K.C. Obi had just played a key role in helping North Texas keep its season interesting for at least another week late Saturday night when he stopped to talk about the glory that comes with — get this — the Senior Bowl Trophy.
Not a bowl trophy or a conference title trophy or even all-conference honors.
Has any coach ever gotten so much mileage out of such a simple concept?
For those who have followed the program since Dan McCarney took over, the story is a familiar one.
UNT’s coaching staff gets a trophy shop to donate a bad beer league softball trophy. The staff then takes a picture of the senior class and a promise is made.
If UNT’s seniors win in their final home game, the trophy and the photo sit in a prominent place in the football office for a whole year.
If UNT loses, the trophy goes in the closet and the photo in the trash.
Oh, heck yes.
UNT, which is about as consistent as the emotional state of your average 13-year-old girl, seems to resemble the 1993 Cowboys when the Senior Bowl trophy is on the line.
The Mean Green ran over Middle Tennessee 59-7 last year in the Senior Bowl and knocked off South Alabama 24-14 on Saturday.
UNT is 2-0 in the Senior Bowl and 7-13 in all other games in the McCarney era.
That’s not a coincidence, at least not if you listen to guys like Obi.
“It motivates me because when I leave the program, to come back and see that picture with the 17 seniors, it will remind me of how many workouts we went through in the hot sun and in the cold at 6 a.m.,” Obi said. “To see that, it touches the heart, man.”
It also proves a point.
One could second-guess McCarney’s old school offensive philosophy that running the ball and stopping the run is still the foundation of winning football in the era of spread offenses.
One could even second-guess a decision or two on game day like any head coach.
Concepts like the Senior Bowl make it pretty apparent that if there is a way to get players to be at their absolute best, there’s a pretty good chance McCarney has already thought of it and put it to good use.
It comes with the territory when coaching at places like Iowa State and UNT, where winning isn’t easy or a long-term tradition.
When McCarney first came to UNT, he said that was one of the ways he had improved since he first took over at Iowa State in his first crack at being a head coach. He had become better at motivating his players.
Working for coaching legend Hayden Fry probably didn’t hurt either.
Fry was famous for his motivation tactics, including painting the locker rooms of opponents pink.
UNT occasionally had problems with not showing up before McCarney arrived.
The Mean Green has been more consistent since, especially when it comes to that final home game of the year.
“The Senior Bowl has a lot of meaning; we’ve made it that way,” McCarney said. “Two years in a row now, we’ve won the last home game here at North Texas. For those 17 seniors, as I told them in the locker room, all glory and honor is theirs tonight.”
So is the right to have their picture sit beside that trophy in the Mean Green’s offices for the next 365 days.
That clearly meant a lot to UNT’s players, who pulled away from the Jaguars in the second half of what was a 14-14 game.
The ploy might not be the most detailed coaching adjustment or trick McCarney has ever come up with, but it clearly works.
In the end, that’s all that matters.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .