So without further delay:
Sat Aug 31 at Oklahoma
Sat Sep 07 Prairie View A&M
Fri Sep 13 Washington State (NRG Stadium)
Thu Sep 19 at Tulane
Sat Sep 28 at North Texas
Sat Oct 05 (off)
Sat Oct 12 Cincinnati
Sat Oct 19 at Connecticut
Thu Oct 24 SMU
Sat Nov 02 at Central Florida
Sat Nov 09 (off)
Sat Nov 16 Memphis
Sat Nov 23 at Tulsa
Sat Nov 30 Navy
I can't say it's great. 2019 is going to be a tough slate, with a trip to Oklahoma headlining the out-of-conference schedule and defending AAC champion Central Florida rotating back onto the conference schedule. North Texas on the road and Cincinnati at home won't be easy, either. The relocation of the Washington State game to NRG Stadium for the Advocare Texas Kickoff (on a Friday night, no less!) means that the Coogs will play only five true home games this fall; there are no back-to-back home stands. There are also two Thursday night games (although only one of them is at home). Ryan appears to be as unenthused about the schedule as I am.
On the other hand, the Cougars get two well-placed bye weeks this season, they get perennial AAC West nemeses Memphis and SMU at home, and they only have one instance of back-to-back road games. I'm plan to make that two-game roadie with them, as I travel to Tulane for the Thursday night game (and make it a four-day weekend in New Orleans!), and then go up to my former home/employer of Denton to watch them play the Mean Green the following weekend.
Now, on to the new coach who will lead the Coogs through that schedule this fall: Dana Holgerson, who previously served as offensive coordinator here at Houston before going to West Virginia and who is also apparently famous for his second half adjustments.
Before I do so, however, I just want to say one final time that I liked Major Applewhite and I truly wanted him to succeed here. I also understand that there are legitimate criticisms* to be made regarding his dismissal: that he didn't deserve to be fired after a winning season, that the late season collapse was due to factors largely out of his control (i.e. injuries), that he should have been given a third year (as coaches customarily are given) to prove himself. I certainly did not celebrate news of his firing.
And honestly, Applewhite's job was probably safe at the end of the regular season. He set about correcting his season's biggest problem by firing his incompetent defensive coordinator, and worked on putting together a serviceable recruiting class. There was nothing to indicate that he wasn't going to be head coach in 2019, even if he'd be going into the season on the hot seat.
The bowl game, however, changed everything. The Coogs' pathetic and embarrassing performance against Army could not have been excused by injuries alone. The Cougars were utterly unprepared and uninspired; they allowed themselves to be humiliated by a service academy running the triple option. That epic loss, along with the subsequent departure of offensive coordinator Kendal Briles to Florida State**, forced the hand of the UH Athletics Director Chris Pezman and the rest of the administration. Applewhite might have been trying his best, but his best just wouldn't do. His mediocre record spoke for itself, and if he remained at the helm of the program TDECU Stadium was going to be empty in 2019. UH football needed to move in a new direction.***
That new direction occurred thanks to Tilman Fertitta. His money, his personal relationship with Holgerson, and his desire to make the Cougars nationally competitive again, as ESPN's Sam Khan, Jr explains:
The Houston Rockets owner has a lot of titles: CEO of Landry's Inc., a Texas-based restaurant and entertainment company; owner of Golden Nugget Casinos; star of "Billion Dollar Buyer," a CNBC reality TV show, among them. But for UH, it's his role as the school's board of regents chairman and benefactor that is most impactful. And his role in landing Holgorsen was invaluable.
"I've probably known Dana for 10 years," Fertitta said. "I've had cocktails with him many times."
He, too, knew Holgorsen had a desire to return south ("Always, in conversations, he would tell me he missed Houston," Fertitta said). When Herman left in 2016, UH considered Holgorsen, but Fertitta had intermediaries reach out.
This time around, he made a personal call to Holgorsen, and it made a difference.
"They've got a relationship, and that helps, because what it does, at this point, it eliminates the bulls---," Pezman said. "'This is real, this is happening and I'm helping make it happen.'"
When [new Texas State head coach Jake] Spavital told Pezman what he knew about Holgorsen's situation at West Virginia, Pezman relayed that information to Fertitta. Sources told ESPN that Holgorsen had come to a stalemate in negotiations with the school over a contract extension. The point of contention was Holgorsen's desire for additional guaranteed years on his contract and a larger buyout. West Virginia, having just given him a five-year extension following 2016, wasn't willing to meet all of Holgorsen's demands.
