New UNT head football coach Todd Dodge peers out of his office window across I-35 and fixes his gaze on Fouts Field, home of the Mean Green. He peppers his words with the obligatory mention of "patience'' but speaks directly and confidently of his vision of the future of football at UNT.
"It's a tremendous time to be at North Texas,'' Dodge says. "I'd like to see us become the Metroplex's team. I'd like to see us fill that place up with 30,000 fans on Saturdays. With the number of graduates we have in the area, the fan base is there. I'd like to see them come out and watch a team they can be proud of that plays an exciting brand of football.''
System for success
That exciting brand of football will include an attacking defense based on a 4-3 alignment and a no-huddle, spread-formation offense with a heavy emphasis on the passing game. Both are departures from recent UNT teams, which used the 3-4 defensive front and featured a run-oriented, tight end-based offense.
Dodge's schemes turned Southlake Carroll into the dominant Class 5A high school football program in Texas during the 2000s. The Dragons scored at a dizzying pace that gave headaches to opposing coaches who seemed at a loss to defend the "spread the wealth" offensive concepts. Under Dodge, Carroll won four state titles, made five title game appearances and compiled a 79-1 mark over the past five seasons, including a winning streak currently at 48 games.
That kind of record, combined with Dodge's ability to articulate his system for success, convinced UNT athletic director Rick Villarreal that Dodge was uniquely positioned to turn UNT football into a championship program.
"He's a proven, capable coach," Villarreal says. "He's done extremely well at the high school level in one of the toughest states to attain that level of success. The way he conducts practices, breaks down defenses and makes the necessary halftime adjustments shows that he understands the nuances of the game. He brings a real work ethic that he instills in his kids. He has a system that makes the team bigger than the individual, and this isn't his first rodeo. He was an assistant here in the early '90s.''
Dodge views those two seasons as UNT quarterback coach/offensive coordinator (1992-93) as the most crucial years of his coaching career. Dodge was plucked off Ron Poe's coaching staff at McKinney High, where as offensive coordinator he helped McKinney transition from a run-oriented offense to a passing game scheme. After leaving UNT he spent two seasons as a head coach at three different schools before taking over at Carroll in 2000, tweaking his passing game concepts along the way.
"I feel like those two years (at UNT) set the groundwork for the rest of my coaching career,'' Dodge says. "It kind of accelerated everything. To me, each season has been about reaching your potential. Probably the biggest thing I've learned over the years is that players want to know how much you care way before they want to know how much you know.''
Sold on the possibilities
Although his name had been linked with a handful of college head coach openings in recent seasons, Dodge says he never gave much thought to becoming a college head coach. He declined an interview request with Rice last season and says he didn't get intrigued about the UNT position until Villarreal called him in mid-November.
The decision to leave what he terms "the best high school coaching position in the nation" wasn't an easy one for Dodge. His son Riley, a junior, is the starting quarterback at Carroll and the team was in the midst of its playoff run when news of the move began to circulate.
"It was quite difficult from the standpoint of the timing,'' Dodge says. "I didn't want it to get in the way of the playoffs. The hardest part was telling the team. I was concerned it could become a distraction."
Given his son's role on the Carroll team, Dodge talked to him first about the move.
"He said the team would all be proud and that I deserved it,'' Dodge recalls. "He said if we got beat, it wouldn't be because I took the North Texas job.''
UNT's four straight bowl appearances (2001-04) showed Dodge that winning could be accomplished here. He was also impressed by the overall athletic facilities, and the university's proximity to his Southlake home was important. In the end, he was won over after interviewing with Villarreal and President Gretchen Bataille.
"It's a place where I feel like I'm wanted,'' Dodge says. "That was very important to me. I was struck by the sincerity of Coach Villarreal and Dr. Bataille and sold on the possibilities at North Texas. I'm here now because I believe I'm supposed to be here."
A champion's mentality
Assembling a coaching staff, hitting the recruiting trail and meeting with the current UNT players were the first orders of business after Dodge was hired. Four coaches who have prior experience coaching under Dodge at Carroll have joined his nine-member coaching staff at UNT. They include offensive coordinator Todd Ford and defensive coordinator Ron Mendoza, who served in those capacities at Carroll last season.
Dodge and his staff have already put their experience to work in assembling UNT's recruiting class.
"The first thing we did was to go back over the 16 scouting reports we had at Carroll [for opposing teams], to identify any players we believed were capable of playing Division I football,'' Dodge says. "Then, we started calling on coaches we know. We feel like we'll have a good class that can fit into our system."
His early impressions are that the Mean Green should be fairly strong defensively with 11 players returning who started at one time or another last season. He says the running back position, spearheaded by Jamario Thomas and Deavin Cox, and kicking game should also be team strengths.
Instilling a champion's mentality in his players is paramount in his immediate plans for the Mean Green.
"I see a real hunger there,'' Dodge says. "When I first sat down with the players I told them that I assumed everyone in here wants to be a part of a championship team. If they don't, then we need to sit down individually and see what it is they're here for. The way they are going to be coached and everything we do is going to be done with the idea of being a champion in mind."
That champion is one that Dodge hopes will be playing in a bowl game in December.
"I understand that we're a part of the Sun Belt Conference and that there is a bowl game in New Orleans that's tied to being the champion of the Sun Belt Conference,'' Dodge says. "Playing in that bowl game is what we're after."