Dan McCarney Makes His Return To Big Ten Country

Oct. 2, 2014

Dan McCarney during his days at Iowa
Dan McCarney during his days as an assistant coach at Iowa (photo courtesy HawkeyeSports.com)

On the calendar, Saturday, Oct. 4, is just another early-autumn football afternoon in Big Ten country, like hundreds of others before it.

Police-escorted team-bus caravans will rumble down Interstate 90, Interstate 74 and State Road 37, rolling through landscapes of corn and soybean fields where harvest is just getting underway, past stands of maples, yellow poplars and cherry hickories where the reds, oranges and golds of a midwest fall are beginning to unfold.

Fans will pack into some of the most massive, celebrated and history-soaked venues in the nation, with seating capacities greater than their surrounding populations, where college football has been played since the game immigrated from its northeastern origins more than 100 years ago.

"It's hard to beat the midwest in the fall as the leaves change," North Texas coach Dan McCarney said. "It smells like and feels like college football."


This particular fall Saturday is a homecoming of sorts for McCarney, who is counted as one the conference's own. When McCarney's North Texas Mean Green faces the Indiana Hoosiers this Saturday afternoon in Bloomington, Indiana, McCarney will be coaching in Big Ten country for the first time in eight years.

The midwest is where Dan McCarney was born and raised, in nearby Iowa City, and his roots in Big Ten football run deep.

"I grew up a Big Ten fan, a Hawkeye fan," he said. "I used to sneak into Kinnick Stadium - my parents didn't know it at the time - with some of my buddies in fifth and sixth and seventh grades. Then I started using my mom's tickets. Dad was a Iowa City cop and worked the games, and mom bought tickets through the dental school where she worked."

This is also where McCarney played football, in that same Kinnick Stadium for the University of Iowa. This is where he learned the game, from men like Hall of Fame coaches Hayden Fry and Barry Alvarez. And this is where he launched his coaching career, as an assistant coach at Iowa and Wisconsin.

Even when he left the Big Ten for the first time in 1995, McCarney didn't stray far, moving just two hours west to his first head-coaching job in Ames at Iowa State - whose biggest rival was his alma mater and Big Ten opponent, Iowa.

McCarney, however, has not coached in a Big Ten stadium since 2006, his final year at Iowa State. In the years since leaving Ames, McCarney's teams have played just one game against a Big Ten school, that coming against Indiana at Apogee Stadium in McCarney's first year at North Texas.

"There's a feeling of respect and excitement to go back to that conference," he said. "I spent a long time in that conference, and to coach and recruit against those teams was pretty amazing. I got to play against Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler and Joe Paterno, and then got to coach against legendary Hall-of-Fame coaches."

The lessons learned on the field and sidelines of the Big Ten have stayed with McCarney and continue to shape the program he is installing at North Texas, where he is pursuing the same ideal that one of his mentors, Hayden Fry, pursued at North Texas in the 1970s.

"The game of football changes in some ways, but in some ways it hasn't changed one bit from the time I played back in the 70s," McCarney said. "The fundamentals, the techniques, especially on defense. There are so many things that go back to the roots of your profession, and the things you believe in. I have not strayed, and didn't in that my time at South Florida, Florida, and now North Texas, from the things you admire and respect so much in the Big Ten. The endless pursuit of achievement and success, don't accept losing, respect everyone but fear none.

"That's what we're trying to manufacture here at North Texas, but it really goes back to all those roots in the Big Ten," he added. "Sensational crowds, phenomenal tradition, great rivalries. They're just so ingrained in up there, and we're trying to build that here."

North Texas vs. Indiana
Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014, 1:30 p.m.
Complete game information at GameDay Central



North Texas Mean Green