Fertitta, who's worth $4.6 billion, according to Forbes (which also calls him "the world's richest restaurateur"), aimed to find out what it would take, financially, to lure Holgorsen.
After the Cougars were embarrassed on national television by Army and the school's power brokers reflected on the state of the program, they decided the sizable investment it would take to make a change and land a sitting Big 12 coach was worth the risk.The result was a five-year, $20 million deal, making him the highest-paid coach in the Group of 5.
Holgorsen's average salary puts him in the top 25 nationally among head coaches. His salary pool for assistant coaches ($4.5 million) is by far the highest in the Group of 5, higher than numerous Power 5 programs, and more than double what Applewhite's staff made ($2.14 million, according to USA Today). The school gave him the extra years he desired and a favorable buyout if he's fired without cause. But the buyout if he chooses to leave is also high in the first three years.
"We are stuck with him for a few years and he's stuck with us for a few years," Fertitta said. "Hopefully he's here for the next 20 years and we build a statue of him."Holgerson's decision to leave West Virginia for Houston raised several eyebrows, but it actually made sense for a lot of reasons. Aside from the aforementioned salary negotiations, Holgerson faced challenges at West Virginia, a school that is not located in prime football recruiting country and is a geographic outlier in its own conference - that he won't face in Houston. Back to Sam Khan, Jr:
Even though he moved on to Oklahoma State for a year and then to West Virginia, Houston held a special place in his heart.
"When I left here 10 years ago, I left here with a frown," Holgorsen said. "Because one, I was going to Oklahoma, but two, I love this city and this university so much. Obviously, things worked out OK, but I always came back. I came back two, three, four, five times a year and enjoyed what this wonderful city has to offer."
He stayed in touch with numerous friends in the city even though he was 1,300 miles away. He even did a weekly radio show appearance every fall, despite the fact that West Virginia football isn't a hot topic in southeast Texas.
"I thought all the time that he was gone that he always wanted to be back here," said John Granato, a local sports radio host and longtime friend of Holgorsen's. "Ever since I've known him, every chance he could, he's come back to Houston."
Houston offers something that Morgantown -- or most college towns, where the school is the highest-profile part of the place -- doesn't: a chance to blend in. Holgorsen won't be the most recognizable face in town when he's out socially; James Harden and J.J. Watt have higher Q ratings among the local sports figures. There are more than 6 million people in the city's metro area.(Seriously, just take a few minutes to read the entire ESPN story.)
Reaction to Holgerson's hire has generally been positive. Ryan is excited about the "competence and gravitas" that Holgerson brings to UH, Sportsmap's Fred Faour says there "are no negatives" to this hire, Paper City's Chris Baldwin praises Fertitta's boldness, and Sports Illustrated's Joan Neisen thinks that Holgerson "might be the missing piece" to a potential run at the College Football Playoff for the Coogs. Even Bleacher Report is putting the Coogs into their preseason top 25 on account of Holgerson's hire.
I'm not willing to go that far yet. Not even the best coaches in the world are going to fill the major gaps in talent and depth that the Coogs exhibited last season, especially on the defensive side of the ball. D'Eriq King's knee is a concern, and as of right now the Coogs lack a capable backup quarterback. Ed Oliver is just one of many talented players who will not be returning this fall. And the schedule is, as I said at the beginning of this post, not great.
I'm not expecting Holgerson to work a miracle this fall, but I do expect to see the team improve as the season progresses, I expect to see an exciting offense, and I expect to see the Coogs, at the very least, beat the teams they're supposed to beat. That means no more losses to Tulsa, Tulane or SMU teams with losing records. And no more historic beatdowns at the hands of a service academy running the triple option.
Football season is still (as of this weekend, exactly) half a year away, and I'll work on my customary season preview as kickoff approaches. Now, back to UH basketball...
* The key word here being legitimate. When Applewhite's firing was announced, a hack sportswriter by the name of Pete Thamel (formerly with Sports Illustrated, now with Yahoo! Sports - heckuva career trajectory there, Pete!) wrote a venomous screed denouncing the entire UH administration for firing him. I'm not going to link to his moronic, libelous drivel; however, if you must, you can click through to it as you read Ryan's or John Granato's responses to it.
** Right after he had just signed a contract extension with Houston, proving that Kendal is an unethical piece of trash, just like his father. It will be fun watching him fail at Florida State.
***Applewhite is moving on to Alabama to be an analyst for Nick Saban's program. He'll be fine; he just wasn't ready to be a head coach.