UNT to C-USA Press Conference Musings
Posted by Harry , in UNT football, Rice, mean green stadium, Uncategorized 04 May 2012 · 1,658 views
UNT C-USA Britton Banowsky Rick Villarreal Lane Rawlins CUSA
We arrived at Apogee Stadium early and were able to get a pretty good seat in the press area. There was some confusion in the elevator whether or not it was on the 3rd (club level) or 5th (media) floors. We went to the 5th and it was being held in the Bill Mercer press room which is pretty nice albeit much smaller than the Club area that they used for the Tony Benford press conference.
Evan and Joe recognized Coach Rob Evans when he walked in almost immediately. I wasn’t sure it was him and there were a lot of suits in the place by that time. I finally got the courage to go over and shake his hand. He made no mention about the UNT job and I didn’t ask but I went away thinking this man is going to be coaching for us!
I recognized several other people as they filed in. C. Dan Smith was a familiar face, and I was happy to shake his hand and thank him for all of his contributions over the years. A really good man, we are lucky to have him. There appeared to be a fairly good contingent of faculty and administration folks, and the usual suspects, Vito, the Daily and the like. There was definitely a sense of excitement in the air as the room started to fill and you couldn’t help but admire the CUSA logo’s intermingled in the North Texas décor.
SID Eric Capper called things to order and introduced RV who quickly passed the mic over to UNT president Lane Rawlins and the Chairman of the Board of Regents Jack Wall. Wall spoke on behalf of the Board and tried to emphasize that this was about student athletes and the importance of proximity to other Texas cities. He spoke of the academic prowess of schools like Rice, Tulane and Tulsa and how good it was to be associated with them in that particular regard.
I really enjoyed hearing Dr. Rawlins speak. You could tell it was a proud moment for him, having once started C-USA and now later in his career being a catalyst in securing North Texas’ spot. Rawlins was very strong and direct in his comments, saying that the stadium /facilities and location were major factors in UNT’s admission and giving Villarreal credit for getting the stadium done. He spoke to how hard it was to get ailing programs going in the right direction these days, and how had we made the type of commitment we had of late 20 years ago it would have elevated us to a completely different place. The positive thing that comes from that is that we – as an athletic program – have proven that we can overcome obstacles and make things happen.
Rawlins best point was during a Q&A session where he basically said that we should “Celebrate this moment but get ready to get up and do some work”, because opportunities like we have in this conference can either be maximized or squandered having experienced both in his career. He and Villarreal seemed optimistic that UNT was poised to take advantage this time.
Villarreal spoke for most of the event – and rightly so – having been here a decade and witnessing the transformation that has occurred. I thought he carefully covered all of the bases that he needed to. Thanking the students, fans, administrators, coaches etc... I couldn’t think of one group that he left out. I thought it was particularly nice that he chose to thank the former players from past conferences who kept the dream alive for the program despite lacking facilities and support.
You sensed how much Rick had matured in this position and there was a sense of confidence in his speech. Two of the guy’s hires were now at UT and LSU; he had landed one of the most promising basketball coaches in the country in Tony Bedford (who is already showing he can recruit) and just weeks before convinced women’s basketball coach Mike Peterson to leave a solid Wake Forest program. This guy is on a roll and the C-USA invite may well be the biggest prize of his career.
There were a few emotional moments, which were given the circumstances expected, but overall I thought it was a very good speech – a little long perhaps but again he had a lot of people to thank. Rick got pretty choked up speaking to how Wright Waters took him under his wing and helped him along even though he had never been an AD before. Also when he thanked Dr. Pohl, who didn't know sports and yet knew that it was important to the University. Even threw a bone to Gretchen Bataille for making the stadium process happen.
But all of this was stuff that you could watch yourself on the video of the entire event of course. You probably would gather a lot more of the specific details that way.
As a fan it was a glorious day. There were lots of smiles and handshakes, an overall sense of “We Made It!” reverberated throughout the room. I’m not going to lie; I saw a lot of smiles. People were very upbeat and it was nice visiting with folks like Hank Dickenson who had been around since the Helwig years.
I even got to throw in a question near the end. I couldn't believe that there hadn't been one baseball question so I carefully asked RV how C-USA would impact UNT's baseball timeline. He snapped back quickly, "I knew you were going to ask that question.." and everyone laughed. I got a real sense that baseball was close and that he had just a few more details (and probably money) to sew up before it could be finalized. If you are a baseball fan you should be excited because it's coming, it's just a matter of time and C-USA is a very good baseball league.
The surprise and really highlight of the event was the appearance of Conference USA Commissioner Britton Banowsky. It was late in the presentation and Rick said we have a special guest introducing Banowsky who came in through the back door and walked through the crowd receiving a nice applause. I figured out later that he had been to Louisiana Tech earlier in the day and was just getting in from the airport.
Banowsky was taller than I pictured him in person, very charismatic almost the polar opposite of the more stoic Waters. He’s a youthful 50, big smile and appears very lawyer thoughtful peering through his designer glasses, always careful to qualify his genuine enthusiasm for North Texas with “and the conference as a whole..” He made particular mention of the fact that C-USA was looking to get some regional traction in these “market based” moves almost like a chemist that was mixing a conference stew.
At times it felt almost surreal, the CUSA red banners, a window view of beautiful Apogee to my left, and the Conference USA commissioner who I had seen in pictures was speaking to us as part of his team. We finally, after some long and precarious roads, had made it into Conference USA. As a UNT alum and fan, it was one of my best moments.