SWC Rewind: Big 12 brings generational competition back to Houston
Saturday night’s Big 12 opener against TCU will be many things for the University of Houston, and perhaps most importantly, it will be the school’s reintroduction into the generational lineage of Texas football.
In coaching alone, the connections are almost too many to count, and it begins with the high-flying Run and Shoot Cougars of the 1980s and ’90s under successive head coaches Jack Pardee and John Jenkins.
In a span of three years, the Cougars won 28 games and regularly set collegiate records in points and yards (UH averaged over 50 points a game in 1989) with a passing offense that produced a Heisman winner in quarterback Andre Ware and a top-10 NFL Draft pick in David Klingler.
During Jack Pardee’s three years as Cougar head coach, some of UH’s best battles were against the Texas Tech Red Raiders, coached by Spike Dykes — a close friend of Jack’s and the father of TCU head coach Sonny Dykes.
When Spike retired in 1999, Sonny joined the Texas Tech coaching staff as a receivers coach under his father’s successor, Mike Leach. In the late ’80s and early ’90s, Leach and Hal Mumme began developing a new offense dubbed the Air Raid at Iowa Wesleyan, where a young Dana Holgorsen played receiver.
The Air Raid, inspired in many ways by Jack Pardee’s Run and Shoot offense, was a passing-heavy, fast-paced offense that routinely lit up the scoreboard in ways that mirrored the Cougars of the Pardee and John Jenkins era.
When Ted Pardee, Jack’s son and former linebacker for UH, met Leach years later, ‘The Pirate’ rushed to tell Ted how much his father’s offense influenced the Air Raid.
“When I met Mike, one of the first things he told me is he said, ‘Man, we watched all of your film when you played,'” Pardee said. “‘We watched every game that you guys played.'”
At Texas Tech, Sonny Dykes and Holgorsen shared offensive coordinator and receiver group duties under Leach, where Leach’s Air Raid took the college football world by storm. Over 20 years later, the Air Raid is implemented all around the country, with a sprawling web of head coaches that includes former Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury, USC coach Lincoln Riley, and many more.
On Saturday, two of Mike Leach’s original protégés in Holgorsen and Dykes will face off in the Cougars’ Big 12 Homecoming. However, back in the days of the Southwest Conference, these types of generational connections were the norm.
During the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, almost every game that the Houston Cougars played for two decades was against a bitter rival that was only a bus drive away.
The SWC featured every major Texas school in college sports (Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor, TCU, SMU, and Rice) and during those seemingly non-stop intra-state battles, it was common to be lining up across a distinctly Texan lineage of former teammates and opponents.
“We knew guys from every team,” said David Klingler. “I had several friends from high school playing around the Southwest Conference.”
The Ohio-born Klingler played at Stratford High School in Houston during a time when the state of Texas was (and still is) the premier hotbed for football talent. Colleges from around the SWC competed to get the best high school players in the state to come play for them, often violating NCAA recruiting rules to do so.
Meanwhile, the players themselves competed with each other in historic local high school rivalries, while also trying to put on a performance against other top recruits in front of college scouts.
“You played against these guys really your whole life,” Klingler said. “It was just kind of a different culture.”
Those rivalries and individual competitiveness between players enriched the intensity of matchups between colleges that already hated each other.
“At the end of the game, you’d go see your old high school teammate, or guys that you used to, you know, really hate in high school,” said Ted Pardee, a graduate of St. Thomas High School. “All those natural rivalries are so cool, because they always got extended to college.”
If somehow you weren’t going up against a former high school friend or adversary, you might be going up against the children of someone your parents played against 20 years earlier.
“I played against Eric Metcalf, who was running back for Texas. And his dad was Terry Metcalf who played against my dad in the NFL,” said Ted Pardee. “There were so many examples of that.”
Chuck Brown, an offensive lineman for UH from 1975-78 under Bill Yeoman, has deep roots in Houston-area sports. His father, Charles, played football for the Cougars during the 1950s, and his brother Billy Ray played golf under legendary coach Dave Williams in the ’80s. Naturally, Chuck, who went to high school in Fort Bend ISD, had relationships with athletes all around the city.
Chuck vividly remembers two childhood friends — their father played at UH with Charles — de-committing from UH to instead play at Texas Tech.
“I thought they were coming down here, And then they call me that they’re going to stay out there,” Brown said, boasting of UH’s 2-1 record over Tech in his time there. “They were probably kicking themselves in the tail.”
It didn’t matter how close you may have been in high school with the guy on the other side, the battle for bragging rights trumped everything for one afternoon a year.
“The other guys who played with and against, you always worked out with them during the summer,” Brown said. “Then when we’d play them during the year, there was no love lost. For three or four hours, we weren’t friends.”
In 1996, when the SWC fell apart, UH was left out of the Texas foursome of UT, TAMU, Tech, and Baylor that bolted for the Big 12. Just like that, all those generational rivalries and connections were severed for half of the conference.
TCU, SMU and Rice were cast off to the WAC, with TCU later moving to the Mountain West before finding its way to the Big 12 in 2012. Houston, the only public school from the SWC that did not join a power conference, was relegated to Conference USA.
Bus rides to Texas and Baylor turned into flights to play Army and East Carolina, and attempts to manufacture rivalries against teams like Memphis proved hollow. Meanwhile, SMU, though a formidable opponent when it joined UH in C-USA, is too small to captivate audiences.
Though the Bayou Bucket Classic has a rich history of its own, playing a small, academics-focused private school in Rice every year paled in comparison to the old week-in, week-out battles against fellow big-time Texas school.
“When the Southwest Conference disappeared,” Pardee said, “it all went away for Houston players.”
27 years later, many of those regional connections can finally be restored and new ones can be formed.
In fact, you can already see it in spades in UH’s upcoming Big 12 debut against TCU.
Between the rosters of the two teams, 20 players were teammates in high school, and dozens more surely played against each other, perhaps went on recruiting trips together, or even attended off-season camps.
Most notably, sophomore receiver and former TCU commit Matthew Golden once a upon time caught passes from TCU backup Luke Pardee, the youngest son of Ted and grandson of Jack. In Golden’s first year on the varsity team at Klein Cain High School, Pardee, a senior, connected 50 times for nearly 800 yards and 13 touchdowns.
All of Ted Pardee’s family will be in attendance at TDECU on Saturday. His wife, oldest son, and daughter all went to UH, with Luke being the only non-Cougar. While Ted will be up in the booth as an analyst for the UH radio broadcast, he’ll be making sure to support both the past and present of the Pardee family.
“I might wear my purple Air Jordans or something like that to the game,” Pardee said. “And then wear red and white the rest of the way.”