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.