ATHENS — Just who is it that Georgia is playing Saturday? If you said the Mean Green from North Texas, you’d be only half right.
The actual mascot for the university from Denton, Texas, is an Eagle, as in the North Texas Eagles. But everybody refers to them as Mean Green because of a fan chant started in the 1960s when a guy named “Mean Joe” Greene led a stout defense. It’s more of a battle cry — think Auburn’s “War Eagle” — but the nickname stuck and is generally accepted as the team name.
North Texas is trying to reestablish its identity under third-year coach Dan McCarney. If the name rings a bell, he was assistant head coach under Urban Meyer at Florida and won a national championship there.
The Mean Green averaged two wins a season over a six-year period before McCarney took over in 2011. They’ve since won 11 games and over the summer joined Conference USA with hopes of better days ahead. With paydays such as the one they’re getting from Georgia — $975,000 — the hope is a turnaround might not be far off.
“Slowly but surely, we’re taking some positive steps,” McCarney said. “It’s not a fast process. It’s not an easy one. But I think we’re doing some things that everybody is aware of and we’re going in the right direction.”
McCarney has a history of successful rebuilds. He was an assistant coach for Hayden Fry at Iowa in the 1980s when the Hawkeyes went from Big Ten also-rans to three-time Rose Bowl participants. He was also part of Barry Alvarez’s staff that took Wisconsin from 1-10 to 10-1 and led Iowa State from dreadful to competitive in 12 years as head coach of the Cyclones.
“Once you’ve experienced that, it’s always inside you, a fire brewing inside you that it’d be fun to do it again,” McCarney said. “It just burns inside you that you’ve done it before. There’s a plan in place. Let’s follow it and see if we can do it one more time. That’s what we’re in the process of doing now in North Texas.”
The Mean Green scored a 34-27 come-from-behind victory over Ball State last Saturday. They gave a University of Ohio team that won nine games last year a scare before falling 27-21 on Sept. 7. Under McCarney, North Texas also lost to then-No. 1 LSU 41-14 last year and 41-0 to No. 2 Alabama in 2011.
“The schedule was in place when I got here,” McCarney said. “But it allows you to go and play the best in college football and that’s the opportunity we have this week.”
McCarney had nothing but high praise for Georgia, particularly its quarterback. McCarney was heavily involved in recruiting Aaron Murray while coaching at Florida.
“Within the rules, we did everything we could to try to get Aaron to come to Florida,” he said. “We wanted him badly because we knew what a sensational player he was. We happened to have Tim Tebow and Cam Newton at the time. Whether that had a little bit to do with it or a lot to do with it, I don’t know. But I know we exhausted every opportunity and every technique in recruiting to try to get Aaron to come to Florida.”
NOTES: Former NFL and UGA offensive lineman Scott Adams (1985-88) died Monday in Oconee County. He was 46. Cause of death was not disclosed. … Georgia’s Sept. 28 game against LSU was selected by CBS for its national broadcast and slated for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff. … Tight end Jay Rome (ankle) and tackle Kenarious Gates (ankle, knee) were able to practice on Monday. … The Bulldogs, who were idle last weekend, on Monday conducted their full-contact practice normally reserved for Tuesday. That will be the last contact work before Saturday’s game.