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North Texas athletics experiencing unprecedented success in Year 2 under Wren Baker

North Texas athletics experiencing unprecedented success in Year 2 under Wren Baker

November 15
12:29 2017

Whether it’s a coincidence or not, the North Texas athletic department is having what is arguably the best fall season in school history between its football, volleyball and soccer teams under athletic director Wren Baker’s second year in charge.

Baker didn’t hire any of the three coaches – Seth Littrell, Andrew Palileo and John Hedlund – who have led the successful teams this season, but he has opened the door for all of them to do what is needed to win games – and it has shown.

Since 1997, North Texas has only had two years (2003 and 2013) where the football, volleyball and soccer teams have all finished with a winning record. Under Baker, the Mean Green need just one more win from the football team to reach that milestone in 2017.

“My job is to eliminate hurdles [for teams] and to make sure they have access to the tools they need to succeed,” Baker said. “And we’ve refocused ourselves back to our mission statement, which is ‘Building champions and preparing leaders.’”

With the soccer season just ending and football and volleyball still in progress, the three major fall teams have competed in 60 games so far. They have combined to lose nine total times.

In Conference USA play, there is a combined three losses in 31 games – just one from each program.

While the players and coaches are putting in the labor directly resulting in the wins, Baker has built relationships throughout the athletic department that carry over into the hot start each team has experienced.

“I have a great relationship with him,” head football coach Seth Littrell said. “His leadership is some of the best I’ve ever been around. He understands the importance of giving your student-athletes the resources necessary to be successful. He cares about them not only as athletes but as people. We’re blessed to have him.”

New basketball head coach Grant McCasland was Baker’s first hire at the end of last school year.

As a coach who preaches growing together and building bonds on his basketball team, McCasland enjoys working for an athletic director who does the same thing.

“Wren is just a guy who gets relationships,” McCasland said. “He gets what winning is, and winning is support. I think it’s the energy in our athletic department that Wren is behind them and wants them to be successful. It’s his ability to relate that separates him.”

One change Baker made after his arrival was bringing in a nutritionist – players have raved about the impact the move has had.

In Baker’s trek to making the Mean Green athletics be the best it can be, he’s been sure not to skip any steps in constructing his championship athletic program.

“To [build champions] you have to have the infrastructure,” Baker said. “From nutrition to the mental and emotional health to the physical fitness as well as the academic support we have, all of those go into making them the best they can be.”

Players like senior running back Jeffery Wilson have benefited in the past two seasons Baker has been here. Now, especially with the new nutritionist, Wilson is as healthy as ever as football season winds down.

In his senior year, Wilson has rushed for over 100 yards in two consecutive November games for the first time in his career. He’s been a key part of football’s resurgence while also keeping an eye on volleyball and soccer’s terrific seasons.

“It’s really a joy [to see],” Wilson said. “We [used to be] up and down in sports. It was lopsided. You always heard about soccer being the best team here, so it’s good to see it mixed around in the other departments [as well].”

Not too long ago, ground was broken on the new track and soccer stadium right next to the Waranch Tennis Complex. It’s the first of many new stadium and restoration projects fitting into Baker’s strategic plan for the athletics department, which can be found in its entirety here.

While there are several ideas in Baker’s head and numerous objectives he wants to accomplish, planning them out and attacking them more individually has turned out to be the best method for him.

“Coming in you have so many things you want to do,” Baker said. “So for administration, it’s focusing in on the process and the priority of things you want to change. Once we figured out where we have to get better and the priority in which we’re going to take these on, it allowed us to focus and make them better.”

In the days leading up to the start of basketball season, the Super Pit walkways and exterior were renovated.. The football team will also have a new indoor practice facility next year – that process is underway as of a few weeks ago.

These are just a few of the major changes Baker has launched recently.

“Wren knows what winning is, and it’s people,” McCasland said. “Anytime you have an administration that values people and is supportive in any way, that’s Wren. And it’s a family deal for him too, so he’s got a great approach.”

Baker has only made one head coach hiring so far, and that will play a large role in how his tenure is regarded in the future. But in just a short time, he’s already proven he has what it takes to work with the coaches in place to build proven winners across the board.

“My goal is to get every team in the top third of the league in terms of budget, what we pay coaches and facilities,” Baker said. “We can compete for championships in every single sport, and I believe that.”

Growing up in the small town of Valliant, Oklahoma, Baker was steered in one direction as a kid – toward working at the local paper mill. It’s something people in Valliant embraced and accepted, but Baker constantly looked for a way out.

“Maybe I was a millennial before there were millennials,” Baker said. “I think millennials have a much greater desire not to just go punch a clock, they want to know what everything is working towards, and I was that way.”

He went from working at the paper mill over the summers as a kid to being the youngest principal in Oklahoma at 26 years old in 2006.

Now, he captains an athletic department that has experienced one of the best fall seasons in school history –and seems to only be trending upward. It’s all because of the relationships he’s built and Baker’s passion for making a difference in the lives of student-athletes.

“I wanted to do this for the same reason that someone wants to be an elementary teacher or a counselor,” Baker said. “Just to have a chance to watch people grow and maybe contribute to their development.”

Featured Image: North Texas is on pace to finish with a winning record in football, volleyball and soccer for just the third time since 1997 as Wren Baker’s impact has made an impact on the athletic department. Sara Carpenter

About Author

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune

Matthew Brune is the Senior Sports Writer for the North Texas Daily, covering football and men's basketball.

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