Return to Houston for former coach Holgorsen the desired next step

Applewhite officially out; Holgorsen is UH's target

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"We'll fire coaches at 8-4."

The words said by Renu Khator, chancellor and president of the University of Houston, seemed to be an exaggerated and lighthearted threat two years ago shortly after the University of Houston hired Major Applewhite.

Those words are became reality on Sunday.

SB Nation's Steven Godfrey and The Athletics' Bruce Feldman reported Saturday change is on the horizon for Houston's football program. Football Scoop reports West Virginia's Dana Holgorsen is a desired candidate for the impending opening.

On Sunday, UH made it official, saying they were "separating" from Applewhite.

Fertitta Factor

Tilman Fertitta, the chairman of the UH System Board of Regents and super-booster for Houston, had to be a huge factor in this decision. He spearheaded the hiring of Applewhite two years ago, opting for him over the rumors of Lane Kiffin after his success at Alabama as offensive coordinator.

Two years ago he admitted there was initially desire for "name-brand" coach but the whole picture led him and the search committee to settle on Tom Herman's offensive coordinator. Two seasons later his mind has changed and Houston is chasing one of the most eclectic brands in college football.

Red Bulls and Visors

Dana Holgorsen is 61-41 in eight seasons as the head man of the Mountaineers. He is due almost $12 million over the next three seasons and currently has a buyout of $2.5 million. The buyout, according to the above reports, drops to $1 million in 2019. The money is the initial chief concern, but that's why and how Fertitta is here. The school has plenty of football resources and he can easily help with the financial aspects of luring Holgorsen.

Why would Holgorsen depart from West Virginia and the Big 12 for Houston and it's American Athletic Conference home? Well, the answers could be as complicated as Holgorsen himself. The majority of his career has been spent in the south, especially in Texas or nearby like when he worked at Oklahoma State. He's familiar with Houston's strong ties to the state and his time there recruiting to a much-less impressive program would only be strengthened. He reportedly had the itch to return to Texas Tech where he spent a portion of his career coaching under Mike Leach. Something isn't right in West Virginia and there is a real possibility he's pushed the Mountaineers as far as they can go.

Tony Levine 2.0

As for Applewhite, he didn't clear the incredibly high bar set for him. Not all by his own fault though. This season ruined his chance to stick around. His defensive coordinator wasn't even average and the Cougars defense was extremely leaky. His offensive staff, bolstered by the addition of Kendall Briles, was fantastic turning in a little over a half season of excellence.

November saw the team begin to unravel. A road loss to SMU ended their one week of being ranked. The following week a battered Temple team handed the Cougars their third loss. A victory over Tulane came with a dark shadow over it. Stud quarterback D'Eriq King was lost for the year to injury and Applewhite had a dust-up with highly touted but injured star Ed Oliver. Still, the following week saw a chance at the American Conference championship. Memphis ended those hopes. A month later Army embarrassed the Cougars in their bowl game handing the heavily injured Cougars a 70-14 loss.

He was the second coming of Tony Levine. He was on the staff of the hotshot coach who left, Sumlin for Levine and Herman for Applewhite, and was promoted too soon to the top spot in the program. Usually in unimpressive manner the Cougars hobbled to a record above .500 but didn't instill confidence he was long for the reigns of the program.

Holgorsen or bust?

If Dana Holgorsen is the next head coach at Houston you won't find many people who will disagree he is an upgrade and the Cougars are in a better spot. The Big 12 teams will be more than happy to see him leave and he instantly would be the best coach in the American conference. Firing Applewhite for Holgorsen is a clear upgrade the Cougars can't pass up. Especially considering he would likely be around for more than just a couple of years.

Should the unthinkable happen and Holgorsen fall through where would the Cougars turn? It isn't the best list to choose from but Fertitta's money and Houston's recent success at launching careers is attractive. Most of these candidates have a shorter shelf life than Holgorsen.

Kiffin was in the hunt two years ago but didn't replicate his 2017 success this year at Florida Atlantic. He's a solid coach but if they passed two years ago and he hasn't showed a ton in the time since it is hard to imagine Kiffin can get in the hunt. Especially with his track record of leaving situations poorly.

Neal Brown is the best coaching candidate on the market. He has a 31-8 record the last three years at Troy. Before he got there the program never had won 10 games at the division one level. He runs a vicious spread attack that in 2016 gave Clemson all they wanted and in 2017 beat LSU at Tiger Stadium. He coached three years at Texas Tech so he knows Texas recruiting. Troy has absolutely none of the advantages Houston has as a program. Brown would crush and be the next Sumlin or Herman for the Cougars.

