This is the latest in a series examining the 15 most important assistant coaching hires of the 2018 season. Previous installments:
No. 15: Rod Smith, Illinois
No. 14: Matt Canada, Maryland
No. 13: Harlon Barnett, Florida State
No. 12: Jerry Azzinaro, UCLA
No. 11: Bob Shoop, Mississippi State
No. 10: Clark Lea, Notre Dame
No. 9: Bush Hamdan, Washington
No. 8: Herb Hand, Texas
No. 7: Tyson Helton, Tennessee
Who: Kendal Briles and Randy Clements, Houston
Titles: Associate head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach; Run game coordinator and offensive line coach
Previous stops: Florida Atlantic assistant head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach (2017); Southeastern offensive line coach (2017)
Why they’re important: Let’s put it this way… none of the other coaches on this list inspired a column in the local paper that closed like this:
With so many great football coaches out there, particularly in the state of Texas, it’s not worth bringing one with so much baggage to the university.
UH’s football team won’t be judged for its play on the field for the foreseeable future.
It will be judged for hiring someone who has scandal following him.
Briles and Clements went back decades with Art Briles, with Briles’s history (obviously) extending back to his birth. Clements started with the elder Briles as Stephenville High School’s offensive line coach way back in 1990 and then sticking with him from Houston to Baylor.
Like it or not, fair or not, Briles and Clements will be associated with the Baylor scandal for as long as they’re in coaching. That’s part of the territory at this point.
But there’s a reason Houston heaped all that negative publicity upon itself in January: these guys can flat out coach.
Setting aside their success at Baylor, look at the impact Briles and Clements had at parts elsewhere in 2017. Teaming with Lane Kiffin, Briles authored the 2017 season’s biggest single-season turnaround at Florida Atlantic. A team that was 3-9 with a stunningly pedestrian offense instantly became a juggernaut, finishing 11th in yards per play, eighth in scoring, sixth in rushing and fourth in yards per carry, ripping off 10 straight wins by an average of 24 points per game en route to the program’s first Conference USA title. Running back Devin Singletary set a C-USA record with 32 rushing touchdowns, racking up 1,920 yards on just 301 carries. It was like the Baylor days all over again.
Clements paired with former Baylor running backs coach Jeff Lebby at Southeastern University, a private, Christian school with 7,000 students located roughly equidistant between Orlando and Tampa. In his one season on staff, Clements helped boost Southeastern’s scoring average by nearly 20 points, from a good-not-great 34.6 points a game in 2016 to a national-leading 55.1 points per game in 2017. The Fire ripped off 330.4 rushing yards per game on 5.9 a pop while placing sixth in NAIA in passing efficiency.
UH regent Tillman Fertitta, upon Major Applewhite’s ascension to head coach in December of 2016, laid down an edict, saying Applewhite better win “nine, 10, 11 games a year, too, from our standpoint. We did get rid of a coach that won eight games three years ago. Don’t ever forget that. We expect to win at the University of Houston.”
— Joseph Duarte (@Joseph_Duarte) December 9, 2016
It’s with that backdrop that Applewhite brings Briles and Clements back to Houston.
“I’ve known Kendal for a long time,” Applewhite said this spring. “I’ve been on the road with Randy Clements and seen him recruit. You know a lot of these guys because you know a lot of the same people in this state recruiting. It’s interesting because you make a lot of phone calls and there’s a lot of people saying a lot of great things, and then you read a newspaper article saying something completely different. You talk to people and you get information that isn’t out there, so you have a different opinion than what is out there.”
After firing Tony Levine for the indignity of going 8-5 at Houston, the Cougars rocketed forward to 13-1 with an AAC championship, a Peach Bowl win and a No. 8 final ranking in Tom Herman’s debut season of 2015. Houston slipped back to 9-4 in 2016 and then went 7-5 in Applewhite’s first season.
The Baylor scandal is still unwinding in the courts, but Applewhite and UH leadership clearly believe the school is not exposed by bringing Briles and Clements aboard. They believe the juice is worth the squeeze. And it’s easy to see why. The pair’s respective success at FAU and Southeastern showed that Briles and Clements can still produce some high-scoring juice.