New coach brings impressive résumé to Cougar rugby
The rugby club found themselves in an odd situation at the end of last year.
Had they won their seven-man season, the victory would have taken them to the USA 7s National Championships. Coupled with the departure of coaches Connor Rehmet and Samuel Enari, the Cougars were faced with a long summer.
Luckily, Daniel Whetzel found his way to the University. The club knew they had found their new head coach.
“Three years ago I came to Houston and became associated with the Houston United Rugby Team (HURT),” Whetzel said. “I wanted to give back what rugby has given me. So I was searching for a job and the University of Houston approached me at the beginning of the season. They said they needed a coach and I agreed.”
Coach Whetzel brings over 27 years of rugby experience both as a player and a coach. He started his career with the United States Air Force Academy and afterward played for clubs in both Philadelphia and Seattle.
He has had coaching experience with Division II clubs in Idaho and Spokane, Washington. Whetzel has also coached on the national level with the USA Women’s team, managing them in Tokyo, China and Hong Kong.
Although this is Whetzel’s first coaching job at a university, he is excited to become a part of the club’s near 40-year history.
“So far it’s been a positive vibe, all the players are very professional and very mature for their age,” Whetzel said. “My first impression of them is awesome, not only for their athletic ability but also for the scholastic (ability). I mean, you don’t want to send a player to a school and have him play rugby and not study right.”
Coaching changes are something that members of the rugby team have become far too familiar with.
For senior hooker Abe Blanco, this will be the fourth coach since he joined the club. But the talented forward remains optimistic and sees the potential that Whetzel could bring to the team.
“As of right now I believe he can give us a bit of structure,” Blanco said. “I think he along with the new (coaches) will bring a better culture here at UH and I believe we can capitalize on that and get our name out for the school. I want people to come into this program and know that they have a brother by their side when they come play.”
Whetzel’s arrival worked out perfectly for the Cougars. It confirmed Commissioner Teshay Flowers’ belief that UH would fill the opening in the Red River Conference of Division I-A rugby.
Flowers and Kevin Battles, the director of collegiate rugby at USA Rugby, saw the program was going in the right direction and that Whetzel would bring stable coaching to the club. All he had to do was say “yes.”
Of course, Whetzel and the club understand that recruiting will play a big role in the season. The Cougars will have their work cut out for them: Several of the universities in the Red River Conference are large clubs armed with well-known backers or athletes with scholarships.
“I think when the students who can play rugby see that we (play) LSU, Arkansas, Oklahoma, I think that’s going to excite them,” Whetzel said. “Once we show that we’re stable in Division I-A and can make an impact for UH, we’d like to see the university sponsor us and maybe even give us some scholarships.”
At the end of the day, it is about playing the game of rugby and simply being better than the opponent.
Whetzel has a multilayered program that intends to first teach both returning and incoming athletes the laws of the game: tackling, rucking, lines and phase of play. He then plans to move on to kicking, penalties, lineouts and scrums that could occur in a game.
All in all, this season’s message has been branded as simplicity. Whetzel is confident that once the players know how to properly play the game, they will be more than prepared to compete in the Red River Conference.