It’s a new culture in Denton. Last season was the beginning; this season is the expected continuation.
Coming off the 2016 season that saw North Texas achieve the goal of playing in a bowl game, the focus this year for the Mean Green under second-year head coach Seth Littrell is to build off that momentum and continue raising the standards in the football program.
Needless to say, the players are on board.
“More guys, I think, have bought into what is it we are trying to do as one, as a family,” said defensive back Kishawn McClain during Wednesday’s Conference USA Media Day in Irving. “Guys want to work, everybody is working now, everybody is focused and everybody is listening to one another.”
North Texas is picked to finish fourth in the West division this season. However, despite the 5-8 record in 2016, the Mean Green had the second-best turnaround in the Football Bowl Subdivision in terms of wins. It was enough to earn a bid to the Heart of Dallas Bowl. A little isn’t enough at North Texas, not anymore.
“It’s the mindset, it’s all in the mind and in the heart,” said running back Jeffrey Wilson. “We want to change the culture because everyone perceives us as being the bottom team or the pushover in the conference. “
The culture movement, along with an increase in consistency, will be important for North Texas to continue the momentum gained last season. The question is– how?
“Holding each other accountable to whatever your standards are, whatever your beliefs are, on a consistent basis daily,” said Littrell. “It’s a challenge for any program, but I think it all goes back to your core values and how you set the culture.”
Littrell would know a thing or two about building and maintaining a winning culture. The former running back was a team captain on the 2000 Oklahoma Sooners team that won the national championship under Bob Stoops, who recently announced his retirement.
“I’ve always had opportunities to call him and we talked a lot about this job and different things,” said Littrell. “He’s definitely someone who I looked at as a mentor.”
Looking back at last year, the way things ended was bittersweet for Littrell and the Mean Green. The goal of making it to a bowl game was achieved. What the scoreboard read after time expired at the Heart of Dallas Bowl was considered a disappointment. Army, a team the Mean Green beat earlier in the season, walked away with the 38-31 win in overtime.
“That was our goal from day one, to go to a bowl game and win it,” said Wilson. “Obviously, to lose in a bowl game to a team you already defeated, it’s a heartbreaker but it also makes you stronger. Our mission is to get back to a bowl game and get the results that we want.”
The mission is already underway and the journey officially starts on September 2 in Denton against Lamar.