Mike Norvell of Memphis and Seth Littrell of North Texas both rebuffed offers to leave their school earlier in the postseason but Houston is better than a lot of the jobs - maybe all - they were initially targeted to take over. Both of them just got trounced in their respective bowl games however and would be poised to jump to really big jobs with one more successful year at their current job. Past these candidates it would be tough to sell the Cougar faithful they for sure got an upgrade.

Houston's Football Future

The hope, and absolutely achievable goal, is to be one of the best if not the best non-Power 5 school each and every year. This not only makes the school money but continues to raise the profile of Houston football should conference realignment ever occur again. Winning will not be ignored and neither will the eyeballs and dollar signs it brings. This is one of the most crucial hires Houston has ever made, especially if the non-Power 5 schools get a clearer path to a college football playoff spot.

Fertitta and company took a risk on Applewhite hoping the replicate the status quo from Herman. It failed. Moving on from Applewhite now carries little risk but the pressure of nailing this hire can't be understated. Nail it and recapture prominence in the college football landscape. Miss and risk losing far more than a few football games.

Kelvin Sampson and UH took a tough loss. Jackson Gatlin/SportsMap

TEXAS LONGHORNS (16-14) 8-9 Big XII

Last week (1-1):
L- @ Baylor 84-83, W- Iowa State 86-69, L- @ Texas Tech 70-51

This week: Saturday vs. TCU

Texas lost a heartbreaker to Baylor to start the week. The Horns led by as many as 19 points in the second half, and Baylor stormed all the way back and sent the game to OT, where Texas finally fell 84-83. Texas had a run in the second half where they scored only 4 points in nearly 8 minutes. Texas shot the ball well from outside (56%), but were out rebounded 42-29. Jase Febres led Texas in the loss, scoring 23 points (including 7 3-pointers) in 43 minutes. Texas then came up big against Iowa State, taking an 86-69 win in Austin. Febres had 26 points, and 8-more 3-pointers, in the win. Freshman Courtney Ramey added 18 points. The Horns were 15-25 from behind the arc. Things went back downhill for the Horns at Texas Tech, losing a 70-51 tilt. Texas, who had been hot from outside, was held to just 4 of 18 from 3. Matt Coleman III led the Longhorns with 16 points. Febres unraveled, shooting just 1-10 from the field and 0-5 from deep.Texas closes out their season at home on Saturday against TCU.

TEXAS A&M; AGGIES (13-15) 6-10 SEC

Last week (1-1):
L- @ LSU 66-55, W- Vanderbilt 64-57

This week: Tuesday South Carolina, Saturday @ Mississippi State

Texas A&M; was a mixed bag this week, going 1-1. It started out on a rough foot, getting crushed at LSU, 66-55. The final score was closer than the game, as the Aggies were down by as many as 21 in the first half and never got back closer than 9. Wendell Mitchell led the Aggies with 14 points in defeat. TJ Starks went to the hospital with a shoulder injury he suffered in a collision under the basket. The Ags shot just 4-22 from 3. They did get a win on the board against Vanderbilt, 64-57 in College Station. Sauvion Flagg paced the Aggies with 22 points and 12 rebounds. The Aggies out rebounded the Commodores by 10 in the victory. Texas A&M; finishes up the regular season this week with South Carolina and Mississippi State.

HOUSTON COUGARS (27-2) 14-2 American

Last week (1-1): W- @ East Carolina 99-65, L- UCF 69-64

This week: Thursday vs. SMU, Sunday @ Cincinnati

Houston started out the week as expected, blowing the doors off a bad East Carolina team, 99-65. Corey Davis led the four Cougars in double digits with his 26 points. Davis was 6-11 from 3-point range. ECU was 5-13 as a team. The Cougars then came home, and had their 33-game home win streak snapped by Central Florida, 69-64. Houston struggled from the free throw line particularly, making just 12 of 24 freebies. Davis again led the Coogs with 19 points in the loss. The loss likely ends any hope of a 2-seed for Houston, who finishes up the regular season with SMU and a trip to Cincinnati this week.

RICE OWLS (12-17) 6-9 CUSA

Last week (1-0): W- Middle Tennessee State 67-61

This week: Wednesday @ Charlotte, Saturday vs. Charlotte

Rice clinched a spot in the Conference USA tournament with a 67-61 win over Middle Tennessee. The Owls led by 13 at the half and coasted to their second win over the Blue Raiders this season. Freshman Drew Peterson led the Owls with 16 points. Rice held MTSU to just 1-15 from behind the 3-point line. The Owls get a home and home to close out the regular season with one of the conference's worst teams, Charlotte.

