North Texas spent a little time over the last few weeks celebrating a win over UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl, one of the biggest accomplishments in program history.
Today, the Mean Green will take the next step in turning its attention to a new season, one it hopes will continue the rise of the program.
Dan McCarney will hold a news conference in advance of the first workout of spring drills at 11:30 a.m. today at Apogee Stadium. UNT will then hold its first workout of the spring at 3:30 p.m.
That workout will be the first time UNT has been on the field for an official practice since its 36-14 win over the Rebels on New Year’s Day, a victory McCarney believes is another step in an upward trend for the Mean Green.
“I believe in the bottom of my heart we can keep this thing going,” McCarney said in the days leading up to the Heart of Dallas Bowl. “All of our underclassmen are going to get a chance to be a part of this and then remember how we got here.”
UNT is close to finalizing a contract extension with McCarney that will ensure that he is around to guide the program for the next several years as the Mean Green looks to build on its breakout season.
McCarney and UNT have agreed in principle to a deal that will keep him at the school through the 2018 season, multiple sources close to the situation said.
The deal had not been signed as of Monday afternoon but is expected to be completed in the next few days. A source close to the negotiations said that the deal would make McCarney among the highest paid head coaches in Conference USA.
McCarney is paid $545,000 a year in salary and guaranteed incentives under the terms of the contract he signed before his first season at UNT in 2011.
McCarney took over a program that had not won more than three games in a season since 2004 and built it into a bowl champion in his third season.
“You can talk about so many things coach McCarney has done,” UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal said late last season. “He has improved things academically and with the way we go about strength and conditioning. Our kids are getting bigger and stronger. He also has a relationship with the community, has been able to get people on the bandwagon and get the program to the point where it needs to be.”
UNT will try to build on the momentum it has established during its spring drills that will culminate in the Mean Green’s spring game at 2 p.m. April 12.
UNT will have several challenges to face during those drills that mark a time of change for the program. The Mean Green relied heavily on an experienced batch of seniors last season, including several at key positions.
Quarterback Derek Thompson started for the Mean Green for three years before finishing his career by throwing for 256 yards and two touchdowns while earning MVP honors in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
UNT also lost its leading rusher in Brandin Byrd, top tackler in linebacker Zach Orr and top two receivers in Darnell Smith and Brelan Chancellor, all seniors in 2013.
UNT returns nine starters overall, including four offensive linemen.
McCarney believes the Mean Green will have a chance to reload, thanks to the dedication his returning players have shown during the offseason.
“No one looks like they are in bad shape because they sat around during the holidays stuffing their faces and watching football because we were in bowl practices and achieving a bowl victory,” McCarney said at UNT’s national signing day event in February. “That is what we want. Winter workouts are going really well.”
The biggest questions for UNT heading into spring drills is who will take over for Thompson and how will the Mean Green fare when it comes to rebuilding its defensive line.
Thompson finished his career with 7,447 passing yards, the second-highest total in program history. The former Glen Rose standout threw all but 12 of UNT’s 402 pass attempts last season.
McCarney said the race to replace Thompson will be wide open. Freshman Dajon Williams, JUCO transfer Josh Greer, backup Andrew McNulty and Connor Means, who graduated from Deer Park early and enrolled at the semester break, are expected to compete in spring drills.
Both Greer and Means said in February that they have benefited from enrolling in December, which allowed them extra time to learn UNT’s offense. Greer began his career at UAB before spending a season at Navarro College.
“I am so much more prepared than when I went to UAB,” Greer said. “I was an early grad just like Connor was. I have games under my belt and have learned two systems and know what the process is like.”
UNT’s defensive line is also an area to watch. The Mean Green had four senior starters for most of last season and will look to a few remaining veterans, including end Daryl Mason, to provide a foundation for its rebuilding efforts. Mason will be a senior in the fall.
That rebuilding process will also extend to McCarney’s coaching staff. Defensive line coach Mike Nelson retired after last season, while safeties coach Noah Joseph and cornerbacks coach Ryan Walters left for Indiana and Memphis, respectively.
Former South Florida assistant coach Kevin Patrick will replace Nelson. LaMarcus Hicks will coach UNT’s cornerbacks after spending last season coaching the defensive backs at Concordia, while Perry Carter will coach UNT’s safeties after coaching with the Houston Texans for eight seasons.
“When you lose good coaches, you have to replace them with the same type of coaches,” McCarney said. “We felt like we were able to do that.”
Those coaches will be in place today when UNT looks to begin building on its breakout 2013 season with the start of spring practice.
BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.
UNT SPRING FOOTBALL SCHEDULE
The following is the North Texas football team’s spring practice schedule. All workouts and scrimmages are open to the public:
4 – 3:30 p.m.
6 – 3:30 p.m.
18 – 3:30 p.m.
20 – 3:30 p.m.
22 – Scrimmage, time TBA
25 – 3:30 p.m.
27 – 3:30 p.m.
29 – Scrimmage, time TBA
1 – 3:30 p.m.
3 – 3:30 p.m.
5 – Scrimmage, time TBA
8 – 3:30 p.m.
9 – 3:30 p.m.
11 – 3:30 p.m.
12 – Spring game, 2 p.m.