The University of North Texas has long been known as the school with the kind-of-cool-name and the famous Steeler from that cool music town. Everyone in Texas has a cousin or friend or artsy brother that went to North Texas. Perhaps it was a girlfriend. Maybe you know someone in a band and they toured it once. Perhaps you’ve even been to Denton, yourself. You thought it was cool, in a hipster way. You keep promising you'll go there because because it is a pretty cool town, like totally. Real chill man.
The point is that you kind of, sort of know the place. It seems like it should be more popular than it is. It has the stuff Austin and Portland have but it isn't nearly as famous.
The football program has a similar problem. It is a cool little team, in the fun town, right near that hotbed of recruiting talent that is Dallas-Fort Worth. Denton is the tip of the golden triangle that produces a steady trickle of NFL players from Denton Ryan and Denton High Schools. All the pieces are there: talent, location, NFL Hall-of-Famer to boast of and take pictures with. It should be more successful than it is. What gives?
Well, there have been fits and starts throughout the program’s history – flirtations with quality that even produced a few trophies to love and parade at donor gatherings. At no time have all the pieces been in place to continue any kind of sustained run. Hayden Fry wanted better facilities and didn’t get them. Darrell Dickey wanted better facilities and didn’t get them, despite leading the program to four straight bowl bids. Todd Dodge was promised new facilities but did not win enough (read: at all) to see Apogee in all its glory. Throughout all their runs we had a less-than-ideal conference that — while useful and important in its way — did not provide the necessary rivalries, money, showcase games, bowl invites, support, notoriety and what-have-you. The alumni did not have the necessary political clout to hitch the program’s wagon to the bigger schools (ahem Texsa) at important times.
Sustaining success at North Texas has been something of a difficulty. Dan McCarney – Old Grey Goose himself – is now up to have a crack at doing what has eluded even his friend and mentor before him. He has some advantages in his favor: a beauty of a stadium, a new conference, and a supportive administration. They are rewarding a coach who knows what he is doing. He has turned around an arguably more difficult situation than Larry Coker at UTSA. (If you want to argue this, let's have at it in the comments). The conference (and luck) is providing the current-and-future rivals and bowl connections, while the team is putting up wins.
It is all coming up Mean Green.
There are few reasons to think this could fail. There is a young, energetic group (horde?) of new alumni that have spent the previous four years supporting the program rabidly. The unofficial count of opposing coaches and or players who resorted to angry words and angry fingers at the student section is around six. That support helped the team put up five home wins, the best home record in a very long while. The afore-mentioned infrastructure and conference affiliation provides a sturdy foundation.
There is still much work to be done. Apogee has never had an official sell-out despite Danny Mac’s best efforts, and the proportion of away fans on inclement weather days is a bit too high. (** Thinks of that cold, damp day when the undefeated home streak was broken by a team clad in orange and blue. Smashes drink to floor. **). The good news: There Will Be Beer.
Long story short: There is a feeling of optimism around Denton these days and it feels good to be (mean and) green.