North Texas cornerbacks coach Ryan Walters is leaving the program after one season to join the staff at Memphis.
Walters came to UNT from Oklahoma, where he was a graduate assistant, and made an immediate impact both on the field and in recruiting during a breakout season for the Mean Green.
UNT ranked third in Conference USA in passing defense with an average of 189.1 yards allowed per game in league play. UNT gave up 228.2 passing yards per game on the season overall, a vast improvement over the 252.3 yards a game the Mean Green allowed in 2012.
UNT head coach Dan McCarney confirmed Monday afternoon that Walters is leaving the staff. Memphis is expected to announce that Walters has joined its staff in the next few days.
“I am happy for him and his family, but we are sorry to see him go,” McCarney said. “The good news is when you are going the way we are now, this is going to happen.”
UNT finished 9-4 and beat UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl on Jan. 1 for its first bowl victory since 2002.
McCarney said Walters played a key role in UNT’s breakout year, when the Mean Green changed both of its starting cornerbacks in the middle of the season.
Former walk-on Kenny Buyers was elevated to the starting lineup in the third week of the year, while James Jones became a starter a week later. Buyers finished fifth on the team with 78 tackles and also intercepted three passes, while Jones posted 67 tackles to go along with forcing three fumbles.
Zac Whitfield was pulled from the starting lineup after the first two weeks of the season but continued to contribute under Walters. Whitfield’s 56-yard interception return for a touchdown helped spark a 28-13 come-from-behind win over Louisiana Tech in UNT’s seventh game.
“It was a team effort all the way with our assistant coaches, graduate assistants and interns who helped us improve,” McCarney said. “Ryan is good with teaching technique and coaching, and he’s just as good a person as he is a coach. He worked really well with [UNT safeties coach] Noah Joseph.”
McCarney said he believes Joseph has the potential to become a defensive coordinator later in his career and is hoping to find another assistant who can build a rapport with Joseph similar to the one UNT’s secondary coaches developed last season.
Walters contributed to UNT’s success not as a position coach but also as a recruiter. South Oak Cliff wide receiver Fonzale Davis ranked among UNT’s top signees in its 2014 recruiting class and was among several players Walters helped convince to sign with UNT.
“It’s about relationships and consistency,” McCarney said. “I want bulldogs. He’s in that mold. Memphis is getting a heck of a coach. I’m really happy for him.”
Walters is the second coach to leave UNT’s staff since the end of the season. Defensive line coach Mike Nelson retired and was replaced by former South Florida assistant Kevin Patrick.
McCarney’s deal to be finalized soon
UNT should have a contract extension with McCarney finalized by the end of the week that will push his deal through the 2018-19 school year, a source close to the situation said Monday.
McCarney signed a five-year deal when he took over the program following the 2010 season that paid him an annual salary and guaranteed incentives totaling $545,000. That contract runs through the 2015 season.
McCarney is 18-19 in three seasons at UNT. The Mean Green’s 36-14 win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl was just the third bowl win in school history.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.