Editor’s note: This post will be updated as we learn more.
North Texas was eliminated from the NIT, capping three-year run of winning. Mac has won banners for North Texas in the regular season (2020, 2022) and one league tournament (2021) and also had to post-season wins in the NCAA (2021) and NIT (2022). That is a good, solid resume for a North Texas program that does not boast a long legacy of winning basketball.
Now that everyone on the staff is free of basketball preparation activities, it means it is time to look at all those job offers piling up.
I like to imagine them as credit card offers that fill up your mail. I don’t know who Mac’s agent is, but I figure that person has a ton of “just want to have a conversation” texts and voicemail messages.
So far twitter has linked Mac to SMU, K-State, Mizzou, and South Carolina and even the LSU gig. I will not link them here, as their provenance is suspect, but they are worth keeping an eye on (MGN will do this for you) simply because *some* of the smoke has indicated fire. One predicted the Eric Konkol to Tulsa move, that ultimately was true.
UPDATE 2022-03-25: Pete Thamel tweeted that Mac will stay at North Texas and renegotiate his contract.
UPDATE 2022-03-23: Over on GMG.com the board owner and founder says his “sources” say Mac isn’t going anywhere.
UPDATE 2022-03-22: SMU head coach Tim Jankovich will not return to SMU. This puts Mac as the primary focus, according toe the aforementioned rumor twitter accounts. For what it is worth: those accounts have been more or less right so far. They say SMU is targeting Mac in their search.
Some of these rumors are self-reinforcing, in that an agent or someone will leak it out to a journalist or “insider” to start getting the coach or the program some interest. The coaching fraternity is a big one, encompassing lots of people and everyone knows someone or something about a place or has a connection to a family member. These networks are used to spread a little more rumors and so I imagine some of the things on twitter have some basis in fact.
Mac and company have done a brilliant job here, and like Johnny Jones before him, it just may be time to move on and up while the iron is hot.
If you are too young to remember, Johnny Jones took over this program 20 years ago in 2001-02 and won just seven games, two in conference. It took five years until his first 20-win season and first NCAA appearance. He went on to win another league title and had North Texas competing regularly for Sun Belt titles. His best conference winning percentage, the most measure for comparing coaches across time, was .722. He also wen’t .611, and .556 twice. He leveled up our recruiting here, and got future NBA draftee Tony Mitchell in the program (Also Chris Jones and Jordan Williams). He was a good coach here and left for LSU. His performance there was a little iffy, but he landed Ben Simmons, and got to a tournament. He was fired, but made his way to the SWAC, and has gone to two more NCAAs, and won a game in the first four this season.
Mac has done even better in a shorter time. He has three of the top-10 conference win percentages in program history including the number one: .889 this season. (He also has the 4th, 19-20’s .778; and 10th 20-21’s .643). Now, all seasons build on the previous, and despite what Tony Benford’s seasons did to the momentum, people still had memories of the Jones years and were hungry for a return. Some of that helped Mac but he and his staff (and the players, of course) have been brilliant.
In five years Mac has only one sub-20-win season and in that one they won the league tournament, and beat Purdue in the first round as a 13-seed. He has one fewer conference tournament ring than Jones, but one more regular season title — and one of his best teams was denied the opportunity to win it thanks to COVID. In short, he has done tremendously well.
The allure of a P5 program and all the resources available are obvious. Less so are the rumors of the talks at SMU. One, former NT coach Tim Jankovich is still there, and two, it would be something of a lateral move. You can win at SMU, and they have more resources in the immediate term, but North Texas will be in the AAC in one more year. I certainly see the draw if SMU is offering to double the salary or something, but the rumors are also that Mac turned down Mizzou and South Carolina, places where he could get a ton of cash.
On the MGN Slack, I’ve posited that I think Baylor (alma mater), Oklahoma, Okie St, Texas Tech, TCU, Texas, and Texas A&M, are the immediate ‘no-thought-required’ destinations. SMU is a maybe, but it makes a lot of sense.
Mac has enjoyed his time in the Dallas area, and SMU is in University Park. He would have more money, a nice arena, and more resources to do what he is already doing. He would have to compete with UNT in the AAC, but that’s the game, and I am sure we would get a nice “I enjoyed my time in Denton, and I wish the program all the best” kind of platitudes in the weeks leading up. I do not know if it would be a complete burnt bridge, but I know I would not want to step out on it.
The alternative is that this is a … strategy to get Mac some more cash from Wren Baker and company. I am sure Baker is happy to extend a contract, and continue to demonstrate that North Texas basketball has a commitment to winning by paying good coaches good money and rewarding them for success. I also know the reality is that NT had to beg and plead some folks to come out to watch an historically great basketball program.
The play may be to wave “goodbye” to Mac, and hire his assistant Ross Hodge and keep it moving. There is precedent across college basketball for this, obviously, with Mark Adams doing well at Texas Tech, and on and so forth.
If you want to change this calculus, you can write the department a fat check for $20 million or so and that will change a lot. Earmark it for a head coach named Mac. The longer-term, boring process is to keep winning. That may not be with Mac next season.