One of the first goals Tony Benford set after taking over as North Texas head coach last spring was to connect with the players who helped make the program what it is today.
Since then, Benford has sat down with UNT legend Willie Davis, brought longtime pro Chris Davis in to speak to the team and visited with Jim Mudd, one of the Mean Green’s top players from the late 1950s.
Willie Davis and several other players will be in town today, when Benford will play host to a reunion of sorts that will serve as the next step in his efforts to foster closer ties between the program and former players.
“There is great tradition here and guys who are doing good things with their lives,” Benford said. “We want to have guys have pride in the program.”
Benford has invited former players to attend a series of functions today that will coincide with the UNT football team’s home opener against Texas Southern. UNT’s former players have been invited to watch a series of individual workouts beginning at 9 a.m. and to attend a gathering that will begin at 11 a.m.
“When I took the job, I said that it would be about the current and former players,” Benford said. “I wanted to reconnect with the former players and have gone out to visit a lot of them.”
Willie Davis already has visited with Benford and will be at the event today.
“It’s great that he is trying to get the former players involved,” Davis said. “It will give him a bigger network in the [Dallas-Fort Worth] area. You can never have enough antennas out there. All the guys I have spoken to feel the same way.”
Benford is expecting players from as far back as the 1960s and as recent as just as the last few years to attend the event that will culminate with tailgating before the Mean Green’s game against TSU.
UNT is expected to have perhaps the best team in recent program history this season. Tony Mitchell, the Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year, elected to remain at the school one more season instead of declaring for the NBA draft.
UNT returns its top seven scorers from last season. Benford added a few key players to that core, including 6-foot-10 center Keith Coleman and point guard P.J. Hardwick.
Willie Davis said the way Benford is reaching out to UNT’s former players will bolster the program by increasing attendance and helping the program’s recruiting efforts in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
“I retired from the Fort Worth Independent School District and saw a lot of players leave the area and go on to play in college and then at the professional level,” Davis said. “We have connections not only with the athletes, but also with their parents. That is where recruiting starts.”
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .