SILENT ASSASSIN: Coach has shown strong performance
Even if you didn’t approve of his hiring in December, you have to give some credit to Houston rookie head coach Kevin Sumlin for the Cougars’ in-season turnaround.
After a turmoil-filled 1-3 start, the Cougars (4-3, 3-0 Conference USA) have won three consecutive games to move back above .500. But more importantly, Houston has put itself in a position to compete for the C-USA Western Division crown.
The last three wins haven’t come easily, especially the last two. The Cougars had to score 42 unanswered second-half points to defeat Alabama-Birmingham 45-20 on Oct. 9, and they barely escaped with a 44-38 win over lowly Southern Methodist (1-8, 0-5 C-USA) on Oct. 18.
Call it luck or pure genius, but the Cougars somehow managed to get the job done. Plenty of that has to do with adjustments that Sumlin and his coaching staff made on offense and defense in the locker room at halftime.
In the end, that’s the mark of a good head coach – one who can make great adjustments. Lately, Sumlin and co. have been great at doing this, and with the way this team operates, the coaching staff might have to pull a few more tricks out its hat tonight against Marshall.
So far, Sumlin is off to a good start to his tenure with the Cougars. He has given Athletics Director Dave Maggard little reason to regret naming him the successor to Art Briles, who resigned to take over the Baylor program after leading the Cougars to four bowl games and a C-USA championship in five seasons.
Briles did a remarkable job of turning around the Cougars’ program when it was on its last legs. The Cougars were only 5-7 a year before he took over in 2003 and 0-11 two seasons before that. Under his tutelage, the Cougars returned to respectability.
But it seemed as if Briles could never move the Cougars past simply being a good team that made bowl appearances but could never win any of them. And Maggard clearly wanted to see the Cougars move beyond being a perennial seven- or eight-win program.
In comes Sumlin, who was previously a promising co-offensive coordinator at Oklahoma, one of the nation’s elite programs. He was given a chance to prove his worth as a head coach, and he’s making good on it.
The Cougars were expected to be decent this season, but they have a chance to be much better than that. They’ve already knocked off a Top 25 team (then-No. 23 East Carolina on Sept. 27), and they’ll probably have the chance to do so again when No. 19 Tulsa (8-0, 5-0 C-USA) comes to town Nov. 15.
Should the Cougars win their next two C-USA games, the game against Tulsa becomes a matchup of the league’s only two remaining undefeated teams. Or, to put it simply, it would be a battle to decide the Western Division champion.
This group of Cougars has a chance to make that happen with Sumlin leading the way.