giant, so to speak.”

In the fall semester, the football team won a bowl game, the volleyball team made it to the conference quarterfinals and the soccer team made it to the conference championship. Villarreal said he anticipated the success, despite all the change.

“I don’t look at this as we’re going to go into Conference USA and then wait our turn to be good,” Villarreal said. “We’ve been preparing to be good for a while.”

Feature photo: Women’s basketball head coach Mike Petersen instructs the Mean Green women during practice. Ntdaily File Photo

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