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Mitch Maher talks North Texas career, Mason Fine nearing or surpassing all his records

Mitch Maher was statistically the best quarterback ever from UNT the past 23 years, but that’s all about to change because of Mason Fine.

Mitch Maher (center) poses for a picture with former North Texas teammates before a game last season.
Courtesy of Mitch Maher

Mitch Maher knew this time would come. It’s actually coming later than he predicted it would.

Before North Texas quarterback Mason Fine arrived to Denton in 2016, Maher held nearly every career passing record for UNT football after his career from 1991-94. Fine surpassed Maher in career passes completed two weeks ago against Southern Miss, and he’s only 349 yards shy of becoming the Mean Green’s leader in passing yards. Fine could become UNT’s all-time leading passer Saturday against Rice, considering he’s thrown for over 349 yards twice already this season.

Maher has been UNT’s all-time leading passer since 1994 with 8,519 yards and still has the most passing attempts with 1,149. By the end of this season, though, or within the next few weeks, Maher will most likely not own a career passing mark in the UNT record book.

“Somebody’s gotta be in second place,” Maher said. “It’s great. I’ve had them long enough. It’s been fun for all these years whenever it comes up to say that I’m the all-time leading passer at North Texas still. People are always like, ‘Wow, that’s cool.’ But no more. It won’t be long.”

The fact that Maher has statistically been the best quarterback in UNT history the past 23 years is almost as obscure that Fine could be for the next 20-plus years. Like Fine, Maher wasn’t heavily recruited out of Plano High School as an option quarterback. He had offers from Air Force, Abilene Christian and Harding University, but none seemed to be a good fit.

“I wasn’t great at Plano,” Maher said. “I’d like to say I was a great competitor, and that’s what everyone says about me.”

When Maher’s career ended with a loss to Marshall High School, coached by Dennis Parker, in the state quarterfinals, Maher planned to attend Air Force. But then, much like Fine’s journey to Denton, the pieces started falling into place for Maher.

After beating Maher and his team, then leading Marshall to a state title, Parker accepted the head coaching job at UNT. Feeling led to UNT, Maher sent Parker a letter. The legend is that Parker remembered seeing Maher throw during pregame warmups the week before the two played and was impressed by that alone. Parker offered Maher half a scholarship before increasing it to a full scholarship only a few weeks into the preseason.

Maher was redshirting his first season at UNT, but after the team struggled the first three games, the coaching staff decided to start Maher in the fourth game, and he led the Mean Green until graduation. Maher went from throwing 88 passes in 14 games as a high school senior to leading a pass-heavy offense less than a year later.

“It was an adjustment,” Maher said. “I was not very good, but I guess I was the best we had.”

After future Texas high school football coaching legend Todd Dodge got ahold of Maher before his sophomore campaign as the new quarterbacks coach, Maher started to become a prolific passer. Maher earned second team all-conference honors as a sophomore and junior with Dodge as his position coach. Dodge left UNT before Maher’s senior campaign, but yet, Maher had the best season of his career, being deemed the best offensive player in the conference and breaking all but two major UNT career passing records.

“I like to say I had some of the greatest coaching that a kid could ever have,” Maher said.

Maher tried to pursue a professional football career after graduation with the Shreveport Pirates, a team in the Canadian Football League, as the league was trying to expand into the United States. He was cut after a week, and even though he was offered a chance to play arena football, Maher decided to step away from the sport and attend seminary in Dallas that fall to start his lifelong calling to be a preacher. Today, Maher is the Lead Pastor at Redeemer Community Church in Katy, Texas, and the author of “Clarifying the Bible.”

“That has always been, I’d like to say, the most important part of my life,” Maher said.

A busy life as a preacher had Maher distracted from Fine’s early success as a freshman. Maher started keeping track of Fine his sophomore season after a friend told him about UNT’s young standout quarterback. Then by the start of this season, Maher realized Fine was going to be the player to break his records. Fine was in the situation Maher knew it would take for someone to surpass his marks: at least three years as a starter in a pass-heavy offense.

“I couldn’t have imagined that they would have lasted that long,” Maher said. “I knew a kid was gonna have to play a lot of snaps, because I started for almost four years. Finally (Fine) came along to play a lot of snaps and be in the right kind of offense.”

NCAA Football: Southern Mississippi at North Texas Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The main difference for Fine is that he didn’t need four seasons. Fine broke every major UNT single-season passing record as a sophomore and will most likely set every career mark this season, meaning Fine’s senior campaign next season will be just to pad his stats.

“I’ve been telling buddies, ‘Boys, they’re going down, and they’re getting destroyed,’” Maher said. “He’s gonna smash them. Unless North Texas gets another quarterback who’s gonna play another three or four years, he’ll hold them for a long, long time. But good for him. It’s great.

“It’s good to see them finally go down. I don’t know Mason, I’ve never met him, but it sounds like he’s an incredible young man. That makes me happy, too.”

Despite never meeting Fine, Maher is one of only a few watching Fine chase these records to have an idea of what he’s actually going through. Media ask Fine nearly every week about his statistics, but Fine always gives a statement about not worrying about numbers and being focused on the team’s goals. UNT coach Seth Littrell has said that Fine will embrace his individual accomplishments more when his career ends, which Maher says is true.

“I’m sure with everyone asking him about them he’s thinking about them and wants to break them, and he knows he’s gonna smash them,” Maher said. “It’s fun. I think I know a little bit what’s going on in his heart. He wants to do it, and he wants to keep doing it to push them as high as he can and sit on them for the next decades.”