Ryan Walters’ tenure at North Texas wasn’t a particularly long one, even in the transient world of college football assistants.
The former Colorado standout stayed at UNT for just a season before agreeing to join the staff at Memphis, a decision Walters said Tuesday wasn’t easy to make.
Walters coached UNT’s cornerbacks and is expected to be officially announced as a member of Memphis’ staff in the next few days.
“I loved my time here and the community,” Walters said. “[UNT head coach Dan McCarney] is one of the best in the business. Working with the defensive staff with John Skladany, Noah Joseph and Mike Nelson was a great experience. I had a chance to take care of my family and couldn’t turn it down. North Texas will always be a special place for me. The year we had is one I will never forget.”
UNT finished 9-4 in a breakout season capped with a win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
“I am happy for him and his family, but we are sorry to see him go,” McCarney said Monday. “Ryan is good with teaching technique and coaching, and he’s just as good a person as he is a coach.”
The move to Memphis comes at an exciting time for Walters, whose son Aaron Ryan Walters is just 9 days old.
While family considerations were one of the reasons Walters decided to make the move to Memphis, leaving his football family at UNT behind was tough for the former Oklahoma and Arizona assistant.
“Leaving the guys on the team, the staff and especially my position group was bittersweet,” Walters said. “We will have a relationship down the line. That’s why you get into this business — to see your players grow. To see all the work we put in come to fruition last season and win a bowl game is something I will never forget.”
Walters said he will be following the program from afar while working at Memphis, where he will join former UNT head coach Darrell Dickey on the Tigers’ staff. Dickey is Memphis’ offensive coordinator.
“I will be forever indebted to Dan McCarney,” Walters said. “I’m a UNT fan and always will be. The foundation that Mac has set is remarkable.”
UNT teams at key point
The number of weeks left in the Conference USA season is quickly dwindling. One of the biggest for the North Texas men’s and women’s teams will begin Thursday.
UNT’s men will host Old Dominion at 7 p.m. in the opening game of their second-to-last homestand of the year before facing East Carolina on Saturday.
The UNT women will visit East Carolina at 4 p.m. Saturday.
A loss to Louisiana Tech dropped the UNT men (11-12, 2-7 C-USA) under the .500 mark for the first time since the a loss to Idaho left the Mean Green 2-3 early in the season. UNT has lost four straight and fallen into a tie for 13th place in the C-USA standings with East Carolina and Marshall.
UNT is running out of time to rebound and avoid playing in the first round of the conference tournament. The top four teams in the league standings will receive a double bye when the event begins March 12 in El Paso, while the teams that finish fifth through ninth earn first-round byes.
The teams that finish among the bottom six in the league standings will play in the first round, a scenario that seems more and more likely for the Mean Green men, who are two games out of 10th place.
“We have to win,” UNT men’s coach Tony Benford said after the Mean Green’s 90-75 loss to the Bulldogs. “That is the bottom line. We need a win in the worst way. If we get a couple of wins, we can get back on the right side and get a good seed.”
UNT appears to have an opportunity to reach that goal this week. ODU (11-13) is just over the .500 mark at 5-4 in conference play, while ECU (13-11, 2-7) also is mired at the bottom of the league standings.
The UNT women (10-13, 4-6) capitalized on an advantageous part of their schedule, winning two of their last three. The Mean Green’s only loss in that span came against Tulane, which hit a last second-shot off a missed free throw to beat UNT 56-55.
UNT bounced back from that setback to beat ODU 68-52.
“This was a really good complete effort for us,” UNT women’s coach Mike Petersen said. “I thought defensively our effort was one of the best of the year. I think that shows if we follow the game plan what we are capable of.”
The challenge for UNT will be building on that performance while taking on one of C-USA’s top teams.
East Carolina (20-3) is tied for second place at 8-2 and has won four in a row.
Lama sees potential to get back on track
UNT coach Sujay Lama can see a time coming soon when the Mean Green will have the opportunity to leave its early-season struggles behind.
UNT was swept 5-0 last week by Houston while two of its key players continue to work their way back from injuries.
Junior Franziska Sprinkmeyer played doubles but was not in UNT’s singles lineup. Fellow junior Kseniya Bardabush didn’t play at all.
UNT has had five newcomers in its lineup without Sprinkmeyer and Bardabush and struggled as a result.
“We are getting better but are still trying to figure out how to play as a team,” Lama said. “There is growth but we have not seen it, because of the schedule.
“It will pay off in the long run.”
UNT will face Miami of Ohio at noon Saturday at Waranch Tennis Complex and will be a little closer to full strength. Sprinkmeyer is expected to play both singles and doubles, while Bardabush will begin her return to the court by playing doubles.
Kee to make home debut
UNT will make its home debut under new head coach Tracey Kee this week during the Lovelace Invitational after a 2-3 start at Georgia’s Red and Black Showcase.
The Mean Green beat James Madison and split a pair of games with Winthrop. UNT also lost two games to the host Bulldogs, who entered the weekend ranked 23rd.
UNT will make its home debut Friday with a 3 p.m. doubleheader against Nicholls State and Southern. The Mean Green will face Northern Iowa at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.
Track and field
UNT signs seven
UNT coach Carl Sheffield signed seven athletes last week during the NCAA signing period.
The Mean Green added Zachary Kirkland, Jacob Babbidge, Ben Jepson, Adam Steele, Benjamin Brokenshire, Eddie Wilcox and Chelsea Crayton.
Kirkland, of Justin Northwest, won the 800 meters at the District 4-5A meet last year, while Babbidge is ranked eighth in the Class 5A boys 3,200 and 11th in the 1,600.
Jepson is ranked in the top 15 in the 5A boys 1,600 and 23rd in the 3,200.
Steele, of Flower Mound Marcus, is a three-time regional qualifier in cross country and was a member of the Nike Cross Nationals South Regional team that finished third.
Brokenshire, of Springtown, was 2013’s top qualifier in the long jump from his region at 15-6, and placed second at the UIL state meet.
Wilcox is a Pima Community College transfer. As a freshman in the 2013 indoor season, he was ranked as the school’s top high jumper with a leap of 7-0.5.
Crayton, a hurdles specialist out of Hillgrove High School in Marrietta, Ga., signed with the women’s team. In 2013, she qualified for the Class 6A state meet in the 300 hurdles, was the regional champion in the 100 hurdles and won a New Balance Outdoor Nationals bronze medal.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.