In the Hub Club, people gathered, speeches were made, tears were shed, and people were introduced. Both Ross Hodge and Jason Burton were introduced. Hodge is getting promoted, while Burton is new to the program. The whole thing is on YouTube, if you could not make it during the middle of the day.
Athletic Director Jared Mosley introduced the coaches before questions from the media were taken. “I want to tell you that the last couple of weeks while they have been exciting they have been challenging, too. A lot on our plate. A lot to juggle”.
Mosley said the same criteria for the football squad was used to find the next coach. A builder, a recruiter, a proven head coach, and someone with ties to the area. After going through his resume, Mosley introduced Burton to speak.
Burton thanked his family and friends, and discussed the connections to the program, the staff and talked up the university and the potential for winning. He also thanked Jalie Mitchell and said “She is Mean Green basketball.” He says they are going to have a “brand of basketball that is fun to watch.” There will be a lot of up-and-down and scoring, he says. He couldn’t name his staff “I know we are waiting on background checks, but they are great.” He called Ross Hodge family, and talked about their history together.
Next up was Ross Hodge himself. Mosley talked up the team and their ability to win through the distraction. Mosley said it wasn’t difficult to decide and to “not mess with a winning formula.”
Ross Hodge stepped up and told jokes about his suit (its been a while). He talked up the administration, including Wren Baker, Mosley, and president Smatresk. He got choked up, thanked the team and said he wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for them. He continued to praise all the people involved in the program from the trainers and equipment people to former players like Zach Simmons who “believed when a lot of people didn’t believe” and the “CBI group.” He continued with Javion Hamlet, and his belief. He tried to avoid naming names but kept dropping more — Thomas Bell, James Reese, and others.
He told some stories about his wife supporting him (“dude you are lucky someone pays you to coach basketball”) and his mom smashing her ankle on a pre-NIT championship game excursion in Las Vegas. He went on to talk about his high school coach and belief and told some stories about scraping and clawing to get to be 17-12 while the Chris Bosh-led program went 40-0. “Its about players.”
An interesting thing was the number of guys who had North Texas ties on his journey. He also thanked the players from his early head coaching days for believing in him. He choked up again when discussing his friend Grant McCasland and saying “I’ll miss him as a friend.”
He talked up the future. “We don’t have to sell a vision” and mentioned that Rubin Jones can be the all-time winningest player. The guys are talking about which championship was best, and the guys are (playfully) arguing which squad could be which (something MGN likes to do on the podcast). Winning is the culture here. “Pressure is a privilege.” He’s looking forward to adding the type of people who want to “be in it when it’s tough.”
“Not all staff, assistants, players, want to be in that locker room (when its tough).”
“The American is going to be exciting. We are getting some teams to come to Denton who otherwise wouldn’t come to Denton”
“It takes what it takes” –Hank Dickenson –Ross Hodge.
It was a long speech that included a lot of the celebratory tones of the NIT win (rightly) and the typical celebratory tones of a head coaching appointment. Becoming a head coach at the D-I level is a big deal in this profession, and there were a lot of people in Hodge’s life that were part of his journey in attendance.
In the media Q&A portion, Hodge discussed the benefits “in this day and era” of retaining the program’s current pillars like Jones, Sissoko, and Scott in addition to the good of continuing in a place where “you know who can fix your computer” and the like.
A fun part was that Mosley and Burton did not know how far to hold their mics. Hodge was intelligible, but the other two were not.
Hodge continued to talk up the current squad, and the fun of making it Rubin’s time (something we talked about on the podcast) and the continued growth of Aaron Scott. Burton took the “lob” of the question about NIL and talked about “getting something going” and Hodge seconded that notion. “NIL is as important as a retention tool as a recruiting tool.”
In the NIT celebration portion, president Smatresk noted how well NT travelled “what did UAB have? Like 20?” and noted how he wanted to get that kind of traveling normalized. “Let’s carry that momentum into the AAC”
The rest of the celebration involved a panel interview with some of the same kind of anecdotes you might have heard in the week or so since the games. Reliving the big moments. The highlight was Tylor Perry getting a little choked up thinking about the accomplishments and the people he did it with, and about being more than a basketball player in his time here.
Asked about the final shot over Jordan Walker, “What a storybook ending. I couldn’t have painted the picture no better. There was a lot of talk beefore the conference tournament about who the best player in the league was. Jordan is my guy, though. Lot of respect. I felt like he took something from me — and all of us — in the conference tournament. I needed my get-back.”