North Texas Daily

Last players from the McCarney Era hoping to go out on top

Last players from the McCarney Era hoping to go out on top

Last players from the McCarney Era hoping to go out on top
September 07
13:08 2018

The 2018 football season marks the beginning of the last year with players from former-head coach Dan McCarney’s recruiting. Though he does not search these players out, current North Texas head football coach Seth Littrell places a lot of value in his senior group this year.

“The success of any team is going to come down to how well that leadership does throughout the year of overcoming adversity and sticking together,” Littrell said. “When coaches don’t have to step in, that’s when teams really start taking off and holding each other accountable, and I think you’re going to have much more success when players are buying into our core values and start to lead themselves into being successful.”

The Mean Green have a lot of talent heading into this season, but with a roster comprised mostly of underclassmen, experience is needed as well.

Eleven players on this team carry experience dating back to the 2015 season, and while a lot of fans would like to forget that 1-11 season, these players are continuing to use it as fuel.

After losing to Portland State 66-7 during the Mean Green’s homecoming weekend in 2015, head coach Dan McCarney was immediately fired. This caused a lot of players to question which direction this team was headed.

Senior defensive back Nate Brooks described the situation as chaotic after McCarney announced he was fired.

“It was just very hectic,” Brooks said. “I wasn’t really playing at that moment, but there was a lot of chaos in the locker room. When he came in and told us, there was just a lot of uncertainty on what my future was going to be here at UNT.”

One of the reasons why the 2015 season was a disappointment for North Texas was due to the number of high expectations heading into the season.

“We didn’t perform the way we were supposed to,” senior linebacker Brandon Garner said. “Coach McCarney won a bowl game two years before, so we had high expectations [but] we didn’t live up to them. Once the team doesn’t live up to the expectations, the head coach is usually the first one to go.”

With an almost winless season and new coach on the way, some players thought of possibly transferring from the program.

“I was pretty close,” Brooks said. “I talked to my mom [and] some close friends about it. Me and a couple teammates were pretty close to talking to some other coaches and asking for our releases.”

Brooks ultimately stayed on the team because he knew he had to finish things where he started.

“I just felt like I was meant to be here,” Brooks said. “I prayed about it and just felt a very strong urge to be here, like I had a purpose here.”

Others, however, were set on staying loyal to the Mean Green.

“I don’t leave or quit,” Garner said. “That’s just not in my blood. I talked to my mom about it and she already knew I wasn’t gonna leave.”

On Dec. 5, 2015, North Texas hired then-North Carolina assistant head coach Littrell to become the new head coach. 

A lot of players didn’t know what kind of coach they were getting in Littrell, but after he addressed the team, they knew he was serious about trying to steer the Mean Green in the right direction.

Redshirt senior defensive linemen Ulaiasi Tauaalo believed heavily in what Littrell was trying to install in his team.

“‘Attack’ — that was his statement,” Tauaalo said. “That’s when he instilled our core values, which are selflessness, toughness and discipline. He just emphasized that day-in and day-out. People started buying in and we started to see it.”

Littrell built his team the way he wanted but never held anything against players from the previous coaching regime.

“All I know is they’re my family,” Littrell said. “Whoever recruited you, it doesn’t matter. When I got here you establish good relationships and become part of a family.”

The players knew Littrell didn’t want to give them a hard time for the season they just went through.

“He knew that I’ve been here through the worst of the worst, so he knew I was ready to win and was willing to do whatever it took to win,” Garner said. “He loved on us and never called us out because he knew that we went through a bad stage. Now it’s time to get back on top.”

The team witnessed a quick turnover from the coaches when it came to practices and workouts.

A lot of players thought of Littrell’s approach as modern and fast-paced compared to McCarney’s old-school approach.

“[Littrell is] a lot closer in age to us compared to coach McCarney,” Brooks said. “Coach McCarney is very old school and that’s a different style of football. Our practices are easier and more up-to-date. With coach Mac, it was a lot of full pads, full contact for four or five days of the week. Coach Littrell really takes care of us on the field.”

Another big difference between the two coaches is how these teams are built, which is largely in part due to Littrell’s success in recruiting in- and out-of-state, finding hidden gems in each class.

“I know when McCarney was here, he emphasized big on Texas and trying to be homegrown,” Tauaalo said. “With coach Littrell, it’s a matter of who can ball — no questions asked.”

In Littrell’s first year as head coach, the Mean Green finished with a 5-7 record and a bowl berth. In 2016, the team finished with a 9-5 record and reached both the Conference-USA Championship game and in the New Orleans Bowl. 

The team carries momentum into this year, but Garner hopes that his experience with that 2015 team will teach the younger guys to go out and compete every week.

“Like the coaches always say, it’s a fine line between 1-11 and 10-1,” Garner said. “If you don’t do certain stuff right on practices and game days, it’s going to show up. It’s just little things that separate from 1-11 to 11-1.”

A lot of players on that 2015 roster are now grateful to have stuck around and become part of a winning culture here at North Texas. Since they’ve seen what rock bottom looks like, they’ve improved each season, and feel they deserve to go out on top. 

“It’s a great feeling,” Brooks said. “It’s something we never thought we would feel ,and it’s pushing us this year to try to go undefeated and win conference while finally getting a bowl win. Just having that feeling of being 1-11 is a lot of motivation for us to try and be successful this year.”

Featured Image: File

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Deondre Jones

Deondre Jones

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1 Comment

  1. JD
    JD September 08, 14:22

    Those young men deserve the success they are now realizing. Thank you for also being great representatives of North Texas.

    Reply to this comment

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