Houston is a young football program, and I don’t mean the Cougars expect to play lots of freshman and sophomores this year. I mean that it’s literally a young program, at least by football program standards.
The flagship school of the nation’s fourth largest city didn’t start playing football until 1946 and didn’t join the Southwest Conference until 1976. That move happened under the watch of Bill Yeoman, who stands as the program’s patriarch, leading the Cougars from 1962 through ’86.
And since he left — 32 seasons ago now — the program has been in almost a constant state of turnover. Dana Holgorsen is the program’s 10th head coach since the end of the ’86 season, only one of the previous nine lasted longer than five seasons. Five of those nine lasted three seasons or fewer.
The program’s recent hires are a perfect juxtaposition of where Houston’s place in the college football hierarchy versus where the Cougars view themselves:
— Art Briles went 34-28 from 2003-07, then left for Baylor
— Kevin Sumlin went 35-17 from 2008-11, then left for Texas A&M
— Tony Levine went 21-17 from 2011-14, then got fired
— Tom Herman went 22-4 from 2015-16, then left for Texas
— Major Applewhite went 15-11 from 2017-18, then got fired
Either you win enough to get noticed by a former Southwest Conference rival — thus kicking Houston fans in the heart on your way out — or you don’t win enough and they fire you.
This brings us to Dana Holgorsen.
Holgorsen was born in Davenport, Iowa, but, as the saying goes, he got to Houston as fast as he could. He spent two seasons in Space City as Sumlin’s offensive coordinator and, though he’d spend the next decade at Oklahoma State and West Virginia, he never really left Houston. Now he’s back, and he says he’s in it for the long haul.
“Look guys,” Holgorsen said he told his new team in their first meeting together, “I know you guys have heard this in the past, but I’m here to stay. We’re going to try to win as many games as we possibly can, starting with that first one at Oklahoma, but we’re going to build a program the right way, too.
The University of Houston’s had a ton of success. I was a part of it 10 years ago, in 2008 and 2009, and really proud of what we accomplished then and had a lot of great success since then, but it’s been a lot of revolving door as well. We need to make sure there’s stability within my job and all the assistant coaches as well. The message is, Look guys, we’re here to stay and we’re going to build this the right way.”
Is Holgorsen the long-term coach Houston is looking for? Time will tell. But he certainly fits the profile. He’s got a persona big enough to stand out in a big league city, and at 48 years old he’s still in the sweet spot in his prime but he’s still been around the block long enough that he won’t jump at the first Power 5 offer that comes his way. (Put it this way: if Holgorsen is the next Texas Tech head coach, print this article out and slap me in the face with it.)
There’s no way to tell if this long awaited marriage is going to work, and work longer than the 2-to-5 year shelf life every other Houston coach seems to have. But, like the Houston football program itself, all the pieces are there to win and win big.
"I know you guys have heard this in the past, but I'm here to stay."
First-year @UHCougarFB head coach Dana Holgorsen discussed his opening conversation with his Houston players and what the expectations are for his Cougar team in 2019. #AmericanKickoff pic.twitter.com/mX1U9ciWBb
— American Football (@American_FB) July 16, 2019