The Cougars ended their once-promising regular season on a sour note with a loss to the University of Memphis Tigers. The blows didn’t end there.
Less than 24 hours after UH’s third loss of the season, former head coach Tom Herman signed a five-year, $5 million deal with incentives to become the University of Texas’ new head coach.
Despite rumors about such a move circulating all season, and Herman dodging questions about his future throughout the year, the announcement sent shock-waves throughout the UH community especially as the Cougars prepare for their fourth-straight bowl game.
This isn’t the first time that UH has been in this position, though. Three of the last four Cougar head coaches have used their position as a stepping-stone to go on to coach at a Power Five school in Texas.
Art Briles started the trend when he took over at Baylor University, followed by Kevin Sumlin at Texas A&M University and now Herman is the latest opportunist.
Herman’s departure leaves a vacancy at one of the hottest Group of Five universities in the country. There is much to be desired about the position.
UH’s president and its Board of Regents have made winning a priority on campus and have invested money in facilities. They were also willing to enter a bidding war with the much-wealthier UT over Herman had it come down to it.
The job is desirable since UH is located in one of the most heavily recruited areas in the country. Eight percent of ESPN’s top-100 players are from the area, and one of this year’s best freshmen, Ed Oliver, is a Houston native.
UH has hired Collegiate Sports Associates to assist in the search for Herman’s replacement. In the meantime, the Cougars will get a glimpse of a potential candidate after defensive coordinator Todd Orlando was named the interim coach.
In addition to Orlando, several names have been linked to the vacant post.
UH defensive coordinator Todd Orlando
Herman received the majority of the credit for finishing 22-4 during his time at UH, but Orlando’s contribution with his innovative defensive schemes should not be overlooked.
The Cougars finished with the eighth-best run defense in 2015 and were second in the nation this year. Orlando’s defense has also had a knack for taking the ball away during his two seasons at UH, finishing with 53 takeaways.
Although Orlando has been dubbed a defensive mastermind, it does not mean that his success as a coordinator will transfer to the head coach position. Former UT defensive coordinator Will Muschamp was also an up-and-coming defensive coordinator before taking the head job at the University of Florida.
Muschamp only lasted four years before stepping down.
As mentioned previously, though, Orlando gets the first opportunity as the Cougars’ head coach and needs a statement win over the team’s bowl opponent to boost his resume.
UH offensive coordinator Major Applewhite
Like Orlando, Applewhite has also shown interest in the vacancy and helped Herman turn senior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. into a formidable pocket passer.
In his two seasons at UH, Applewhite was the brain behind a Cougar offense that totaled 484.1 yards per game last year and 459.2 this season.
If he lands the job, it will ease the transition on the offensive side. The Cougars will also remain an up-tempo unit, which is the style where their current personnel will excel.
Applewhite played football at UT and was a co-offensive coordinator there, so there’s a chance that he’ll follow Herman if he does not land the head-coaching job at UH.
West Virginia University head coach Dana Holgorsen
Holgorsen’s name has been linked to UH since Herman left and for good reason.
While he’s only 45-30 in his time at West Virginia, he is coming off of his best year there, as the Mountaineers have the 10th-best offense in the country.
There is speculation that he would not leave a Power Five school for a Group of Five, but Holgorsen spent time at UH as the offensive coordinator from 2008-2009 when the Cougars installed the air raid offense that Case Keenum orchestrated.
Holgorsen also turned down a contract extension from WVU in early May and is in the final year of his current contract. UH will avoid a buyout if the school hire him.
Holgorsen could turn quarterbacks Kyle Allen and D’Eriq King into sure-fire passers much like he was able to do with Keenum.
Other coaches who have been rumored for the job include the University of California’s Sonny Dykes, the University of Oklahoma’s offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley, who is an up-and-coming coach much like Herman in 2014, and the University of Tulsa’s Phillip Montgomery.
No matter who the Cougars target, though, they need to ensure that the contract comes with a bigger buyout to scare away bigger schools from poaching UH’s coaches.