BAYLOR BEARS (19-10) 9-5 Big XII

Last week (1-1): W- Texas 84-83, L- @ Kansas State 66-60

This week: Wednesday vs. Oklahoma State, Saturday @ Kansas

Baylor got a wild win over Texas, 84-83. Mario Kegler scored 24 points, including the go-ahead free throws in the final seconds of overtime. Baylor was down 19 in the 2nd half, and came all the way back to send it to extra time. Baylor hit 20 of 24 from the line. Devonte Bandoo also had 18 points in the win. The win guaranteed Baylor a top-six tournament seed, which gets them a first round bye in the tournament. Baylor had another slow start against Kansas State, but were unable to overcome it this time, falling 66-60. Baylor was behind 24-9 in the first 10 minutes of the game, and clawed back to take a lead early in the 2nd half. K State got it back to 12 and held off another comeback attempt to get the win. Kegler scored 13 in the loss and Makai Mason added 11. Turnovers killed the Bears, as they gave it away 19 times. Baylor has a home game against Oklahoma State before closing out the regular season at Kansas.


TCU HORNED FROGS (18-12) 6-11 Big XII

Last week (0-3):
L- @ WVU 104-96, L- Texas Tech 81-66, L- Kansas State 64-52

This week: Saturday @ Texas

TCU continues to fade down the stretch, going 0-3 this week. They lost 104-96 at West Virginia in 3 overtimes. The game was tight throughout, and Desmond Bane turned it over with 4 seconds left in a tie game tied at 68. JD Miller let the Frogs with 24 in the game, and Kouat Not had a double double, with 17 points and 10 rebounds. TCU then fell to Texas Tech, 81-66, giving the Frogs 5 losses in their last 6 games. Miller led the Frogs again in the loss, posting 18 points and 8 rebounds. Things only got worse against Kansas State, with the Frogs losing 64-52. Kevin Samuel led the Frogs with 17 points on 8 of 11 shooting. The rest of the Frogs shot just 12 of 37 from the field. TCU will close out the regular season on Saturday at Texas.

TEXAS TECH RED RAIDERS (25-5) 13-4 Big XII

Last week (3-0): W- Oklahoma State 84-80, W- @ TCU 81-66,

This week: Saturday @ Iowa State

The battle for the regular season Big XII title rages on, with Texas Tech at the forefront. Tech may have sleepwalked into the game against Oklahoma State. The Raiders struggled, particularly on defense, but still got the win, 84-80 in overtime. The three-point shot wasn't dropping for Tech, either, hitting just 3 of 19. Davide Moretti scored 20 on a night where Jarrett Culver was inefficient, getting his 19 points on 7/22 shooting. Things were back to normal for Tech against TCU, where the Red Raiders took an 81-66 victory in Fort Worth. Culver and Moretti shared the lead with 15 points in the win. Tech had 8 steals in the game. The Red Raiders then got a 70-51 win over Texas. The Red Raiders shot 9 of 18 from 3-point range. Tech held the Horns to under 30% from the field. Jarrett Culver scored 16 points and pulled down 7 boards in the win. Tech closes out the season at Iowa State on Saturday.

SMU MUSTANGS (13-15) 5-11 American

Last week (0-2):
L- Cincinnati 52-49, L- Wichita 67-55

This week: Thursday @ Houston, Sunday @ South Florida

SMU's season is mercifully entering into the final week of the regular season, coming off another 2-loss week. They dropped a tough one, 52-49 against Cincinnati. SMU held the Bearcats to just 27% from the field, but SMU only got to the line three times (hit 2). Jahmal McMurray scored 27 of the 49 total Mustang points. No one else made more than three shots for the Ponies. SMU followed it up with a 67-56 loss to Wichita State. SMU never had a lead in this game. The Mustangs shot just 11% from 3-point range. Freshman Feron Hunt led the Mustangs with 14 points in the loss. SMU has Houston and South Florida on the road this week to wrap up the regular season.

LSU TIGERS (24-5) 14-2 SEC

Last week (2-0):
W- Texas A&M; 66-56, W- @ Alabama 74-69

This week: Wednesday @ Florida, Saturday vs. Vanderbilt

LSU is back in business, winning two games this week, and remaining in a tie for 1st in the SEC (LSU holds the head to head win over Tennessee). They started with a 66-55 win over Texas A&M.; Nad Reid, who did basically nothing against Tennessee last week, dominated the Aggies, scoring 18 and grabbing 11 rebounds. Javonte Smart added 17 points in the win. The offense is still not firing on all cylinders, hitting just 2 of 19 from 3-point range. LSU then took a 74-69 road win over Alabama. Tremont Waters returned after missing 2 straight games, but only posted 5 points. Skylar Mays scored 20, and Smart added 19 in the win. The Tigers grabbed 48 rebounds in the game. LSU finishes the season with a revenge game against Florida and a home game against Vanderbilt, who is winless in SEC play.

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