Johnny Jones made 20-win seasons an expectation at North Texas, a program that had a grand total of 20 wins in four seasons before his arrival in Denton.
That’s how the former LSU point guard and assistant coach earned his dream job at his alma mater, which hired Jones to replace new TCU coach Trent Johnson.
That’s also why North Texas has never been a more attractive job for a head coach. Athletic director Rick Villarreal, who hired Jones about two weeks into his UNT tenure, should have a pretty impressive pool of candidates in his search to find an experienced head coach that can keep the Mean Green program’s momentum going.
“You probably need somebody that you’re not taking a chance he’s pulling the trigger for the first time,” Villarreal said. “That’s my preference. As a program, we’re at that point.”
The program, which qualified for the NCAA tourney twice in the last six years, is at a point where it could be poised to join the midmajor powers.
The Mean Green’s five-year streak of 20-win campaigns was snapped this season, when UNT finished 18-14 and lost a down-to-the-wire Sun Belt tournament final for the second straight year, but the entire rotation should return intact with an impact juco big man headlining the recruiting class. Potential first-round pick Tony Mitchell has decided to wait at least a year to declare for the NBA draft, opting to focus on improving his game and leading UNT back to March Madness, unless he reconsiders following Jones' departure.
This will always be known as a football state, but there aren’t many more fertile basketball recruiting bases than the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. UNT has a 10,000-seat arena and has positioned itself, with a facilities overhaul highlighted by its new $78 million football stadium, to benefit from future conference realignment dominoes falling.
This is no longer a job for a man desperate for a chance to become a head coach. It’s a job for a proven winner who can build on the foundation Jones leaves as he heads home to LSU.