The questions started running through Ryan Boutwell’s mind when he spotted Dan McCarney at the Mean Green Athletic Center late last month.
North Texas’ head coach had suffered a stroke just a few days before, leaving everyone around the program wondering if he would ever be the same.
One question was all it took to erase any doubts for Boutwell.
“I saw him the Thursday after he had the stroke and the first thing he asked me is how much I weighed,” said Boutwell, an undersized defensive tackle who is always trying to pack on pounds. “I knew then that he is the same old coach McCarney.”
McCarney identified that challenge — being the same old “Coach Mac” — as his biggest hurdle as UNT prepares to open spring practice this week.
McCarney has been known for his never-ending energy and enthusiasm since he arrived at UNT before the 2011 season — running from drill to drill in practice and scrambling from one public appearance to another, all the while finding the time to work out every day.
McCarney wants to be that same coach, channeling the passion and energy even the stroke he suffered Feb. 12 couldn’t diminish, while also maintaining a new perspective on life and the new boundaries it created.
“Do I change?” McCarney said while sitting in his office on a recent weekday afternoon. “It’s hard to say, ‘Tone down your energy and your enthusiasm and your passion.’
“This is what I do, what I love and the only thing that I know. One of the things you think about is: Can you tone down your intensity a little bit? Can you be an effective teacher, coach and leader if you tone it down a little?”
Those who best know McCarney, 58, say that he has just one speed — and that’s full speed, both on and off the field.
McCarney’s office is up a flight of stairs from UNT’s weight room and only a short walk from Apogee Stadium. He has put both areas to use on a regular basis since arriving at UNT, running the stadium stairs or lifting weights each day.
McCarney has shown the same passion when it comes to coaching. He’s there to greet his players before practice as they run out onto the field, and to make sure they actually do run across that white sideline.
“He will always operate at the level he operates now,” UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal said. “That’s part of his DNA. That’s why we hired him. Coming back from a stroke won’t affect the way he approaches the program. If it did, he would get out of coaching. I feel good about where he is.”
McCarney described that point as something of a feeling-out process.
McCarney hasn’t returned to his full workout regimen and is only now getting back to the point where he can work a full day. He has suffered a few setbacks since his stroke, but is as hungry as ever to return to his usual level of coaching intensity.
“It’s a matter of balance, but I still can’t help but wake up in the morning and go to bed at night thinking, ‘What can we do to improve this program?’” McCarney said. “That has never changed and it never will.”
What has changed is the way McCarney now pays attention to how hard he pushes himself.
In that way, McCarney isn’t much different than his friend Urban Meyer. McCarney worked as an assistant coach under Meyer at Florida.
Meyer left Florida after a medical scare, spent a short time in broadcasting and has since returned to coaching. He will make his debut as Ohio State’s head coach this fall.
McCarney heard from Meyer and coach-turned-broadcaster Lee Corso after his stroke. Corso also has suffered a stroke.
Both told McCarney that he would be fine in the long run but that he needed to focus on his health in the short term and keep it in mind from now on.
“We were together through all of that,” McCarney said of Meyer’s health scare. “He didn’t have to tell me much — catch your breath, slow down, smell the roses and turn it down a notch or two every now and then. That’s what he did.”
McCarney has paid special attention to enjoying time with family since his stroke.
McCarney’s wife, Margy, and son, Shane, were with him when he suffered his stroke after working out on a Sunday morning and called paramedics, who took him to a Denton hospital. He was later flown by helicopter to Fort Worth.
“The whole thing scared the hell out of me, and not a lot scares me,” McCarney said. “I don’t want to go through that again. I don’t want to put my family through it, and I don’t want to put my football family, the administration I work for and people who care about me through that again. I don’t like doing that to people. It hurt me.
“That’s why I didn’t come in here and say, ‘Wow, I have a Type A personality and nothing will keep me down.’ That is where I have changed, I think.”
McCarney spoke to his team shortly after his stroke and told them that he wouldn’t let his medical issues hold UNT back. The Mean Green finished 5-7 in McCarney’s first year and fell just one game short of being bowl-eligible.
The five wins UNT posted matched its total from the previous two seasons combined.
“Of course you are a little concerned when you hear about someone having medical issues, but everyone told us that he was doing well.” UNT linebacker Zach Orr said. “He came back in a short period of time. We could see then that he is the same guy.”
Mike Canales is just one of the assistant coaches on UNT’s staff who worked with McCarney before he came to Denton. Those coaches have tried to slow McCarney down at least a little, albeit unsuccessfully at times.
“He hasn’t slowed down a bit,” Canales said. “We are trying to get him to slow down. He won’t listen to us. The day after he had the stroke, he called me and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ He wanted to make sure everything was all right and that we had this going on and we were doing that. He was telling us, ‘I’m OK. I’m good.’ Not much is going to slow him down.”
That’s McCarney’s goal: to find a way to go full-steam like he always has while being smart about how he goes about it.
“I’m not going to be a statue out there at practice,” McCarney said. “I may not be sprinting around like I used to, but I want to coach with a lot of energy and enthusiasm. I don’t know any different.
“I want to take care of myself so I can do that.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.