North Texas AD athletic director Rick Villarreal did not say head football coach Todd Dodge is in trouble, but it would be nearly impossible not to reach that conclusion after my phone converasation with him today.
Villarreal said in the offseason he wanted to see the program improve this season. There was an "or else" sentiment to that statement as well. Even though Dodge was hired away from Southlake Carroll High School by Villarreal it sounds as if it will take a major turnaround this season for things to remain status quo.
In his fourth season in Denton, Dodge is 5-34 as head coach.
Crushed by a series of injuries the Mean Green are 0-3 this season. North Texas has lost 10 starters to injury, nine of which are considered season-ending. The only other I-A team to have been hit this hard by injury is Utah State, which has five starters out for the year. UNT is down to its third-string QB as well.
Here are some of the highlights from the conversation with Villarreal.
Mac Engel: You said before the season you wanted to see improvement from the football team; where do you stand on that evaluation now?
Rick Villarreal: Right now I won't comment where we are. I know I made comments in the paper, but I won't make any decision until the time we ought to make decisions. Injuries are a part of the game, and, yes, this is as tough of a situation as I've seen. We have to evaluate the entire process of a program. At this point, I'm supporting my coach and hope that this rash of injuries is over and that we can go out and compete with the young talent that we have right now and make a fuller evaluation when that time comes.
I made it very clear I'm a firm believer that with the facilities we have, and the new stadium coming in we've made major improvements that we should have a place that should be as attractive as anybody's.
ME: When you made your comments over the summer was it designed to be motivational, or just stating the reality of the situation?
RV: As you're recruiting kids there is no reason we shouldn't be as competitive as anybody out there. Was it to be motivational? You hope it is. But for me it was more of a reality. We should be winning games here now. We won four and five years ago.
In our business we all know that football and men's basketball are the most visible and you have to produce in those sports. I would tell you that if we were going to be in Fouts Field and not made the improvements to the program than the expectations for me would not be a lot less from the standpoint that I expect to win, but I understand the challenges. But to look at the facilities that are in place and that are coming, I feel like for all of our coaches we have the things in place to be successful.
ME: Dodge was your hire; because of that do you feel any more or less attached - his resume is a reflection of you, right?
RV: I don't worry about that. I think you can look across the country at a number of ADs have been in place for a while and made any number of hires that worked, and some that don't. I'm going to stick with my coach because he's my coach, he's this university's head coach and this program's coach. Do you stick with somebody because of a tie or you hired him? To a degree. But when you hire someone it's with certain expectations.
When we hired (UNT men's basketball coach) Johnny Jones we didn't have a lot going on. After the fourth year I told Johnny we needed to improve. We have made a lot of progress and a lot of times that's what you're looking for. Being more competitive, graduation rates, things like that. It took Johnny until his sixth year but you could see progress.
ME: What is the status of the new stadium?
RV: Everything is on schedule. It will be open for the fall of 2011 season. We might open it for one event, like a rock concert or something, just to iron out the logistics. But we're on schedule.
- Mac Engel