New North Texas head coach Dan McCarney liked what he saw in terms of his team's progress over the course of spring practice, which ended a few days ago.
What concerns him is what will happen in the days and weeks ahead. Dan McCarney
McCarney believes that UNT has a long way to go to get to where it needs to be in terms of its physical conditioning and must to put in a lot of work over the summer to get there.
UNT's coaching staff can't control the players in the off-season, but they can observe from afar.
To this point, McCarney has liked what he has seen.
"So far we have seen that dedication," McCarney said Monday during the Sun Belt Conference's post-spring teleconference. "Workouts in the summer are voluntary. That is when you need ownership and leadership with your football team. Coaches are not going to be charting attendance and keeping an eye on them. It has to come from within. Do you want to improve or continue to be a punching bag for the rest of college football? Do you want to be victorious and put the program in a position to win games every Saturday, which hasn't gone on here for a long time?"
UNT has not won more than three games in a season since 2004 and is entering what could be a rebuilding season. The Mean Green will be working in a new starting quarterback in Derek Thompson, who has made just one start in his career, and must replace several other key players, including all-conference linebacker Craig Robertson and both starting tackles on offense and defense.
McCarney sat down with each of the 97 players who are returning next season after spring practice to talk about where they stand and what they can do to help UNT improve.
"It's a great time to evaluate and talk about strengths and weaknesses," McCarney said. "We know what they can do and what they can't do and what needs to be done. That wasn't some fabricated statement. I believe if we are going to be competitive we have to make the most physical improvement of anyone we play. It's not just guys in the trenches, it's offensive skill guys, special teams guys, running backs and wide receivers. We all know it's a year-round program of development now and we have some major strides we need to make in the months ahead."
The way UNT's schedule sets up only adds to that sense of urgency.
The Mean Green will open the season at Florida International, which tied with Troy for the Sun Belt title and won the tiebreaker based on a head-to-head win last season. UNT hasn't opened the season with a Sun Belt Conference game since winning at Middle Tennessee in 2005.
FIU returns several of its key players, including All-Sun Belt wide receiver T.Y. Hilton and starting quarterback Wes Carroll.
"It will add urgency," McCarney said of opening the season with a conference game. "We are going to play one of the most improved and respected programs in the conference. I know [FIU head coach Mario] Cristobal and know first-hand from coaching against him when I was at Florida the tremendous job that he has done. I watched him build that program, and he did it the right way. There is no question it will be a challenge."
UNT has just begun its time under McCarney, but he believes the Mean Green has taken positive steps in the last few weeks toward meeting that challenge and several others it will face next season.
"We have tried to bring accountability and structure and responsibly, maturity and mental and physical toughness to the program," McCarney said. "We made some strides and still have a long way to go. We saw a team that wants to have discipline, structure, and accountability. I like the way these guys worked."
What will be critical for UNT is having its players continue to show that same work ethic before they head to FIU for their first game under their new coaching staff.
Around the Sun Belt
Florida Atlantic head coach Howard Schnellenberger said the Owls are considering going to a 3-4 defense. ... Arkansas State will likely use both Ryan Aplin and Phillip Butterfield in a two-quarterback system, head coach Hugh Freeze said. ... Troy coach Larry Blakeney said that he is confident the Trojans can replace three key senior wide receivers, including third-round NFL draft pick Jerrel Jernigan. Senior Chip Reeves, who caught 30 passes for 515 yards as a junior, is Troy's top returning wide receiver. ... Middle Tennessee quarterbacks Logan Kilgore and Jeff Murphy have both made an impression on head coach Rick Stockstill and will continue to battle for the starting job in fall practice.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.