McCarney, who took Iowa State to five bowl games, is the most accomplished coach UNT has hired since Hayden Fry in the 1970s. He had a 56-85 record in 12 seasons with the Cyclones from 1995 to 2006, making him the program's winningest head coach. His 2000 Iowa State team snapped a 22-year bowl win drought.
UNT is prepared to pay an annual salary in the mid-six figures, a significant jump over what fired coach Todd Dodge made the last four seasons. That was one reason several coaches with impressive resumes showed interest in the job.
Other finalists for the job included former Tulsa and Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe and Dennis Franchione, whose coaching stops included recent stints at TCU, Alabama and Texas A&M. Interim coach Mike Canales was also considered.
UNT, which played Kansas State in the Fouts Field finale Saturday, opens a new $78 million stadium next season.
Information from ESPNDallas.com's Tim MacMahon contributed to this report. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.