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The Ultimate Answer to Recruiting, Conference Realignment, and Everything

Posted by mad dog , 15 February 2012 · 719 views

If you came here looking for the number 42, my hat is off to you. Well played, fellow sci-fi dork. Well played indeed.

However, the ultimate answer in this case is a little different. When it comes to Recruitment, Conference Realignment, Conference Record, Program Progress, Career Ladder Climbing, Political Participation, Marriage, Learning to Salsa, Lunch Decision Making, Pottery, or Resurfacing Your Kitchen Counter, the ultimate guideline is pretty easy: nothing worth doing happens overnight.

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch…”

Around the turn of the 20th century, bar owners were known to promise a free lunch to those who would order at least one drink. The “free” lunch would usually be cured meats, cheeses, or breads and crackers with a very high salt content, thus prompting the consumer to spend extra on drinks to “quench his thirst.” This practice came into circulation in the mainstream media of the 1940s, who used the above adage as a punchline for those who believed they were getting something for nothing.

The moral of the story, for us as North Texas football fans, is that true, sustainable progress takes time. Any “quick fixes” should be viewed as band-aids. And any longtime fan of North Texas athletics will tell you that UNT’s healthcare plan has been bandage based for more than about four decades now.

One so inclined might point to the relative success of Coach Darrell Dickey in the mid-aughts as proof positive that it’s possible to win with a band-aided program. However, this exception might end up proving the rule. Dickey’s program featured one unbelievably talented recruiting class and a one-trick pony offensive scheme. Once Southern Miss solved the inside/outside zone rushing attack in the 2004 New Orleans Bowl and the Class of 2000 graduated, the clock struck midnight on our Cinderella story. The Mean Green would go on to win a meager handful of games over the next six years.

However, even in this dim view of our most recent success, you might find something to be really, really excited about. With a couple of moves, we were able to blast out of anonymity and onto the national stage. A nationally ranked defense, national rushing championships, and even a bowl victory were laurels long sought and (frankly) deserved by the Mean Green faithful.

Fans and alumni have long known that we are sitting on a powder keg of potential, but we just can’t seem to find a match. And, we’ve been so focused on the powder keg and the match that we have somehow missed the overarching problem – we’ve been trying to do all this in a driving rainstorm. Lighting the match is a monumental task, and, even when we do manage to get it lit, its flame is snuffed out long before we can ever make it to the powder keg.

"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things."

Effectively, our success as a program never catalyzes because the environment is not at all conducive to sustaining change. We live in a culture of abject apathy and dismissive doubt. That is not something that can change overnight. Yet, paradoxically, it is the thing we most need to change to get where we’re going.

So the question becomes: how do you change the culture at a place like North Texas?

In our modern society, everything happens with nearly instantaneous feedback. I can send a text message to my friend in the Czech Republic now and they’ll receive it scant seconds later. You can flip on a TV right now and figure out the weather in Argentina. This article, when posted, will be immediately available to anyone on the planet with an internet connection and the dubious desire to read college football fansite blogs.

If you ever find a silver bullet to solve the problem of organizational culture shifts, you need to stop what you’re doing, get a patent, and retire a billionaire tomorrow. Not because there isn’t a solution, but that the only one available is really distasteful to us; it takes a long time and has no indicators until it arrives.

Think of your car – if you’re driving down a road, and realize you’re going the wrong way, what does your u-turn look like? First, you have to get over to the left lane. Then, you have to find a spot to turn. Then, you have to slow down to almost zero, and then begin to turn for several seconds until you get pointed in the right direction. After all of that, you still have to accelerate again. Now consider if you’re not turning a car, but a giant oil tanker. How much longer would it take to turn that beast around? And, in both cases, your direction is largely an objective measure. What happens when the idea of “success” is a moving target with a host of subjective elements?

In an environment like this, it is a wonder culture ever changes at all. When it does, though, it invariably follows the same critical path. A strong, internally driven leader with an unwavering mission and infectious enthusiasm, pressing on the flywheel day after day until, finally, it starts turning. Culture is changed decision by decision, hire by hire, project by project, until it reaches a critical mass and becomes self-sustaining. Once in place, its inertia makes it difficult to stop, even in the face of nightmarish obstacles.

"The price of success is hard work, dedication to the job at hand, and the determination that whether we win or lose, we have applied the best of ourselves to the task at hand."

For the record, I was not at all disappointed with our season. Not because I only dream of .500 records, but because my expectations were realistic. The 20-20’s mantra is that expectations rationally set beats dreams hopefully guessed. And, by any rational measure, we just were not prepared for consistent success last year. Too young, too small, too slow; if there’s a recipe for substandard results, we followed it to the letter, with one glaring exception:

The coaching staff.

