A Major mistake

A.J. Hoffman: UH, Applewhite make desperate, reckless move with Briles hire

Kendal Briles brings controversy to UH. Tom Pennington/Getty Images

Major Applewhite’s first season as head coach at the University of Houston was far from disastrous. It was, however, a disappointment relative to recent performance. The 2017 Cougars lost the same number of games (5) as Tom Herman’s 2015 and 2016 teams lost combined. Their 7 wins was the lowest total since 2012, which was Tony Levine’s first season as head coach. The offense put up 339 points, the fewest posted by a Cougar team since 2005. 

Houston fans have become accustomed to a better product than they got this season. The initial excitement over Applewhite being named head coach started to fade on October 14th, when the Coogs got housed 45-17 by a Tulsa team that didn’t win another conference game all season. The home opener drew 38,900 fans to the shiny, new, $128 million TDECU Stadium. Attendance declined every home game, with the home finale drawing just over 29,000. The team was decidedly mediocre, but unlike past seasons where the on-field performance wasn’t ideal, the team was not entertaining to watch. 

Fans and media alike ripped Major for the lackluster offense. During prep for the Hawaii Bowl, offensive coordinator Brian Johnson left after just one year to coach quarterbacks at Florida. Major called the plays for the bowl game, and the Cougars lost to Fresno State 33-27. D’Eriq King, the third quarterback UH tried during the season, threw for 269 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. He also added 38 rushing yards. The rest of the Cougars rushed for a combined 34 yards on 22 carries. Not exactly inspiration that the offense has an up arrow headed into next season. 

You may recall a quote that surfaced when Major was hired that was attributed UH President Renu Khator. “The winning is defined at University of Houston as 10-2. We’ll fire coaches at 8-4.”

So Major did what any first time coach nursing a $1.5 million salary and a 7-5 first season would do. He panicked. He tabbed former Baylor assistant Kendal Briles as offensive coordinator, and brought on Randy Clements to coach the offensive line and coordinate the run game. The same Kendal Briles and Randy Clements who coached under Kendal’s father Art Briles at Baylor. The same Baylor that reached a settlement agreement with a student last year who indicated she was aware of “at least 52 rapes, including 5 gang rapes by not less than 31 different football players under former Baylor Football Head Coach Art Briles.” The same Kendal Briles that asked a recruit, “Do you like white women? Because we have a lot of them at BAYLOR and they LOVE football players.” According to the lawsuit, the Baylor coaching staff recruiting strategy made girls in Baylor’s hostess program available for sex, using drugs and alcohol. 

Of course, Baylor (albeit slowly) fired Art Briles and did its best to clean their hands of the mess, after a thorough investigation by the Philadelphia-based Pepper Hamilton Law Office. Even after this, Kendal Briles was one of several assistant coaches who voiced their support for their disgraced boss via twitter. Despite the overwhelming evidence against him, the coaches maintained that no wrongdoing had occurred. 

Houston isn’t the first school to dip into the Briles coaching pool since his firing. Arizona State hired defensive coordinator Phil Bennett after he declined to become the Baylor interim head coach. Texas hired quality control assistant Casey Horny. Florida Atlantic hired Kendal Briles last year. 

When Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin faced pressure about the hire last season, he basically let everyone know that winning is what mattered most. “My plan is not in place to please the media,” Kiffin said. “My plan is still in place to do the best thing for our players and the people that hired me.” 

This is essentially the decision that the University of Houston has made. They are willing to put their reputation on the line, basically on the word of Kendal Briles, who is still under investigation by the NCAA. UH can claim to have “strongly vetted” him, but there is no way they could have done an inquiry in three weeks that is more thorough than the one the NCAA has been conducting for nearly the last 2 years. The fact is, there is more evidence that Kendal was involved than there is evidence that he was not involved. 

The Florida Atlantic offense thrived under Briles, and I am sure the Cougar offense will as well. He is a hell of an offensive mind, but there are plenty of coaches UH could have gone after that didn’t carry the stink that Briles’ does. Best case scenario, it has drawn scrutinizing eyes to your program. Worst case scenario, the news comes out that Briles’ knew more than he says, and now your program has the stench of Baylor’s scandal all over it. 

