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Ripe for success: Applewhite’s coaching roots run deep

After learning under Mack Brown, Nick Saban and Tom Herman, Major Applewhite aims to bring the same consistent success to Houston. | Courtesy of UH Athletics

On Dec. 9, vice president for athletics Hunter Yurachek announced that Major Applewhite was chosen as the 14th head football coach in University of Houston’s history.

Having spent the past two seasons leading the offense under former head coach Tom Herman, Applewhite knows the program and has extensive roots in Texas football. In part four of the lead up to the Red & White game on April 15, The Cougar takes a deeper look into the man tasked to lead the Cougars in 2017.

Deep roots

Though he was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Applewhite has been a household name in Texas football since the late ’90s. The No. 10 quarterback recruit coming out of high school, he chose Texas and was named starter by new head coach Mack Brown as a redshirt freshman in 1998.

During his time as a Longhorn, Applewhite had one of the most productive careers in Texas history, despite being embroiled in a bitter competition with quarterback Chris Simms.

“If you accept it (being a backup), you’re giving up,” Applewhite said in an interview with the Daily Orange. “I didn’t understand it when it happened to me. Looking back, I think it was good I didn’t understand it.”

After his senior season ended, Applewhite held more than 45 school records. Twenty of these still stand today. But at just 6-foot and 205 pounds, he didn’t have the ideal size for the NFL and returned to Texas to finish his degree and become a coach.

Leading from behind

Applewhite’s foray into coaching came in 2003 when he joined Brown’s staff as a graduate assistant. He worked there for two years before moving to Greg Robinson’s new staff at Syracuse University as the quarterbacks coach.

“He wasn’t the most gifted player,’ Robinson said. “But he had to be the most fundamental quarterback. Those are the type of players I think make the best coaches.”

After only one year at Syracuse, Applewhite returned to the Lone Star State as the offensive coordinator and QB coach at Rice. In his lone season guiding the Owls, Applewhite led Rice to a 7-6 record and their first bowl game in more than 40 years.

Applewhite then went to Alabama as the offensive coordinator and QB coach in Nick Saban’s first year with the Crimson Tide. Despite gaining more yards and scoring more points than the previous year, the Crimson Tide lost their final four games.

Return to Texas

With former head coach Art Briles leaving Houston for Baylor, rumors swirled about a possible connection between Applewhite and the Cougars. It went nowhere. Applewhite removed his name from the search and accepted a position at his alma mater as assistant head coach and running backs coordinator.

For three years, Applewhite led a running backs corps that regularly sent athletes to the NFL. Despite never having a true No. 1, Texas backs averaged nearly 1,500 yards and 20 touchdowns per season on the ground, including 1,665 yards and 24 touchdowns in 2009.

After the 2010 season Applewhite was promoted to co-offensive coordinator, but it wasn’t until 2013 that he would assume play-calling duties. With starting quarterback David Ash sidelined with an injury for most of the season, Applewhite helped guide Case McCoy and the Longhorns to average 408.7 yards and 29.3 points per game.

Brown was fired following the 2013 season, and Applewhite stepped down from offensive coordinator. Still, his exit at Texas was not without controversy as details of an alleged misconduct from 2009 emerged.

According to USA Today, in a 2013 statement by the University of Texas, Applewhite engaged in “inappropriate, consensual behavior with an adult student” during the Longhorns’ trip to the Fiesta Bowl after the 2008 season. According to the Texas Tribune, Applewhite was required to attend counseling and his salary was frozen for the remainder of 2009.

“Through counsel, I have worked with my wife and the incident is behind us. I am regretful for my mistake and humbled by this experience,” Applewhite said in a statement.

The details remain part of an active discrimination case against the university from a former coach.

Arrival in Houston

After a year off in 2014, Applewhite returned to coaching as the offensive coordinator at Houston under new head coach Tom Herman. Herman got his coaching start as a graduate assistant at UT from 1999-2000, the same time Applewhite was the Longhorn’s QB.

According to the Austin American-Statesman, Applewhite called Herman in July 2014 and was invited to watch practice. They hung out and drank beers in Herman’s basement. When UH hired Herman, Applewhite quickly followed.

Fast forward two years: Herman is in Austin, and Applewhite leads the Cougars. Relishing in his new role, Applewhite has a no-nonsense outlook to coaching.

“He knows exactly what he wants, what he needs out of us — and he’s a straight shooter,” said redshirt junior quarterback Kyle Allen. “He doesn’t lie to us and tell us other things. He knows what he wants us to do and we know what he wants out of us so we’re going to give it all to him.”

Time will tell if Applewhite can follow in the footsteps of his former boss and lead his team to consistent success. Cougars can only hope this apple doesn’t fall far from the coaching tree.

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