In the aftermath of the worst bowl loss in FBS history, Houston Cougars head coach Major Applewhite’s job is now in jeopardy after nine combined losses in the last two seasons at a program that sees itself as better than that.
According to the reports from SB Nation and FootballScoop.com, boosters are evaluating potential replacements for Applewhite, including former offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen, coming off his eighth season in Morgantown with an ugly loss in the Camping World Bowl to Syracuse. With massive turnover coming on offense and the struggles of Jack Allison against the Orange, the Mountaineers could be on the verge of significant regression.
Holgorsen is now 61-41 at West Virginia and there’s a sense that things could be getting stale at his current job — he’s only had one 10-win season there and he’s been linked to other jobs in the past. Oregon and Houston were interested in 2016, prompting a contract extension
For the Big 12, the question if Holgorsen leaves is whether that program does have upside untapped by Holgorsen or whether the success of Rich Rodriguez was an anomaly in Morgantown — the Mountaineers have been consistent winners over the years, but haven’t won a national championship.
One major issue is in recruiting. Holgorsen has had success recruiting the DMV, an area that encompasses Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, but hasn’t made anticipated inroads in Texas after joining the Big 12. As a result, Holgorsen has aggressively added players through the transfer market to bolster the roster and has found some significant success with that strategy.
However, regardless of Holgorsen’s strong relationship with Houston mega-booster Tilman Fertita, taking the job in the Bayou City would mark a remarkable move for one of the best offensive minds of college football.
For Applewhite, the decision to sacrifice his integrity to hire tainted offensive coordinator Kendal Briles and offensive line coach Randy Clements away from FAU last year wasn’t quite the job-saving hire that he anticipated. The knee injury sustained by electric quarterback D’Eriq King certainly didn’t help, as his absence coincided with the team’s struggles following a 7-1 start.
Briles just left for the Florida State job after his offense only put up 14 points in the Armed Forces Bowl. Meanwhile, giving up 70 points to Army in that game prompted Applewhite to fire his defensive coordinator, Mark D’Onofrio, after two seasons.
According to SB Nation, Applewhite hasn’t yet been able to get approval from the school to hire new assistant coaches, a strong sign that his termination may be imminent.
When the school president announced that it would fire a head coach for going 8-4, it was clear that it could quickly come to this — Houston has a remarkable track record of success in hiring coaches who go on to larger success, but is still a Group of Five program that isn’t attractive enough to join a conference like the Big 12.
Fertitta’s money gives the school more opportunity to spend money to hire a head coach like Holgorsen, but if Applewhite does get fired, the new hire would be well advised to understand those out-sized expectations.
In that scenario, Applewhite will have to bounce back for a third time as an assistant, while the repercussions of that termination could change the landscape of the Big 12.
Update (Sunday 12:45 p.m.): Houston has confirmed the “separation” with Applewhite.