North Texas Daily

From laughing stock to bowl bound; the Mean Green can thank Seth Littrell for their surprising turnaround

From laughing stock to bowl bound; the Mean Green can thank Seth Littrell for their surprising turnaround

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From laughing stock to bowl bound; the Mean Green can thank Seth Littrell for their surprising turnaround
December 11
13:45 2016

The Mean Green are going bowling.

Admittedly, I did not ever think I would utter that phrase – at least not in my time at UNT.

After last year’s 1-11 debacle, a quarterback and coaching carousel, and games that, at times, were worthy of the ESPN Not Top 10, North Texas has turned it around. And on Tuesday, Dec. 27, the Mean Green will take on Army in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.

So how did we get here?

Well, a lot – if not all – of the credit has to go to Seth Littrell. In just one year, Littrell made lemonade out of lemons. Many of the key contributors that went 1-11 in 2015 went 5-7 in 2016. Yes, freshman quarterback Mason Fine navigated the offense, but plenty of integral pieces, like junior running back Jeffery Wilson, senior receivers Thaddeus Thompson and Kenny Buyers, and junior defensive back KiShawn McClain, were at UNT last year.

The common denominator for success is undeniably Littrell. Everywhere he has gone, Littrell has succeeded. From Texas Tech to Indiana and North Carolina, the man wins. More than winning, Littrell brought a culture that North Texas desperately needed.

In the fourth quarter of the 2015 regular season finale against UTEP, the Mean Green were driving and in a position to win only their second game of the year. Then-quarterback DaMarcus Smith took off scrambling on a broken play, and out of nowhere, then-wide receiver Carlos Harris laid out a defender with a blindside block.

Harris was flagged 15 yards for targeting and was promptly ejected. But before he even made it to the locker room, Harris snapped a selfie on SnapChat with the caption “just knocked a fool out on senior night.” The penalty put North Texas behind the sticks and ultimately cost them the game.

Unfortunately, this kind of behavior seemed to be tolerated under the Mean Green’s old regime. But thankfully, those days seem to be behind us.

North Texas sophomore wide reciever Terian Goree (3) runs the ball near the sideline. Goree had one touchdown against the Bulldogs. Colin Mitchell

North Texas sophomore wide reciever Terian Goree (3) runs the ball near the sideline. Goree had one touchdown against the Bulldogs. Colin Mitchell

Littrell has said constantly that no one is bigger than this program. Last week, wide receiver Terian Goree – who entered the season as the new No. 1 target for Fine – was kicked off the team. This week, a source close to the team confirmed to the Daily that Goree had requested his release from the program. His request was granted, and Goree later tweeted a picture of him wearing a Stephen F. Austin jersey, with several teammates tweeting their goodbyes.

It’s still unclear as to why Goree left and was booted off the team. Littrell and team sources only would say Goree “violated a team rule.”

One thing was made very clear throughout this process, however – Littrell does not tolerate poor behavior. It doesn’t matter if you are the starting quarterback or the backup punter, Littrell holds each of his players to the same standard.

To go from one win to five took a total revamp of the football program. The coaching staff was completely overhauled, with the exception of special teams coordinator Tommy Perry. Littrell hired Air Raid disciple Graham Harrell to run the offense and Mike Ekeler to repair a porous defensive unit.

On offense, the Mean Green finished 118th in the country in total offense, averaging 336.2 yards per game to go along with 49 touchdowns. Defensively, North Texas finished 79th in the country, with opponents averaging 432 yards per contest.

To compare, the Mean Green finished 117th in total offense last season, averaging 320.1 yards per game, and finished 119th in total defense, with opponents averaging 502.6 yards per game.

While North Texas did not see that much statistical improvement on offense, it is important to remember the Mean Green suffered injury blows to both their starting quarterback and running back. Fine missed the final two games with a sprained A/C joint in his shoulder, and Wilson missed the Western Kentucky and Southern Miss games due to knee surgery.

The defense was impressive many times this season and has a loaded secondary with KiShawn McClain, Chad Davis, Nate Brooks and Eric Jenkins. They kept North Texas in games when the offense sputtered on multiple occasions.

Their 5-7 record may not indicate much progress to some, but there’s no doubt a foundation for future success has been laid in Littrell’s first year. The question now becomes if Littrell can sustain it.

McCarney won a bowl game, but was fired  less than two years after hoisting the trophy. Todd Dodge struggled from the outset, and while he recruited well, was never able to win on a consistent basis.

Littrell has a proven track record, and accomplished his goal of making a bowl game despite not eclipsing the six-win mark. The Mean Green are in high spirits, bowl berth in hand, and are trending in the right direction.

Only this time, their success seems sustainable.

Winning football appears to have arrived in Denton.

Featured Image: Head coach Seth Littrell talks with a referee during the Southern Mississippi game after a penalty was called on North Texas. Colin Mitchell

About Author

Reece Waddell

Reece Waddell

Reece Waddell was the Editor-in-Chief of the North Texas Daily from May 2017 to December 2017. He previously served as the Sports Editor and Senior Sports Writer. Reece also worked at The Dallas Morning News and WFAA-TV.

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1 Comment

  1. Kennel Up
    Kennel Up December 13, 03:21

    The five wins came against teams with a combined record of 23 wins and 35 losses. One of them is a Division 1-AA team. The only “good” win was against Army and Army coughed the ball up seven times in that game. Take Army out of the mix and the other teams we beat have a record of 16 and 30. At 170 pounds Mason Fine will never be a top level QB. Benching Alec Morris after two shaky quarters in his first start since high school was a major mistake. Without Jeff Wilson this team would have two wins. Unless he learns impulse control, this coach will have problems and likely will move on to another program quickly. Good luck in the Zaxby’s Heart of Dallas Bowl.

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