- Andy Katz, ESPN Senior Writer
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North Texas has hired Marquette associate head coach Tony Benford as its new head coach.
Benford, 48, was a finalist for the job at SMU (that went to Larry Brown) and was approached by the school to be a coach-in-waiting on Brown's staff.
"I couldn't be more excited about the opportunity of taking over the basketball program at North Texas," Benford said. "My philosophy is all about the players, and we will do everything in ensure that our players grow in the classroom, the community and on the court."
He is expected to sign a five-year deal with a news conference at 2 p.m. Wednesday. He interviewed for the position over the weekend.
Benford replaces Johnny Jones, who left North Texas after 11 seasons to return to LSU as head coach. Jones played for the Tigers in the NCAA Final Four, and later was on coach Dale Brown's staff for another trip to the Final Four.
Jones was 190-146 over six seasons with the Mean Green, including two Sun Belt Conference tournament titles.
In his statement released by the school, which planned to formally introduce their new coach on Wednesday, Benford thanked Jones "for doing such a great job in making North Texas a winner."
Benford has strong Texas ties and consistently has recruited the state at his stops at Marquette, Nebraska, Arizona State and New Mexico. Benford played at Texas Tech and is from neighboring Hobbs, N.M. Benford was a 1986 NBA draft pick of the Boston Celtics, the second player chosen in that draft by the Celtics after the late Len Bias.
"In this search, we were looking for a set of traits that make up a great coach and a great person, and Tony Benford fit the bill," UNT athletic director Rick Villareal said. "He is a tireless worker, has great relationships with his players, has been a part of several successful programs and is highly respected by those that have coached with and against him. He has always recruited the Dallas area and has the ties that will help keep Texas talent in Texas."
Benford's first chore is to make sure that leading scorer Tony Mitchell stays with the Mean Green and doesn't leave for the NBA draft. The early-entry deadline is Sunday.
The Mean Green are projected to be one of the top teams in the Sun Belt next season and are poised to move to Conference USA, possibly in 2013. CUSA has to decide if it's going to merge with the Mountain West or simply replace Memphis, Houston, Central Florida and SMU -- all of which are headed to the Big East.
ESPN.com reported Monday that Fran Fraschilla, an analyst at ESPN and former head coach at Manhattan, St. John's and New Mexico, interviewed for the job and was a strong candidate. Sources said Fraschilla would have accepted the job if offered.
Information from The Associated Press contributed to this report.