Hayden Fry era (1973–1978) After Mitchell left in early 1967, North Texas had just one conference title and three winning seasons over the next six years. In 1973, the Mean Green hired future Hall of Fame coach Hayden Fry, who had been controversially fired by rival SMU the previous season after leading the Mustangs one game shy of a Southwest Conference title. Fry's Mean Green unit won the Missouri Valley Conference in his first year despite putting up a 5–5–1 season. After a lackluster 2-7-2 finish in 1974, Fry, dissatisfied with the lack of support from students, alumni, and fans, began putting together a plan with university officials to move the program to the Southwest Conference. At the time, the SWC was one of the most prominent football conferences in college football, and besides Arkansas, all of its schools were based in Texas, with fellow metroplex schools TCU and SMU making up two of them. Fry felt distancing the program from a lower-tier conference was a good first step, so the team became a Division I-A Independent before the start of the 1975 season. His plan also included moving some home games into a more prominent venue than tiny Fouts Field could hold, so Fry began scheduling two home games per year at Texas Stadium in nearby Irving, already the home of the NFL'sDallas Cowboys and metroplex rival SMU. Fry also gave the school a complete visual makeover, adding lime green to the color scheme and introducing the infamous "flying worm" logo that became a staple of the university for years to come. Fry's new-look Mean Green went 7-4-0 in 1974 and 1975, albeit with losses coming against games against Southwest Conference and Southeast Conference opponents. The 1975 season saw a 28-0 drubbing of the SWC's Houston, as well as a close 15-12 road loss to SEC's Mississippi State. The 1976 season saw marked signs of improvement, with the Mean Green falling in close contests to all their major conference opponents (a 7-0 loss to Mississippi State was later forfeited to North Texas after it was revealed the Bulldogs used ineligible players). The Mean Green lost 17–14 against #19 Texas, 38-31 against SMU, 16-10 to the Big Eight Conference's Oklahoma State in Stillwater, and a memorable close 21-20 loss to Florida State in a rare Denton blizzard at Fouts Field. 1977 proved to be the high mark in the history of North Texas football. The Mean Green finished the season 10-1-0 while rolling off a seven-game winning streak, their only loss coming to #20 Florida State on the road late in the season. The program made the AP Rankings for the second time in school history, reaching the #16 spot prior to their loss to the Seminoles. Despite the double-digit wins, North Texas was passed over by every bowl committee. The most notable pass came from the officials of the Independence Bowl, who invited 8-1-2 Louisiana Tech just one week after the Mean Green pummeled them 41-14 at Joe Aillet Stadium in Ruston, Louisiana. North Texas would see success again in 1978, finishing 9-2-0 with their only losses coming to Mississippi State and #12 Texas, despite hanging with both teams for the better half of three quarters. During the season, reports of sponsors in the state legislature to move the Mean Green to the Southwest Conference never materialized. Though they ended the season on a four-game win streak, Fry's team was once again left without a bowl invitation. With the escalating costs associated with North Texas' SWC bid, along with still-poor attendance and what he felt was a deliberate effort by the NCAA and SMU to keep a lesser-known school like North Texas out of the postseason (the Mustangs were reportedly adamant to the NCAA that North Texas could not play any potential SWC games at Texas Stadium, which Fry had intended to do), Fry began shopping around offers from other programs. The door on the Fry era was essentially slammed shut on December 7th, 1978 when the Southwest Conference announced it would not offer North Texas a bid to join the conference. Three days later, Fry accepted the head coaching job at the University of Iowa.
Demotion to Division I-AA (FCS), rebound to FBS, and present:
The mounting debt left over from Fry's tenure reach a point where the NCAA ruled the program could not financially compete at the Division I-A level and the team was subsequently demoted to Division I-AA status. In 1982, the university recognized that the athletics program had a deficit of $1.6 million and voted to join the Southland Conference. The program experienced little success in subsequent years, but in 1995, a coordinated campaign by donors to purchase large blocks of seats at Fouts Field spiked the average attendance enough for the school to enter Division I-A once again in 1995.