There are bold moves, then there are reckless moves. The short term payoff for UH could be on-field success. The long term downside of this move is disastrous and paints the university in a light that winning football games is more important than anything, including your school’s morals, reputation and the safety of it’s students. 

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Game One Is Pivotal For Both Teams

ALWC Game 1 Preview: Astros vs. Twins

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

It might not have been pretty, and may not have met pre-season expectations, especially with all the injuries and headwinds along the way. Yet, the Astros' regular-season was enough to get them into the playoffs, and as we are likely to find out with this aptly-named Wild Card Round, all it takes is a ticket to the dance.

A losing record at the end of the first 60 is now a thing of the past. Everyone starts 0-0, needing to take two of three against their opponent to move forward into the Divisional Series. Here's a quick breakdown and some facts about Houston's first game against the Minnesota Twins:

Game Facts

When: Tuesday, 1:00 PM Central

Where: Target Field - Minneapolis, Minnesota

TV: ABC

Streaming: ESPN App

Pitching Matchup: Zack Greinke vs. Kenta Maeda

Series: Tied 0-0.

Series Schedule

Date & Time (Central) Location Pitching Matchup
Game 1 Tue 9/29, 1:00 PM Target Field, Minneapolis Greinke vs. Maeda
Game 2 Wed 9/30, 12:00 PM Target Field, Minneapolis TBD vs. Berrios+
Game 3* Thu 10/1, TBD Target Field, Minneapolis TBD vs. Pineda+

* If necessary.
+ Projected starters.

Game Storylines

Did Houston pack their postseason bats?

Over the last three years, the Astros have started the playoffs with wins in their first game, and it may be in part due to one key component: scoring first via home runs. In 2017, it was an Alex Bregman solo homer off of Chris Sale in the first inning to start the scoring against the Red Sox. In 2018, it was Bregman again, this time a solo shot in the fourth off of Corey Kluber of the Indians. In 2019, it was Jose Altuve with a two-run bomb against Tyler Glasnow as they'd go on to take game one against the Rays.

Can they make it four straight years? If so, they'll have to do it against another formidable pitcher in Kenta Maeda, who allowed just nine home runs in his eleven regular-season starts, only two of which were at Target Field. Also, those three games mentioned earlier were at Minute Maid Park, where the Astros had the support of their home crowd, along with the comfort of their own stadium. This year, they'll start on the road, and in the now-normal audience of cardboard cutouts. Having said that, if they can get their signature score-starting home run in the top of the first by one of their key bats, that could very well set the momentum in their favor to upset the Twins.

Which Greinke will we see?

On September 3rd, Zack Greinke went six innings while allowing three runs to the Rangers, still coming away with a win to improve him to 3-0 with a 2.91 ERA. That was his eighth start of the season, two of which he went six or more innings without allowing a single run, including an eight-inning gem at home against the Rockies.

In his final four starts after that, Greinke went 0-3 with a 6.53 ERA over that span, allowing four, five, three, and three earned runs, respectively, and unable to go more than six innings in any of them. That finished his year at 3-3 with a 4.03 ERA, not exactly riding a high into the postseason. So, can he hit the reset button and deal as he did in the early parts of the season? Or, will the Twins, who own the sixth-most homers as a team in 2020, find a wrinkle against him early that they can exploit? The answer to that, along with what run support his offense provides him, will be one of the game's deciding factors.

I don't need to tell anyone the obvious here; in a best-of-three series, taking the first game will be pivotal for both sides. Winning the first game and only needing one more is a tremendously more advantageous position to be in, instead of needing to win two straight to advance. It sets up for an entertaining series and set of matchups across the league. Get your popcorn ready.

Be sure to check SportsMap after the final out for an in-depth recap of the game, and follow me on Twitter for updates and reactions throughout each playoff game: @ChrisCampise

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