Fred Faour: Applewhite's hiring of former Baylor assistants is a bad look for UH
We will start this article with a disclaimer. When it comes to the local teams, it is hard to do my job and be a fan. I want the teams to do well, but I also have to try to remain detached so I can offer fair analysis. When it comes to the things I remain truly passionate about, UH football is at the top of the list (right behind the Toronto Maple Leafs. That’s another story for another time).
I believe UH’s program deserves a better conference than the AAC and can compete at the highest level. I loved the hire of Chris Pezman as athletic director. And I think it is fantastic that Tilman Fertitta is so involved. But Saturday, the school made a very questionable move. UH hired a pair of former Art Briles assistants, including his son Kendal as offensive coordinator.
Unless you live under a rock, you know what happened with Art Briles at Baylor.
From a pure football perspective, it makes sense. Kendal Briles is a former UH player who has had success as an OC at both Baylor and Florida Atlantic. He is a damned good coach who will make the offense better. The question is at what cost? Not every decision can be made from purely a football perspective.
It’s a slippery slope to speculate what Kendal Briles or any of the assistants might have known about what was going on at Baylor. It seems unrealistic to assume they had zero knowledge. Should those coaches be punished forever based on speculation? Should they never get other jobs? Those are hard questions, and there are no easy answers.
However, there is the good old eye test. UH did not need to hire Kendal Briles or Randy Clements. Tom Herman did not need to hire former Baylor assistant Casey Horny at Texas last year. He justifiably took flak for it.
Major Applewhite should take the same flak for Saturday’s hires. There were other qualified assistants who could have been offered the job. Others who came without the stigma of what happened at Baylor. If you are a UH fan who ripped Herman for his Horny hire last season, can you give Applewhite a pass for the same thing?
Applewhite and UH clearly were convinced Kendal Briles was not involved in the scandal, as Lane Kiffin was when he hired Briles last season. Should Briles continue to be punished if he was unaware of the issues? Should his name be held to the same standard as his father? Of course not. I do trust the judgement of UH’s leadership. But why even go there? Let it be someone else’s problem. Let someone else take the flak. It is not a hire that needed to be made. UH probably recognizes that from the timing of the announcement; a Saturday in the middle of the NFL playoffs? It misses a media cycle and will likely not get the same traction as it would have during the week.
From a purely football perspective, absolutely it could work out. UH’s offense, which took a huge step back last year, could thrive under Briles. The Cougars might improve their disappointing 7-5 record in Applewhite’s first year. But at what cost? There were no other coaches out there who could take the offense to the next level? Public opinion should matter. How something looks when you are trying to build a program does matter. It can never be just about winning.
It brings to mind the famous quote from the Bible:
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
At best, it is a bad look. At middle, it screams tone deaf. At worst? The school has just endorsed one of the worst scandals in college football history.
There are those who still swear by Art Briles. They believe he could not have been involved because he was a “good guy” and more importantly, a winner. Baylor reached heights it had never achieved with Briles at the helm. There were those who wanted the elder Briles to replace Tom Herman at UH last year. Fortunately, that gained no traction. The message would have been simple: Win at all costs. That should never be the mandate. Bringing on his son was unnecessary and sends the wrong message.
Pezman defended the hires in a statement.
“Every hire in our athletic department, from the top to the bottom, is an important one and we vet every candidate for employment in our department,” the statement said. “We have done our research on the backgrounds of both Kendall and Randy, and coach Applewhite has been in close contact with myself and our university leadership providing all necessary information and to gain approval.
“We hold all our staff to the high standards the University of Houston demands, and will continue to do so with all of our current staff. Both Kendal and Randy know our expectations and we look forward to their growth while members of our department.”
I have faith in the leadership at UH, but Saturday’s hires are not a good look for the school.