Photo: 1) Dana Holgorsen; 2) Bill Yeoman; 3) Luke Fickell
Dana Holgorsen’s move to the University of Houston is an attempt to defy two realities in college football. One is the revolving door at Houston and the other proving a Group of 5 position can be better than one at a Power 5 school.
To prove his point, he left West Virginia, a Big 12 school in the Power 5, after eight successful seasons for the vacant job a Houston, a Group of 5 member in the American Athletic Conference. The career move is anything but a analogy to his receding hairline from his eight successful seasons coaching the Mountaineers.
Holgorsen believes Houston has the potential to match Power 5 schools in prestige, resources and recruiting pull – at least in talent-rich Texas. He bases his presumption on past experience as the Cougars’ offensive coordinator, 2008 and 2009. Those winning seasons with high-powered offenses helped him earn his first opportunity as a head coach at WVU, in 2011, at age 40.
“It didn’t have anything to do with West Virginia,” Holgorsen said recently on an AAC coaches conference call. “I loved my time there, we had a lot of success, I met a quality people and players that will be friends for a long time. I kept my eye on the University of Houston since I left. Houston is special to me. I love the city, I see the growth and the leadership. It was to me the right thing to do.”
He cites the commitment from the school’s current leaders, president Renu Khator and athletic director Chris Pezman, a UH alumnus.
“Renu is a superstar as president, given the university’s stability and consistency where you see it the university going,” he said. “It’s a Tier I university, enrollment is up from 25,000 to 48,000, a couple of campuses have popped in the city and buildings are being built.
“Chris Pezman says the revolving door (of coaches) will stop. He’s a Houston Cougar and wants to be here. We have great leadership from our chairman, Tilman Fertitta, who knows about building an organization (hotels/casino business)."
He mentioned the national success of the basketball, baseball and track and field programs. Basketball coach Kelvin Sampson has signed a new contract after a second straight trip to an NCAA Tournament.
“I think it’s refreshing Kelvin Sampson is staying put after five good years, Todd Whitting’s baseball program is on solid ground and we have one of the best track programs in the country with Leroy Burrell and Carl Lewis.
“It’s time for football to catch up. We need some stability and that’s what I’m here to do.”
Coaches finding success at Houston have historically left for a better job or they’ve been fired.
Holgorsen replaces Major Applewhite, who was let go following a 2018 season that imploded on him. The Cougars were 8-5, but they lost four of their final five games, including two with ugly optics. One Applewhite and star nose tackle Ed Oliver, a first-round draft pick last week, in a petty sideline argument or the wrong jacket he was wearing. The other was a 70-14 loss to Army in the Armed Forces Bowl.
Before Applewhite, Tom Herman left for Texas after two years; Tony Levine was fired after three; Kevin Sumlin jumped to Texas A&M after four; Art Briles moved to Baylor after five; Dana Dimel was fired after three; Kim Helton was fired after seven; John Jenkins fired after three and Jack Pardee jumped to the NFL’s Houston Oilers after three.
Pardee succeeded Bill Yeoman, the last example of successful coach staying put through successful years. The Michigan State assistant from College Football Hall of Fame coach Duffy Daugherty’s tree from 1954-61 posted a Houston career record of 160-108-8 from 1962 to 1986.
Holgorsen sees at advantages at Houston to taking the Cougars back to the days of (yore) Yeoman, but that doesn’t mean he thinks it will be easy to beat his AAC colleagues.
“It’s a fantastic conference with a lot of quality players and coaches,” he said. “At my previous institution we bumped into a lot of (AAC) guys and lost our fair share of those (recruiting) fights. I don’t see any difference we the league I’m in now. That’s way I fell and that’s the way we’re going to approach it.”
Holgorsen joins three others that were head coaches at a Power 5 school before landed in the AAC, although Charlie Strong (Texas to South Florida), Luke Fickell (Ohio State to Cincinnati) and Randy Edsall (Maryland to Connecticut) all left involuntarily.
Fickell, who was Ohio State’s interim head coach for one year before serving the next five as Urban Meyer’s defensive coordinator, says AAC coaches object to their league being categorized as a Group of 5 but not the quality of play and coaching.
“It’s a great league and it doesn’t get the credit it deserves,” he said. “The talent throughout the entire league is unbelievable. I really do believe that. Some people say there is a lack of linemen you might see in the Big Ten 10 or SEC among D-line and O-line, but the reality all of college football there is a lack of development in the offensive line with the systems and schemes people are using nowadays.
“But as a whole you’re being misled led if you don’t take a hard look and see something different in this league and not just take it from the outside and what people perceive on not being part of big boys.”
Holgorsen plans on lift Houston’s image. If he’s as successful as he imagines, h ow much of the AAC he brings with him remains to be seen.
* * *
I invite you to follow me on Twitter @shanny4055
Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light http://tinyurl.com/knsqtqu
-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.
Don’t believe the myths at Duffy Daugherty’s expense about Bear Bryant’s motivation to play the 1970 USC-Alabama game or myths about the Charlie Thornhill-for-Joe Namath trade. Bear Bryant knew nothing about black talent in the South while he dragged his feet on segregation.
David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer; "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in.”