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Brett Vito: Littrell has been great for UNT, too great for him to be here long

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Brett Vito, Staff Writer

The milestones are arriving at a head-spinning rate for the North Texas football program.

Last season, it was a bowl appearance that no one saw coming, except maybe UNT coach Seth Littrell.

The Mean Green have followed it up by winning the Conference USA West Division title and becoming bowl-eligible.

Saturday, UNT knocked off an Army team that won eight games and was on course to crack the Associated Press Top 25 poll if it could win out in a 52-49 thriller.

It's all great for UNT, and — unfortunately for the Mean Green — their head coach's marketability in college football.

What Littrell has accomplished roughly equates to jumping up and down, waving his arms frantically in front of every athletic director at a Power Five school in the country yelling, "Hey, guys. Look at me."

Don't think for a second they aren't doing just that.

UNT's head coach is about to become a hot name in coaching circles, where some athletic director is going to circle "Littrell" on a list of prime candidates to get a prime time job.

Enjoy UNT's "boots and jeans guy," as he termed himself at his introductory press conference while he's here, Mean Green fans.

The safe money is on Littrell moving on up from what he has termed "New Denton" to somewhere new sooner rather than later. That's just the way college football works.

Coaches are competitive people by nature. They want to play for the biggest championships on the biggest stages and prove themselves in the process. The money is great. Stability is good. But it's the pursuit of that next step up on the coaching ladder that drives them all.

It's what led Johnny Jones to leave UNT after guiding the Mean Green to a pair of NCAA tournaments to head home to LSU, where he played.

Jones had plenty of reasons to stay, including having a consistently successful program and being beloved by every UNT fan and booster with a realistic view of the situation.

He left to compete at the highest levels of college basketball and was doing pretty well at it before it all fell apart at the end of his five-year tenure with the Tigers.

Karen Aston talked about building something special in women's basketball at UNT, where she was close to family and had a history after working at the school as an assistant. She enjoyed some success in her first season.

She was out the door the next year for Texas.

Both spoke highly of UNT, but there was nothing the school could do to keep them when the right opportunity came along.

There is plenty to like about UNT and Denton. Apogee Stadium opened in 2011 and is one of the nicest smaller venues in college football.

There are certainly worse places to live than Denton, especially for a college football coach. There are a ton of talented players living in the immediate area.

UNT gave Littrell a new contract after last season that will pay him $1 million a year. Littrell could try to go the same route as TCU coach Gary Patterson. Stay one place and help it grow and develop.

Just don't count on it.

Patterson is the college football equivalent of four-leaf clover. He's been the head coach at TCU since 2000 and has helped the school rise through the ranks to the Big 12 and a seat at the Power Five conference table.

Guys like Patterson exist. One just doesn't see them often, if ever.

The chance a school follows the path TCU blazed while moving up to a Power Five league with the way college football is now set up is slim at best.

Patterson has a chance to compete for a Power Five conference title and a spot in the College football Playoff on a yearly basis. Those are things UNT likely will never be able to offer Littrell.

The scary thing is that, depending on the way things play out the rest of the season, Littrell could be close to maxing out what he can accomplish at UNT.

The Mean Green are already locked into a spot in the Conference USA title game at Florida Atlantic on Dec. 2 and a bowl game after that.

Win both and the Mean Green have reached the top of the mountain and made Littrell awfully attractive to a host of schools.

There is nothing about Littrell's history to indicate he would pass on the big time to stick around UNT. He was the offensive coordinator at Arizona before jumping to Indiana to prove he could build a great offense at a basketball school in the Big Ten before jumping to North Carolina to prove he could build great a great offense at a basketball school in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

One can argue that those moves were ones Littrell made so he could become a head coach. He's one now, but there is no reason to think is going to be content competing for C-USA titles when a Power Five conference school calls.

Littrell speaks almost weekly about himself or UNT's players or both having a chip on their shoulders. Anyone who has been around him for any length of time knows he is out to prove himself at the highest level.

Are there things he could improve on while sticking around UNT? Sure. Littrell is about as genuine as they come, but isn't the most dynamic public speaker. He's getting better and works at it.

What really matters, though, is the football part. And Littrell is proving himself in a big way when it comes to football.

Think Littrell doesn't wonder what he could do at a school with a higher profile and better resources considering what he's done at UNT? Think the people who make the decisions at schools with those resources don't?

Enjoy the ride while it lasts. Every game UNT wins increases the chance it won't last long.

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

FEATURED PHOTO: North Texas head coach Seth Littrell celebrates following the Mean Green's win against Army on Saturday at Apogee Stadium. (Jake King/DRC)