I enrolled at the University of North Texas right in time to watch Darrell Dickey sink into the earth. The football coach would finish 2-9 that year, right after a 7-5 season—and almost 2,000 rushing yards from rookie Jamario Thomas—got them their fourth straight bowl berth. He’d lose his job two years later, and then Todd Dodge got brought up from Southlake and stunk up Fouts Field so bad that the sports program had to launch a dubiously-funded effort for a new stadium to get us to talk about something else. (Fouts was also really old.) When my friends and I would go to games, we’d spend more time in the parking lot than in Fouts. It was bad football. (But Tobe Nwigwe was on the team, and he is now terrific, and running back Patrick Cobbs got some years as a backup for the Dolphins and I think the Saints. OK, no more parenthesis, I promise.)
I bring this up because current coach Seth Littrell is apparently one of just 15 coaches at public universities who has personal access to a private jet written into their contract, according to USA Today. That’s use of a plane not for recruiting or work-related endeavors, but for “family vacations or other leisure trips.” In addition to his $1.865 million salary, Littrell gets $100,000 a year that goes toward “private aircraft charter flight services.” Not bad!
Littrell is among good company: six coaches are in the Big Ten and five are in the SEC. Littrell is … in Conference USA. He’s 26-21 since 2016, with three bowl appearances but no wins. That’s definitely a jump in quality, but is it worth shelling out $100,000 in university funds so he can take some trips?
UNT, at least when I was a student, always had a chip on its shoulder because it couldn’t stand next to the big boys that had similar enrollment numbers but much better football programs. The school paid for about half of the 30,000-seat Apogee Stadium by fleecing students who were still in high school.
In 2008, the student body got to vote to hike an athletic fee for students who enrolled after 2011, the year Apogee opened. Those kids would pay somewhere around $30 million for the new stadium but didn’t get a say about it. UNT has always been a quality liberal arts school—with very good journalism, visual arts and design, and music programs, among many others—that worked really hard to earn status as a Tier One research university. It hasn’t matched that level of success in its football program.
UNT’s done well to increase its attendance at football games, although it still hasn’t sold the stadium out in the eight years it’s been open. Perhaps private jet trips for a head coach that’s probably good enough to get the job at Texas Tech will lead to that.