One of the more intriguing coaching searches this offseason will happen at the University of Houston, a school that has gone from being known as Cougar High to a program that is approaching a national brand.
UH gained considerable attention during the last two seasons when Tom Herman was compiling a 22-4 record as a coach with a number of eye-catching upsets. The school also made a strong push to be an expansion candidate for the Big 12.
But in October, the Big 12 declined to add schools and in late November Herman left to become the next coach at Texas. He left the program much better than he found it. Houston will be an attractive job.
The interesting decision for athletic director Hunter Yurachek is whether he’ll continue the trend of success and hire an offensive-minded coach. From Bill Yeoman’s veer to John Jenkins’ run-and-shoot, points and yards have been the pathway to success.
In the 12 seasons before 2003, the Cougars had two winning campaigns. In the 14 years since Art Briles was hired in 2003, Houston has had 10 winning seasons and played in 11 bowl games (counting this season). Briles was replaced by Kevin Sumlin. When Sumlin left for Texas A&M, special teams coach Tony Levine was promoted. He lasted three seasons before Hurricane Herman blew into town.
With Herman already in Austin putting together his staff — several of which are following him from Houston — the Cougars are preparing for the bowl game with defensive coordinator Todd Orlando named the interim head coach. He, along with offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, are possible in-house candidates as the permanent replacement.
Yurachek said the school will conduct a “national search.” While Houston is a “group of five” school, the vacancy should attract major interest. Here are some reasons why:
Levine’s annual salary was just over $1 million. Herman was making $3 million and that ranked 35th among FBS jobs.
Herman had great success recruiting the talent-laden Houston area. There are enough quality players within a 40-mile radius of the city to fuel a winning program. The next coach’s task will be keeping that talent interested in the Cougars.
In an effort to keep Herman, the school made major upgrades to its facilities. That will benefit the next coach.
Houston is a member of the American Athletic Conference, which is arguably the best group of five league. Commissioner Mike Aresco is pushing and promoting to make the Power Five a Power Six and included the AAC.
“We’ve got a great list of candidates that want to come to this school,” said Tilman Fertitta, wealthy board of regents chairman. “People from all over the country are contacting us. You would be shocked at the people that want to be the next head football coach at the University of Houston. When you look at the list, you know you’ve arrived as a football powerhouse.”
As is typical with a coaching search, a list of candidates is compiled more from conjecture than confirmation. Some of the names being mentioned on the rumor mill: Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen, Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery, Washington State coach Mike Leach, California coach Sonny Dykes, SMU coach Chad Morris, Oklahoma offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley and Colorado defensive coordinator Jim Leavitt.
That said, Houston could climb into the DeLorean and go back to the future.
West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen, a former offensive coordinator with the Cougars, might be interested in making a move. The Mountaineers are 8-2 going into Saturday’s season finale with Baylor. Holgorsen declined a contract extension in the off-season. He could either parlay this season’s result into a more lucrative deal in Morgantown or elsewhere.
Another candidate with Houston ties could bring a cargo hold full of baggage. There are some Cougars fans who would like to see the school consider bringing back Briles, who coached at UH from 2003-07. He went from Houston to Baylor and he was dismissed from the Bears job job last May in the midst of a sexual assault investigation. The school that gives him a second chance will have lots of explaining to do.