If you were ever going to buy in to a group of team leaders with the kind of drive, determination, skill, and experience, it has to be these guys. If not them, then who? Even if you could get a Nick Saban or Urban Meyer in here, who’s to say that they’d be able to succeed in an environment without culture, history, or a big fat pile of cash to speed everything along?

The quote above this section came from a man whose name is synonymous with excellence at the very highest levels of the sport of football. And it holds a truth that applies as much to us as fans as it does to the guys down on the field. Stumbling into success is fine, but success from hard work and dedication feels so much better. Failure is no fun at all, but it is bearable if you gave the task at hand literally every ounce of your strength.

As fans, it is easy for us to get distracted by things like the lack of shiny stars next to the young men we recruited. It’s easy to lose sight of the fact those stars are meant to drive traffic to the sites they're posted on more than anything else. It is our natural tendency to be underwhelmed by the luster of a blue-collar class of players, but it is their commitment to excellence and dedication to the task at hand which will speak loudest in the end. This class is best judged through the lens of our belief in the coaching staff.

“To be thrown upon one’s own resources is to be cast into the very lap of fortune; for our faculties then undergo a development and display an energy of which they were previously unsusceptible.”

If McCarney and team are who we think they are, then we trust in their ability to get the very best out of whoever we sign. We believe that what our class lacks in star power, the coaching staff will make up for in development of those players. (Almost) Any coach can win with class after class of top 25 talent. The mark of great coaches is to take raw talent and hone them into productive players. Ask yourself which is more time effective: spending weeks after weeks chasing kids who are going to Alabama or Oklahoma no matter how persuasive you are, or targeting solid, blue collar guys who fit your system and you know you can build up into winners?

Look, UNT isn’t going to get very many wart-free players. You’re usually getting players with at least one “but.” You may have a guy like Carlos Harris, with legit 4.4 speed, but he’s short and slight. You might have a lights out athlete like Jamone Greer, but he might issues keeping his grades up. A player like Terrell Brooks is going to have great size, but there may be problems with his work ethic and desire. Your best hope as a coach is that you draft guys with “buts” you can work with. #easylayupjokeshere

As far as I can tell, our biggest need was in the defensive secondary, and we addressed that need with 7 signees (30% of the class). The next biggest issue was defensive line depth, and, with 5 signees (21% of the class), I think the effort was made there, as well. Finally, I felt like we needed some offensive weaponry to go with a solid o-line core and a fairly good (sometimes great) QB. The result: 5 skill position players, including two receivers with great size and one with great speed.

The only way you can evaluate a recruiting haul is four to five years from now. But, ultimately, that is dependant upon the ability of the coaches to mold these young men into talented players. Was the class sexy? Probably not. But it matched our needs and you trust the coaches to develop those guys accordingly.

All in all, I think we’re about where we should be. The flywheel won’t turn overnight. It won’t happen this spring, or even this fall. But, if Dan McCarney, Chico Canales, Frank Wintrich, and others are who we think they are, it WILL happen at some point. So let’s just relax and enjoy the ride.

Go Mean Green!

-md

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Good article!! :thumbsu:
Mad Dog, good article but I was disappointed that you had realignment in the title but neglected to mention it in the article. As a Denton native and UNT alum it has long been my theory that a sustained regional rivalry is the key to pushing UNT forward. That would require another regional team being "forced" to play us regularly as part of the conference schedule. It has also long been my suspicion that local colleges fear UNT potential and fear giving us that mythical match to light that powder keg. I think the turnouts and energy for pasts games against Houston and SMU prove that. Being ambassador becomes hard when you invite your friends to come out with you (free ticket) to come watch UNT play the Utah States, FIU, FAU, Troy, and MTSUs of the world and they usually say no. Not that those are all bad programs but there is no reason for fans in this area to be familiar with those schools or teams. So it is a chicken and the egg syndrome. Fans won't come until you play local teams but UNT is not attractive to conferences because of low fan turn out for conference games. So taking all that in mind I have a couple of questions or observations I would like you comment on.
1. Who is are most "natural" potential conference rival (not currently in our conference. My vote is SMU and has been since they came back from the death penalty.
2. What percentage of SMU reluctance or refusal to play us is revenue based versus competition based.
3. Could it be beneficial in the long run to take a "step back" and align with UTSA and Texas State and organize a Texas centric division of 12+ team conference?
4. Would the Sun Belt consider adding UTSA and Texas State and form a new western division that would make out games against FIU, FAU, and other far east team less frequent?
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