The Houston Step

The Houston Step

You want the limelight. The cameras to peer as you walk along the sideline with a playcard to your lips, and headset enveloping different extremities upon your head. Throngs of familiar voices and faces hang off your words, typing, jotting and recording just about every sentence that is separated by inhale, exhale, sip of water and a momentary pause while you take in the next question, formulating the solution and approach to the next topic.

It’s great to be a head football coach at a Power 5 institution where you’re handsomely paid for your services, along with affording your coordinators decent pocket change in the most ideal positions in the nation. For the University of Houston, the scenario has become all too familiar witnessing their head coach use the job as a stepping stone to a Power 5 job after a couple seasons. The latest name in the lineage of bolting to more lucrative pastures is Tom Herman, a man a year ago that got fitted for a ‘grill’ after leading the Cougars to a 13-1 record, capped off by manhandling a tough Florida State team in a Peach Bowl victory.

There was no hidden agenda when it came to Herman’s ascendence to becoming the next head coach at the University of Texas. While Houston did shell out some change ($2.8 million annual salary) after exceeding expectations in his first full year on campus as Texas illustrated by canning Charlie Strong after three seasons, Texas is still Texas, a saying that has lost meaning for quite some time. Longhorn Regents ponied up with $28.75 million five-year deal for Herman, whose starting  salary will merely begin with $5.25 million. Yep, Texas still goes big.

So the hottest coaching candidate has finally made the move that we all expected. Houston is now left trying to find another candidate for head coach for what is one of the best non-Power 5 jobs in the nation. The school should also find another coach to sport a grill because nothing shows how much fun a program is having with a coach sporting a grill. In the short-term it will be Defensive Coordinator Todd Orlando who will coach the team leading up to their Las Vegas Bowl matchup against San Diego State on December 17.

As it currently sits, the University of Houston is not a Power 5 program, although there was a tease of the possible Big 12 expansion invite early in the season. And with one of the more fertile areas in the country for finding blue chip players at the high school level the job does have unique incentives that will attract candidates to the position among them being TDECU Stadium and facilities that will appeal to recruits.

Before his involvement in one the biggest scandals in college football history, Art Briles made a name for both institution and established himself as an offensive guru. Coaching at Houston from 2003-2007 Briles help further establish Spread football principles in the state of Texas, a feat that he did on the high school level before moving up to the college game. U of H began to prosper behind Briles after previous coach, Dana Dimel went 8-26 from 2000-2002. The Cougars only posted a single losing season (3-8, 2004) going 34-28 in his time with Houston before his transition to Waco, Texas to become Baylor’s new coach.

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Kevin Sumlin (left) probably had his eyes on the A&M job before he eventually left the Cougars for College Station.

The next man up to take the program over on a full-time basis just so happened to be Kevin Sumlin. Similar to his predecessor, Sumlin kept the spread going, and after 4 season posted a win-loss record of 35-17 after 4 seasons as decision maker for the Cougars. With success of the team and the spread system gaining notoriety on a national stage it was inevitable that Sumlin would make the jump to another position. Keeping with the trend, Kevin Sumlin became head coach at Texas A&M following the conclusion of the 2011 season.

The takeaway is that if you do your time in Houston, produce a winning record, adhere to spread principles on offence, not allowing too many points in spite of the high tempo used on offense then you have a shot at the next Power 5 opening in the Lone Star State.

That may be the thinking heading into the interview process for the coaching vacancy, as names being considered are: Lane Kiffin, Les Miles, (UH OC) Major Applewhite, interim coach Todd Orlando. A familiar name was also mentioned to be interested in the position. Art Briles, whose stock has become toxic for any administration to openly advocate are allow anywhere near their program. For their part, school officials have acknowledged that there was interest on the part of Briles for the position yet they decided that feelings were not mutual, opting to swipe left on the connection.

Unfortunately, the educational institution located in the hometown of Paul Wall and Slim Thug remains a program that coaches see as stepping stone to either snag a bigger job in a short amount of time or in some instances helping to repair their image as being a capable leader of the program on a college stage once more. This notion of Houston not being a destination job will not change until Houston joins the Power 5 in some capacity or can accomplish a feat that has not been accomplished, making the College Football Playoff field of 4.

While that idea is a fantasy, it is in the realm of possibility. Houston has a manageable AAC schedule that they should be able to compete for a title each and every season. They’ve been able to score big out-of-conference wins against some Power 5 mainstays such as FSU, Oklahoma, and Louisville. You shouldn’t have to travel out of the state, let alone venture too far out of Houston to stack the program with quality athletes to make up the roster.

Greg Ward Jr was an early season candidate for the Heisman trophy, and last season helped was the other major ingredient in making Houston a national power. This season the incredible play of true freshman defensive tackle Ed Oliver who is the first player to be ranked as 5-star recruit in high school to play for a group of 5 program. Oliver jumps out on tape, is a tone-setter and likely will be a future first round pick after a couple more seasons.

While losing Herman is blow not just because of his mind, but his personality and ability to reach out to his players, all is not lost for the Cougars. There is talent on that roster, and support from the school in making the program a contender nationally. Houston will be OK, let’s just hope those other Texas jobs are settled for a decent period.

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