Seth Littrell upgraded the North Texas football program, but his inability to get the Mean Green totally over the top cost him his job.
On one hand, one can point to the cold business of coaching, how somebody who guided a program to six bowl games and two championship contests in seven years can lose his job.
What’s more, Littrell took over the North Texas program which went 1-11 the season before his arrival. In his seven seasons, he guided the Mean Green to a 44-44 record.
Defensive coordinator Phil Bennett was named North Texas’ interim coach. He will guide the Mean Green in the Dec. 17 Frisco Bowl against Boise State. And earlier this week, North Texas announced Washington State offensive coordinator Eric Morris as the Mean Green’s new head coach.
While it appears as if Littrell got a raw deal, the inability to win the big game no doubt led to his ouster.
Yes, North Texas got to bowl games in six of his seven years and went to another two championship games, but the Mean Green came up empty in five bowl games and the two title contests under Littrell.
In addition, North Texas earned two of the bowl bids despite losing records. The Mean Green was 5-7 when earning a berth in the Heart of Dallas Bowl during Littrell’s first season in 2016. They lost to Army 38-31 in that bowl game. In the shortened 2020 season, North Texas took a 4-5 record into the Myrtle Beach Bowl before losing to Appalachian State 56-28.
Even in the championship games, the Mean Green came up short by quite a bit. They lost to Florida Atlantic 41-17 in the 2017 Conference USA championship game. It was never a competitive game as Florida Atlantic scored the first 34 points.
Then to make matters worse, two weeks later, North Texas lost 50-30 to Troy in the New Orleans Bowl.
This past season, North Texas did a good job to reach the C-USA title game. The last straw, obviously, was losing to UTSA 48-27 in the championship. That was a UTSA team that beat North Texas 31-27 during the regular season.
Again, it’s tough to slam a coach who did a lot of great things for this North Texas program, but one can see that the administration felt that somebody else would be needed to take things to the next level. North Texas will need to up its game next year when it becomes one of six C-USA schools to compete in the American Athletic Conference.
The other five are UTSA, UAB, Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, and Rice.
North Texas felt it was so important to make the change that it didn’t wait to name a new athletic director first.
Its athletic director Wren Baker recently resigned to accept the same position at West Virginia, so the decision to fire Littrell was announced by UNT president Neal Smatresk. In a statement released by the school, Smatresk alluded to the fact that moving to the AAC meant that North Texas would have to up its game.
“I believe we are positioned to be highly competitive in the American Athletic Conference,” he said. “We have the benefit of a passionate fan base, great facilities, and resources and we are committed to excellence in football with a support system that is dedicated to developing elite student-athletes…”
There is no question that Littrell should be considered a success at North Texas, taking a program that was 4-18 the previous two seasons and improving it greatly.
Yet, that wasn’t enough, according to the decision-makers at North Texas. Even though the quality of the AAC is bound to be downgraded with the loss of Cincinnati, UCF, and Houston, it still has a chance to maintain its status as the top Group of 5 conference, although it’s not a given.
The newcomers understand that they must take their program to a higher level.
That is why a coach who guided his school to six bowl games and two championship game appearances in seven years is out of a job.
It might seem harsh because he did a solid job. Yet in the new environment, solid isn’t quite good enough.