Clint Bowen had to do a little hunting back in the early 2000s, but he eventually found an old scouting report on Oklahoma from his time as an assistant coach at Kansas.
Bowen pointed out one line in the report to a graduate assistant who played for the Sooners and had just joined him on the Jayhawks staff.
“You had better watch out for this guy because he will physically harm you,” Bowen recalled this week.
That player was former Oklahoma fullback Seth Littrell.
The two shared a laugh about the report then that quickly blossomed into a long-term friendship.
“We share a philosophy that football is a grown man’s game played by tough human beings,” Bowen said.
That common ground is what brought Bowen back to North Texas to work for Littrell as his new defensive coordinator following last season.
Bowen has spent most of his career coaching on the defensive side of the ball and served as UNT’s defensive coordinator in 2011 under Dan McCarney. The 2002 season was one of the rare times Bowen wasn’t a defensive assistant coach. He coached Kansas’ special teams and running backs that year, when Littrell also worked with the Jayhawks’ running backs in his first job as a coach.
Bowen said he could see then that Littrell was destined for greatness in coaching due to the way he carried himself and respect he earned from his players.
Littrell is well on his way to fulfilling the promise Bowen saw in him. He’s led UNT to bowl games in three of his four seasons at the school and credits his success in part to what he learned from Bowen.
“I have always looked up to him,” Littrell said. “He has had a lot of great wisdom and advice for me. He has been around the game for so long and coordinated at a high level in a Power Five conference.
“He’s a guy I can lean on because I see him as a head coach.”
The experience Bowen gained during stints as a defensive coordinator at Kansas, Western Kentucky and UNT will be valuable as he looks to rebuild a defense that struggled last season.
UNT allowed 32.5 points per game in 2019, which was a big reason the Mean Green finished 4-8 after back-to-back nine-win campaigns.
Bowen knew exactly what he was getting into by joining Littrell at UNT and believes the program will rebound. He heard about the foundation Littrell has built from friends in the coaching profession and wanted to be a part of it.
He hasn’t been disappointed.
“Coach Littrell has done a great job of building a culture,” Bowen said. “Our guys show up on time ready to go, are smart, listen and work hard. People don’t understand how important that is or take it for granted.”
Bowen has already made an impression on his new players.
Linebacker KD Davis described Bowen as a funny and fun-loving coach off the field. When he’s on the field, Bowen is demanding, pays attention to detail and gets the best out of his players.
“He’s a great coach and has worked with a lot of players in the NFL,” Davis said. “There is a lot I can learn from him.”
Bowen will lean on players like Davis, who led UNT with 88 tackles last season as he looks to install a new system. He ran a 4-3 in his first stint with the Mean Green.
Bowen has altered his philosophy since. He started to use more three-man fronts as college offenses adopted spread schemes.
“We found at Kansas that we had to have a defense that was flexible to feature our really good players,” Bowen said. “If we needed to protect our corners, we had coverages that protected them. If we had really good corners, we took advantage of that. We had a system that could take advantage of whatever our players could do.”
Bowen will follow a similar philosophy at UNT and is impressed with the players he inherited. Nose tackle Dion Novil, linebacker Joe Ozougwu, defensive end Davontae McCrae, cornerback Cam Johnson, KD Davis and fellow linebacker Tyreke Davis are just a few of the players who have made an impression on Bowen in the early stages of fall camp.
“I’m pleasantly surprised with the talent we have,” Bowen said. “There are guys at each level of our defense who will be top-notch in this conference.”
Bowen is looking forward to building a defense with those players after leaving Kansas, where he spent 21 seasons on staff. He said it would take a perfect situation to lure him away from his alma mater.
Working for Littrell at UNT fit the bill.
“There is a community feel in Denton like there was at Kansas,” Bowen said. “You also have access to so many different things in Dallas and the metro area. We were familiar with it and liked it before.”
The fact Bowen is joining Littrell and becoming a part of what he is building at UNT made the situation even more appealing.
“I have worked on staffs where I have worked for a coach for four or five years and never been inside their house,” Bowen said. “I have been to Seth’s house probably 30 times already. We have staff parties. Our wives go to dinner together. It helps build a culture that is beneficial.
“The players feel it when the coaches are on the same page, that we are united and working for the same thing.”