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.

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

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Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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