All rumors point to UNC’s de facto OC Seth Littrell as the new North Texas Mean Green Head Coach. Our 19th head man (full and interim combined). Aside from any hiring at a revenue sport being important, this one carries the with it tremendous baggage.
We are creeping up on a decade since AD Rick Villarreal made a splash and hired Texas HS legend Todd Dodge to lead this program. It was an unmitigated disaster. Dodge’s winning percentage was a ghastly .139 1. His successor Dan McCarney fared better — but only just so. He finished with a .407 winning percentage, but added a Heart of Dallas Bowl win to the trophy case, the first since Darrell Dickey. In between Dodge and Mac, and after Mac, we had Mike Canales. He compiled a .278 win percentage, really hurting his record with this seasons’ 1-5 finish.
The last coach to finish his NT career with a positive winning percentage was Jerry Moore in 1979-1980. That isn’t to say there haven’t been wins here. Corky Nelson, Matt Simon, and Darrell Dickey all had positive conference records, which is probably more indicative of their coaching ability, given the early season non-conference murderer’s rows we lined up during those years.
So Seth Littrell comes in to save Rick Villarreal’s job, and as some kind of savior for a beaten down, ever-shrinking fan ‘base’. It is kind of unreasonable to heap a ton of that on him.
But that’s the gig, I suppose.
Areas Which Require Attention
Given that we will be using some version of the “Air Raid”, it will be interesting to see what kind of recruiting class the new guy puts together. For simplicity’s sake, and without any intimate knowledge of the way he likes to recruit, let us speculate about the direction. Why? Well it gives us something to do while we wait for Sunday’s announcement.
*Note: Air Raid generally refers to offenses that use a specific set of plays, but more revolve around and idea of planning and philosophy. It is best summed up by Chris Brown:
The wishbone and the Wing-T were playbooks, Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense a meticulous method of game planning, but the Air Raid is something more akin to an idea, or at least several related ones: that to get an advantage in modern football you need to be particularly good at something, and to be good at something you have to commit to that something, and if you’re going to commit to something it might as well be different. And thus the principles underlying the Air Raid exist externally from the many coaches who have taught it: a diligent, many-reps approach to practice; a pass-first and spread the wealth philosophy; and, above all else, a willingness to live in the extremes, to do things just a bit differently, to be willing, in a game where conformity is king, to be just a little bit weird.
That weirdness has even changed the ‘pass-first’ tenet mentioned above. Guys like Dana Holgorsen are evolving the concepts further.
Sure, we have guys on the roster. Sure, there are a couple of underclassman who excite the random message boarder. Still the three QBs who competed for the starting job under impressed in at least one aspect of their game.
I’d expect Seth Littrell to dig deep in his binder and find a JUCO guy he missed on, maybe grab a graduate transfer he believes in, and pick up a HS guy if he can with the time remaining.
He brings in his guys with an eye for starting them, and coaches up what he has on the roster hoping that — at worst — he has one capable starter among them to push the main guy in practice and to serve as a backup in case injury strikes.
At present there are a lot examples of bad mechanics all throughout the depth chart. That isn’t so concerning, given that there have even been Heisman candidates with wonky releases. The most concerning issues are play recognition and accuracy. The QBs we didn’t see this season are complete unknowns but obviously didn’t move the needle enough to even deserve a shot in this horrible season.
Air Raid offenses typically designate Outside WR and Inside WR as distinct position groupings. The outside guys are typically bigger, taller, Mike Crabtree dudes. The inside guys are the Wes Welker, Julian Edelman guys. That said, a good WR can play inside or outside to take advantage of matchups, give the defense a different look, or to get a Playmaker the ball.
We have some guys with speed, talent, and eligibility on the squad. We also have a bunch of dudes that have dropped passes, run bad routes, and looked disillusioned.
Todd Dodge reached deep into the JUCO ranks and pulled out a series of quality receivers that put up big numbers in his time and I imagine Seth Littrell can do something similar. Mike Leach and Doug Meacham (to use two Air Raid examples) have both moved RBs to slot WRs in the past, and we might see a guy like Wily Ivery move. It will be a nice way to give Tailback Jeff Wilson and Ivery, two exciting players, time on the field together.
Quick, shifty, undersized slot guys aren’t extremely hard to find. The ones that run crisp routes and make tough catches over the middle are a bit more rare but I don’t expect this will be difficult.
The outside WR positions usually require more size (rangy 6’4″ guys). We have one or two of those guys but I imagine this class will include one or two players with size to push the current roster. Size on the outside is great for fade routes and blocking outside. We tried this a bunch the last couple of years with Darius Terrell, Marcus Smith, and Chris Loving. 2
A lot of sacks this season can be attributed to the QBs holding the ball, or running around the pocket too often, or not being able to challenge the defense deep consistently to mitigate blitzing.
I am by no means an OL guru, but we have some quality along the front five. For a ‘run-first’ team this OL did a lot of pass protecting. McNulty and Smith threw the ball a ton. We were 8th in attempts in a pass-happy conference.
I’m not sure how much Littrell differs from a Mike Leach style offense in his blocking assignments, but I know that Leach likes his OL to win match ups man-to-man, especially in the pass protection game.
While offense is what we are looking for, this team will lose often if the other side of the ball isn’t vastly improved.
A look at the game film will show the DL getting pushed 5 yards back often. The Worst Defense In NT History got that way because pretty much every team could run through the A gap at will. As a whole, the defensive line was okay when pass-rushing, but never could get into defensive third and longs, because of the porous run defense. When Mike Canales talked about lacking size and strength I have to believe he meant here. After all, he made that comment after the Louisiana Tech game that saw Kenneth Dixon scorch his guys for 195 and 6 TDs, largely through the middle.
The starters were and are undersized. Flusche, Orr, and Tauaalo are all 250-ish lbs. Only Sir Calvin Wallace passed 300 and just barely.
It is mostly disappointing to see the position group be so young (and apparently small and slow) given McCarney’s history of coaching the position.
If Littrell wants any kind of improvement immediately, he will have to bolster the DT spots. I expect the young guys that were thrown to the fire to get bigger and stronger and learn from their season getting gashed, but this position group is as important as the QB spot and should be addressed.
NT already lost RS FR DT DeMikal Harrison to transfer, so this spot is in dire need of some size. One or two 350+ lbs guy would be ideal. Obviously, those types of players are highly coveted so it will not be easy.
Much will depend on the defensive coordinator Seth Littrell brings along with him, and I wouldn’t hate it if we dropped the 4-3 base we use now, and use a 4-2-5. UTSA has had some success with it the last few years, and Southern Miss has used it successfully recently.
A fancy scheme won’t make up completely for talent, but it can use talent more effectively. No matter what NT runs they’ll need to control the line or the defense might be setting the wrong kinds of records next season.