North Texas Daily

Rick Villarreal leaving UNT is a change desperately needed

Rick Villarreal leaving UNT is a change desperately needed

A plane with a sign attached reading “Fire Rick Villarreal” flies over the UNT campus on Thursday. Colin Mitchell | Intern Photographer

Rick Villarreal leaving UNT is a change desperately needed
May 27
18:49 2016

The Editorial Board

In November, a plane circled over campus towing a message for the Hurley Administration Building: “Fire Rick Villarreal.” Seven months later, that plane landed.

Villarreal told the university community Monday that he was leaving his post as athletic director. Good for UNT. At a time when the university is sailing full steam to be Dallas-Fort Worth’s choice school, the three money making sports have routinely come up short.

In an interview, Villarreal said he and UNT President Neal Smatresk “came to this decision and felt like it was best.” Publicly, Smatresk has been grateful for Villarreal’s service. But Villarreal’s departure is a clear reminder that Smatresk and other leaders are serious about turning North Texas athletics into more, shall we say, tier-one programs.

Head coach Seth Littrell looks on as the offense runs through drills. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

Head coach Seth Littrell looks on as the offense runs through drills. Colin Mitchell | Senior Staff Photographer

Villarreal will be the athletic director until June 20, but the effects of his 15 years here will linger. The football program, a sore thumb, has a new coach, Seth Littrell. Villarreal hired him. New head women’s basketball coach Jalie Mitchell: hired by Villarreal.

For a long time now, Villarreal has built a kitchen without a cook. Smatresk and others must quickly hire a new athletic director who can press these new coaches and enforce excellence.

We need an athletic director who will not be defensive about their flaws. In some interviews, some Daily reporters and editors say, Villarreal’s attempts to spin questions about substandard game attendance were almost laughable. In one interview, Villarreal told a reporter “I hope I’m not disappointed” with the ensuing article.

That’s not how this works.

North Texas women's basketball head coach Jalie Mitchell talks with Steven Bartolotta on the Coach's Show at Rudy's BBQ. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

North Texas women’s basketball head coach Jalie Mitchell talks with Steven Bartolotta on the Coach’s Show at Rudy’s BBQ. Dylan Nadwodny | Staff Photographer

On forums like GoMeanGreen.com, alumni, donors and fans roast Villarreal for the school’s poor athletic performance. They yelled about Villarreal’s empty promises of a baseball program. People stopped buying season tickets; they stopped showing up to games.

Online posts turned into bricks, thrown at UNT’s Mean-Green facade, shattering it like glass. Good for UNT, for listening to its people. It’s clear that banner over campus hit its target.

For Smatresk and his team, growing a quality athletic program is a challenge. We know he and his team have done well to position UNT as a vital institution for DFW and for Texas. We’ll see how athletics turn out.

And stop quietly raising our athletic fees while you field losing teams.

Find UNT an athletic director who can get us excited about going to games. There are people here and abroad who love North Texas sports and want to see UNT’s athletes thrive. Give the community a reason to celebrate.

Featured Image: File Photo. Colin Mitchell

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