“I hope to be remembered for my loyalty and respect for the university. That’s all I can hope for.” – Fred McCain
With a population of just over 16,000, Gainesville, Texas is by no means a well-known city but it is the birthplace of Fred Noel McCain, former North Texas football star, coach, and Director of the NTSU Coliseum and Athletics Department. Born on January 7, 1923, McCain began his football playing career in high school where his talent as a quarterback was rewarded in the form of multiple scholarships to universities like Harden-Simmons, Baylor, and of course, North Texas. McCain chose to play for the best.
In 1941 McCain played under North Texas State College head coach Jack Sisco for two seasons until his football aspirations were put on hold as a result of World War II. McCain joined the Navy in 1943 and served as an officer until 1946 where he returned to North Texas to not only continue playing football, but also lead the Eagles to victory as a quarterback and captain in the 1946 Optimist Bowl. The next year McCain helped earn the team a 10-2 record breaking season and an appearance in the grueling 1947 Salad Bowl. However, McCain’s college life did not solely revolve around sports. As an undergraduate, McCain served three years on the North Texas Athletic Council, held the title of Vice-President of the “T” Club in 1942, functioned as the sheriff for the Talons Fraternity and was an avid member of the NTSC football squad. In 1948, McCain graduated with a major in Physical Education and a minor in Mathematics. In 1949, he received his Master’s degree in Administrative Education and married his long time sweetheart and fellow NTSC graduate Mary Lou Ray.
Knowing full well that he wanted to make a name for himself coaching football, but also realizing he lacked experience, McCain returned to his hometown as an assistant coach for the Gainesville High School team. His first learning experience was short lived; after only two seasons in Gainesville, McCain was recruited by his alma mater in 1950 to coach the freshmen and offensive teams under Odus Mitchell. McCain aided in the making of history in 1956 when he played a central role in recruiting African-American students Abner Haynes and Leon King to the North Texas team. In a period where collegiate integration was just beginning to take hold in Texas, McCain helped the university to become one of the first in the state to integrate a collegiate athletic program. Further accomplishments were made possible through McCain’s charisma and aptitude as a coach. In addition to being an inspiring and effective role model for the team, he had no problem drawing future professional footballers such as Vernon Cole and Joe Greene into the fold of North Texas alumni.
In 1972, Fred McCain retired from coaching to serve as the interim director of North Texas athletics and took the position of director of the NTSU Coliseum in 1973. It was in 1982 when the University decided McCain was needed back as the Athletic Director. In 1987 North Texas Sports Information Director Doug Ray said, “We had one foot in the grave when Fred first came in. The biggest thing he did was keep the athletic department from sinking.”
By the time he retired in 1987, Fred McCain had made more than a name for himself. He was inducted into the UNT Hall of Fame, had a scholarship award named after him, and had found the time to establish The Eagle Wing newsletter for former university athletes. After 46 years in service to North Texas, McCain was quoted in the 1987 Aerie yearbook saying, “Obviously I love this university, otherwise I would not have stayed around for so long. It was full of ups and downs throughout the years, but it sure was more fun at the top.”
On February 26, 2013, at the age of 90, Fred McCain passed away. His wife of 64 years, Mary Lou Ray, joined him in October of the same year. They were survived by their two children, Karen and Ray. Though many years have passed since Fred McCain last set foot on the North Texas field, his legacy and achievements in the name of the University are far from forgotten.
Fred’s daughter Karen and her husband Steve donated Fred’s papers to UNT Special Collections in 2016. Materials from the collection, including the images included in this post, may be viewed in the Special Collections Reading Room.
— by Hailey LaRock, Special Collections Student Assistant