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Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Football

Dana Holgorsen’s lengthy history with Houston


Dana Holgorsen is back in Houston ten years after he was offensive coordinator for the Cougars from 2008-09. | Corbin Ayres/The Cougar

Dana Holgorsen is back in Houston 10 years after he was offensive coordinator for the Cougars from 2008-09. | Corbin Ayres/The Cougar

Dana Holgorsen is well into his first offseason as the new head of Houston football, but the former West Virginia head coach is no stranger to UH, the program or the city.

Back before Holgorsen’s Big East Conference Championship and historic 70-33 BCS win over Clemson with the Mountaineers in 2011 and 2012, respectively, the native of Davenport, Iowa was a small-town assistant coach at Valdosta State from 1993-95.

It would not be until 2000-07, when Holgorsen worked his way up to wide receiver coach and offensive coordinator at Texas Tech, that his annual offseason fling with Houston would begin.

Like many large programs in Texas, and even the country, recruiting trips frequently brought him to the state’s largest city that he now calls home once again. 

Holgorsen would eventually take over as offensive coordinator at UH in 2008. His offense in Houston put up numbers like no other.

During his two-year tenure with the Cougars, Holgorsen’s air-raid offense averaged 563.1 total yards, with 417.65 of them through the air. UH, a school known for its basketball glory days in the 1980s, was on the map again, this time with the football program flourishing in the national spotlight. 

But just as quickly as Holgorsen’s offensive reign in Houston started, it came crashing down after Oklahoma State nabbed him from the Cougars for the same position in 2010.

“I always felt like this was a place I’d like to come back to,” Holgorsen told Sports Illustrated shortly after his hiring was announced in January.

And, boy, did he come back.

Just three days after the ouster of former head coach Major Applewhite following a 70-14 loss to Army in the Armed Forces Bowl and a 15-11 two-season record, Holgorsen bought out of his contract with WVU and signed a five-year, $20 million contract with UH, a deal that made him the highest-paid coach in the Group of 5 conferences by over $1 million.

UH System Board of Regents Chairman Tilman Fertitta, an avid supporter both as a fan and financier of Houston Athletics, is completely fine with that.

“The way that his contract goes, we’re stuck with him and he’s stuck with us,” Fertitta said. “Hopefully he’s here for the next 20 years and we build a statue of him out there. Someone better have a whole bunch of money if they want him to leave in the next couple of years.”

While Holgorsen laments having to leave Morgantown for Houston, he believes UH’s unrealized ability made its head coaching position a no-brainer.

“(I’m) really proud of what we did at WVU, where we won a lot of games,” Holgorsen said during American Athletic Conference Media Days. “But the potential here at UH is what outweighed everything else when I took the job.”

The program, which was picked as a close second in its division in preseason media polls, has joined fellow AAC teams such as UCF and Memphis in differentiating the AAC from other Group of 5 conferences, an opinion that Holgorsen firmly takes as fact.

“It’s a scary one now,” Holgorsen told KPRC regarding the AAC. “There’s no difference in the majority here and in the Power 5 leagues. We’ve always considered ourselves a Power 6 and have a chance to put a team in the (College Football Playoff) or New Year’s Six like UH did a few years ago.”

Along with a new conference, the former Iowa Wesleyan wide receiver had the luck of inheriting what he believes to be an aspiring core of team leaders, the likes of which include senior quarterback D’Eriq King.

“I think we have the makings of a good leadership class,” Holgorsen said during spring practices. “We’ve got guys that have played a lot, so that gives you hope. They just need to keep progressing.”

Although Holgorsen has a good set of cards in his hand ahead of his first season in Houston, the new leader of UH football has obstacles in his path. 

For one, a portion of Houston’s schedule is brutal. The Cougars will face its first four opponents of the season, including Oklahoma on Sept. 1, in just an 18-day span. But his remedy to the problem is clear: “Learn to deal with it.”

Holgorsen, much like Fertitta, has also been clear on another issue — he is not leaving.

“This is not a stepping stone,” Holgorsen said. “I’ve been there and done all that. I am interested in making this place great.”

Those words are like music to Fertitta’s ears.

“Dana is going to be here a long time,” Fertitta told SI. “Dana is going to win.”

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