Former Marquette associate head coach Tony Benford was named head coach at North Texas on Tuesday. Benford spent the last four seasons at Marquette and will replace Johnny Jones, who coached the Mean Green the last 11 seasons.
Benford was officially announced as the program’s 17th head coach at a press conference Wednesday afternoon at Apogee Stadium, the football team’s home field. Benford signed a five-year contract, according to an ESPN.com report.
The 48-year-old Benford interviewed for the position in Denton, Tex., over the weekend, where he also took in the football team’s spring game.
“I have talked with Tony (Benford) multiple times about the values of these young men as athletes and students and putting them first,” North Texas president V. Lane Rollins said at the press conference. “And he gave me heartfelt and honest answers. And I’m really thrilled, and I feel he’s the right person for UNT at this time, and the right person for these young men, which is number one on my list.”
Benford entered the coaching ranks in 1992 as an assistant coach at New Mexico, where he worked until 1998. He also held assistant coaching positions at Arizona State from 1998 to 2004 and Nebraska from 2006 to 2008 before being hired by Buzz Williams at Marquette.
“I am absolutely thrilled for Tony. He is more than deserving of this opportunity and is walking into an area of the country where he will be able to have immediate success,” Williams said in a statement. “We will forever be grateful for Tony’s daily investment in our program during his tenure here.”
North Texas athletic director Rick Villareal said the school was looking for someone with strong Texas ties, someone who cared about relationships with his players, a hard worker and someone who would win championships for the Mean Green.
“A lot of people think this should have happened a long time ago,” Villareal said. “We were fortunate enough to make this decision, and it’s the last one I’m making for a while, I can tell you that. I think we made a great one.”
Along with Williams, Benford ’s presence on the recruiting trail improved the depth of talent on Marquette ’s roster over the last four years. With his connections in both Texas and Chicago, Benford was one of the main recruiters for Jimmy Butler, Jae Crowder and Junior Cadgouan.
Benford was the lead recruiter on 2012 commits T.J. Taylor and Steve Taylor, as well as Marquette’s two 2013 recruits, Duane Wilson and Deonte Burton.
The Mean Green will have a chance to contend for a Sun Belt championship in 2012, especially if Benford can convince freshman forward Tony Mitchell to stay another year.
North Texas’ leading scorer last year averaged 14.7 points and 10.3 rebounds and was named to the All-Sun Belt first team. A year ago, Benford was the lead recruiter of 6-foot-8 Mitchell, a Dallas native, who considered Marquette before choosing North Texas.
Mitchell is considering declaring for the NBA Draft, and his deadline is April 29.
A bevy of youth awaits Benford at North Texas. Along with Mitchell, the top three scorers from last year’s team were freshmen, including guard Chris Jones (14.1 points) and forward Jordan Williams (10.9 points).
When Benford arrived in Denton late Tuesday night, the first thing he did was meet with the current roster.
“I told them, ‘The program is going to be about you guys. The current players, the future players and the former players,’” Benford said. “I want to make sure they get a great education and grow as people. The basketball is going to take care of itself.”