Despite some early struggles, head football coach Tony Levine never wavered in belief of his sophomore quarterback David Piland.
“He’s done a great job of always being supportive,” Piland said. “He has never really gotten down on me, never questioned anything I’ve done — even though sometimes I question myself. I sit there and think ‘Why am I doing this or throwing that ball? I shouldn’t be doing that.’ It’s a great feeling to know that he has your back.”
Levine entered his first full season as the Cougars’ head coach, and Piland has taken over as a team leader this year. Both are following a lineage of success.
The two previous head coaches, Kevin Sumlin and Art Briles, elevated the football program to a new level of expectations. In the nine year span that saw Briles and then Sumlin as head coach, UH reached six bowl games. Both were whisked away by Big 12 schools.
Case Keenum, the NCAA’s all-time leading passer, and Kevin Kolb, a former Heisman candidate, are both NFL quarterbacks who put up gaudy statistics during their tenure at UH.
Levine and Piland follow in the footsteps of giants and are expected to wear the big shoes right away.
UH did not find success immediately, Levine and Piland received the brunt of criticism after a 0-3 start.
Now 1-3 after getting back on track Saturday with a 35-14 victory over Rice, Piland said the adversity they have already faced has created a tight-knit bond.
“We talk, and (Levine) treats me well. There are a lot of things we have to kind of work through because we’re both obviously new at this,” Piland said. “And he does a great job. If I ever have any problems, I can go to him. He’s the first one to be like ‘OK, I’ll help you with this situation.’”
Piland’s season has been filled with highs and lows. He threw for 580 yards — a Robertson Stadium record — against Louisiana Tech and played well against Rice. But the offense as a whole struggled against Texas State and UCLA, and the team scored 19 points in the two games combined.
Some of Piland’s inconsistency this season can be attributed to injuries on the offensive end, Levine said. Two starting offensive linemen, redshirt sophomore Rowdy Harper and redshirt junior Kevin Forsch, have missed time. Junior running back Charles Sims did not play against UCLA, and his backup, freshman Ryan Jackson, was injured after a few plays.
Levine said Piland’s ability to keep steering the ship through injuries and his willingness to take an expanded role that extends past Xs and Os is most gratifying.
“The thing I am more proud of him for, more than anything, is his leadership,” Levine said. “To become a leader, you have to carry yourself a certain way and hold yourself to high standards and expectations. Some guys can’t handle that, and he’s shown me he can.”
Piland said the two are linked on and off the field.
“It’s almost like a family, where he’s a father-figure and you want to make him proud,” Piland said. “Going out day to day, you want to make him proud and prepare and think about that going in.”