Brett Vito: Benford now has psyche of UNT fans in his hands

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Al Key/DRC
New North Texas head coach Tony Benford talks with some of his players during practice June 15. UNT’s players describe Benford as a demanding coach who is intent on getting the most out of them as players while also demanding excellence in the classroom.

Dear Tony Benford:

Hey, coach. It’s me, Brett Vito. Yeah, the guy from the local paper.

We usually use this space in Monday’s editions in the fall to dissect what’s gone on the previous Saturday in football — praise the wins, question the decisions in the losses and try to provide a little perspective.

To a certain extent, that’s the plan again today, but it would be in everyone’s best interest to provide a quick heads-up.

The huge weight that seemed to suddenly land on your shoulders, oh, about 6 last night — that was pressure that comes with the task ahead.

Don’t know if anyone has mentioned it yet, but the official SOSS was issued by those who follow UNT, and it was addressed to you:

Tony Benford … beep, beep, beep … Save Our Sports Season … beep, beep, beep.

Well not just you, but you and Tony Mitchell and Chris Jones and the rest of the guys.

At UNT, there are two sports that set the tone for the year — football and men’s basketball.

UNT is now officially headed for its eighth straight losing season in football. A rather embarrassing 42-16 loss to Louisiana-Monroe, a team with the lowest budget in all of the Football Bowl Subdivision, ensured that the Mean Green will miss out on the bowl season again.

UNT, which is now 4-7, hasn’t posted a winning season since 2004, the end of a remarkable four-year run as Sun Belt Conference champions.

UNT was hoping this would be the year that slump would end under Dan McCarney.

Unfortunately, he inherited a complete mess and is going to need a little longer to clean it up.

“My message to the football team was that we will continue to embrace the challenges that had eroded this program to the core when I got here,” McCarney said Saturday night. “If someone does not want to follow that plan and embrace those challenges, I don’t care who they are — old, young, black, white, walk-on, scholarship — they won’t be in the program anymore. We have a good foundation in place. We do know what we are doing.”

It’s going to take UNT at least another year to see the results everyone is hoping will eventually be there.

Hoops is now the hope.

And UNT fans are hoping for more than just a few wins. They are hoping for another NCAA tournament bid and maybe a win in the big dance for the first time.

We talked a little about the expectations that would go along with inheriting arguably the most talented team UNT has ever had in basketball, and maybe any sport, over the summer.

“North Texas has tremendous upside,” you mentioned back then after taking over for Johnny Jones. “Johnny did a great job. Now it is my job to take it to the next level as we go to Conference USA.”

Losing a couple of games early in the season, including that loss to Division II Alabama-Huntsville, shook some people’s faith a little bit, but most everyone still expects great things heading into tonight’s game against IUPUI in the preseason NIT in Charlottesville, Va.

Seeing P.J. Hardwick end up in Denton after signing with Mississippi State and finding out that a forward as talented as Greg Wesley signed with UNT last week builds a lot more faith than one tough loss can take away.

Everyone around town seems to have been impressed with how you have handled all the ups and downs. Mitchell stayed for another year instead of leaving for the NBA, and Jones and Jordan Williams are academically eligible and on the floor.

Both you and your team stood up and handled the UAH loss as well as anyone could expect, especially considering how many times the question of how it happened came up.

The team seems to have moved on from it and is now suddenly in the spotlight, maybe more than it has been in years.

Denton is a football town in a football state, but things have changed.

Back in the early to mid-2000s, basketball season was something to provide a bit of a distraction between the final football game of the regular season and the New Orleans Bowl and then some additional filler between then and the start of spring practice.

That has changed.

Those NCAA tournament bids in 2007 and 2010 sent interest through the roof.

The Mitchell factor only adds to it.

After another tough football season, UNT needs something good to happen.

Most expect something good to happen

The SOSS has been issued.

Tony Benford, it’s now up to you and your team, which has been called on by UNT fans to “Save Our Sports Season.”

Good luck.

The psyche of the UNT nation is in your hands.

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870. His e-mail address is bvito@dentonrc.com .

 

 


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