UNT consultants host open athletics forum amid athletic director search

UNT consultants host open athletics forum amid athletic director search

UNT consultants host open athletics forum amid athletic director search
June 28
19:24 2016

Austin Jackson | Staff Writer

@a_jack17

With intentions of mending a weary fan base, UNT consultants Trip Kuehne and Michael Sicuro hosted a forum Monday, June 27, bringing together prominent North Texas coaches and over 100 alumni to discuss the current and future state of North Texas athletics.

In his address to the crowd, Kuehne said the event was the “first step” towards uniting a passionate, but divided, fan base.

“Things around this institution haven’t been really great, but they haven’t been going bad,” Kuehne said. “We have some phenomenal facilities, but we have a fan base that is fractured. We have a fan base, alumni base and boosters that need to be brought together.”

Kuehne and Sicuro were hired two weeks after former athletic director Rick Villarreal resigned on May 23 to evaluate the program’s resources, staff and facilities as “special consultants” to University President Neal Smatresk, according to a UNT press release.

After Kuehne addressed the crowd, UNT head football coach Seth Littrell and men’s basketball coach Tony Benford took the podium, outlining their expectations for the upcoming season and the state of their respective programs.

Littrell began his address by saying the alumni’s passion and desire to be great is mutual and later explained his irritation with the question, “Why North Texas?” Citing the facilities, student body, local recruiting hotbed, alumni, fan base and administration, Littrell posed his own question, emphatically asking, “Why not North Texas?”

“It’ll come down to all of us together – all of us together,” Littrell said. “We all have to get on the same page and pull the rope in the same direction, and that’s why I appreciate you being here tonight.”

When asked if more players could be added to the current recruiting class, Littrell replied directly, explaining the possibility of “blue-shirting” future recruits for the next class. He later noted the team’s current challenges with depth and said having 68 scholarship players on the roster was more comparable to an FCS program rather than FBS, which have up to 85.

But Littrell said he’s not backing down from the challenge, citing his tendency to coach and play with a chip on his shoulder and his unique insight into playing football during a regime change.

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Seth Littrell, UNT head football coach, addresses fans, alumni, and coaches in an open meeting June 27 in Apogee Stadium. The staff later closed the meeting to help the audience feel more open to discuss their opinions. Sanchez Murray | Staff Photographer

Littrell played football at Oklahoma University when Bob Stoops took over the program midway through his college career. In his senior year, Stoops lead Littrell and the Sooners to a 13-0 record and a national championship.

“Trust me – at the end of the day, if I didn’t’ think this was a gold mine, I would never have accepted the job,” Littrell said. “I didn’t want to be a head coach bad enough to just go to a place. I wanted to have everything that we needed to be successful and win championships.”

Benford, who doesn’t have luxury of a fresh start like Littrell, explained why next season would be an improvement in men’s basketball. Benford outlined his team’s improving culture and veteran leadership, praising the team’s work ethic on and off the court. He credited his upperclassmen, specifically junior forward Jeremy Combs and senior guard J-Mychal Reese for being “culture creators” who have both helped the team’s current roster and attracted recruits.

Benford said the culture he’s established over the past four years is starting to pay dividends, saying it will “translate to wins this year.”

In addition to highlighting his team’s progress, he asked fans to come and watch the team not just on game day, but also at their practices and workouts. Afterwards, Benford said his goal for the forum was to have fans see the team firsthand before making assumptions.

“There’s some apathy out there, but give us a chance. Give the kids a chance,” Benford said. “Come watch Jeremy Combs. Come watch J-Mychal Reese. Watch the new guys, and then make a decision.”

After the event, Benford said he didn’t know if he changed any minds, but thought establishing the dialogue with fans was important.

“Communication – that’s what you always want is communication,” Benford said. “I think you gotta have that transparency.”

After Benford and Littrell fielded questions from the crowd, Kuehne closed out the first half of the forum, praising the candor of the coaches and the progress their transparency represented for North Texas Athletics.

“I also think that everyone in this room has missed in the past is there hadn’t been a whole lot of openness and transparency about what’s gone on,” Kuehne said over the applause.

Media members were then instructed to leave the premises for the fan feedback portion of the forum. Kuehne and Sicuro said removing reporters would allow the fans and alumni to feel safe expressing their opinions.

At 11 p.m., five hours after arriving, Kuehne and Sicuro left the stadium. They each declined to comment on the forum, citing hunger and a duty to report their findings and opinions to President Smatresk first.

Among the notable North Texas alumni present was former Mean Green broadcaster and current radio host George Dunham. Going into the event, Dunham said the people in the room could be part of the solution for UNT athletics and said negativity, while warranted, doesn’t seem to be working.

“One thing we seem to be really good at [at] North Texas is complaining,” Dunham said, also saying he planned to listen for the most part but would speak up if needed.

After the forum, Dunham said he did speak up, lending his support for interim athletic director Hank Dickenson.

“The AD job is about building relationships, and Hank has spent 21 years building relationships with Denton businesses, corporate sponsors, media members and service organizations,” Dunham said. “He has worked tirelessly for North Texas. He loves this place and deserves a shot”

Thomas Coe, UNT alumnus from the class of ’00, said the athletic department, alumni and boosters also discussed attendance, culture change, connectivity within the city of Denton and customer service. Coe said UNT has a lot of issues, but he was encouraged Kuehne and Sicuro admitted those issues existed.

“What’s great is both of them did say, ‘Yeah, we’ve got a lot damn issues,’” Coe said. “North Texas has a s*** ton of issues.”

Coe said he left the meeting feeling “52 or 53 percent confident” that the meeting was evidence the university was heading in the right direction. He said a portion of his skepticism was due to the “pathetic” amount of donors present compared to the school’s alumni base, saying the turnout was evidence North Texas wasn’t ready to compete with bigger programs.

Overall he said he was just happy to be heard.

“It was a good event. We certainly needed it,” Coe said. “Us as fans and boosters, we need to have a voice. We’ve never had this before.”

Featured Image: Approximately 100 fans, alumni, and coaches attended an open meeting June 27 in Apogee Stadium. The staff later closed the meeting to help the audience feel more open to discuss their opinions. Sanchez Murray | Staff Photographer 

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2 Comments

  1. bbg0031
    bbg0031 June 29, 08:09

    Dunham needs to stop. Oh and the reason there is complaining is because of the amount of suck. Hank Dickenson has been a passenger of the AD the whoolllleeeeee ride of suck, and Dunham is endorsing him? psh. Joke.

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  2. NTBBallFan
    NTBBallFan August 11, 18:09

    In response to Thomas Coe about the lack for participation in this meeting. Maybe more of us would have been able to attend if we were provided more than a 3 day notice of the meeting. We received the invention to this meeting on Friday afternoon and it was held the following Monday night. Not all of us live in Denton and most of us have jobs. We need a little more heads up to attend something. This makes me question if Kuehne and Sicuro are really the right people to be evaluating our athletic department if they can’t even properly set up a forum for alumni and boosters.

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