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Brett Vito: UNT acknowledging Dickey's contributions, it's high time all Mean Green fans do the same

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

North Texas stands on the precipice of a milestone heading into its homecoming game Saturday against UTEP.

A win clinches the Conference USA West Division title.

It only seems appropriate Darrell Dickey, a man who knows a thing or two about making history at the school, will be there to see it all go down as part of a reunion of his 1998-2006 teams.

UNT has always seemed hesitant to acknowledge the success Dickey enjoyed during his tenure with the Mean Green that was often controversial.

Dickey wasn't politically correct and said what he thought. That rubbed some people the wrong way, but the bottom line is this: There is no way UNT would be where it is today if it hadn't been for Dickey.

His induction in the UNT Athletic Hall of Fame this year and the reunion the school is hosting is a key step in the university acknowledging that.

It's high time the rest of the program's fans and supporters bury the hatchet as well and embrace a man who did more for UNT football than most people realize or give him credit for.

UNT has been playing football since 1913 and has just nine — soon to be 10 — bowl appearances to show for it. The current tally is Dickey four, everyone else five.

And that's just for starters as far what Dickey accomplished.

UNT beat Cincinnati in the 2002 New Orleans Bowl for one of its three bowl wins ever. Patrick Cobbs, Brandon Kennedy and Cody Spencer are just a few of Dickey's recruits in UNT's Athletic Hall of Fame.

Cobbs and Jamario Thomas won back-to-back national rushing titles in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

The list of accomplishments go on and on and are all the more impressive when one considers what UNT had to work with back then.

The Mean Green Athletic Center was not yet built when UNT won the first of four straight Sun Belt titles under Dickey in 2001. The Mean Green played at Fouts Field, one of the worst college football venues in the country, throughout his tenure.

The amount of financial support for the program wasn't nearly what it is now.

There are a lot of people who deserve credit for the improvements UNT has made in getting the program to where it is today.

Current UNT coach Seth Littrell is on that list. Don't forget athletic director Wren Baker and his predecessor Rick Villarreal. Doesn't Dickey deserve some credit as well?

As Dickey loved to say, "There's no question."

One of the first steps toward building Apogee Stadium was the construction of the Mean Green Athletic Center.

That project wouldn't have gotten off the ground when it did had it not been for Jim McIngvale donating $1 million toward the project. McIngvale made that donation because of his friendship with Dickey.

There is a whole generation of UNT fans who started following the program during the Mean Green's run of success under its former coach from 2001-04. UNT hammered Baylor 52-14 in that span and won 26 straight conference games on the way to four consecutive New Orleans Bowls.

Dickey's players and some UNT fans loved him then and still do. Others cite the nature of his departure and some of the things he said along the way as reasons to discount his accomplishments or worse.

When Dickey was fired, he had his players wear unauthorized black jerseys for his final home game. Some people thought it was a classless move.

Dickey also was fired less than two years after taking UNT to four straight bowl games and shortly after he suffered a heart attack. He and some of his supporters thought UNT pulled the plug too soon.

Both sides have a point.

The story UNT sold at the time was that the program was on its way to becoming bigger and better by parting ways with Dickey.

Then it hired Todd Dodge. We all know how that turned out.

The former Southlake Carroll coach went 6-37 and didn't improve much of anything.

UNT sunk $78 million into building Apogee since Dickey left, and that's just for starters in terms of the investment the school has made in football.

It's still taken a decade for UNT to get to the precipice of going to back-to-back bowl games, something Dickey accomplished with far, far less to work with.

Dickey didn't have the best overall record at 42-64, a total that made some cringe when he was added to UNT's Hall of Fame class.

There are not many coaches with a .396 career winning percentage in the Texas or Texas A&M or Houston athletic halls of fame. But UNT isn't Texas or Texas A&M or Houston. It's a school that has experienced some down times in its history.

What Dickey accomplished helped ensure there will be some good times ahead as well. He wasn't perfect, but no one is.

UNT has finally come around as an institution to acknowledging the good in what Dickey did for the school and its football program.

It's high time any of the remaining holdouts do the same when Dickey comes back to town this weekend.

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.

FEATURED PHOTO: Former North Texas football coach Darrell Dickey coaches from the sideline during a game against Troy at Fouts Field in 2003, just before the Mean Green made their third straight appearance in the New Orleans Bowl. (DRC file photo)