Dana Holgorsen picked a good year to have a good year.
After posting seven winning campaigns in his eight seasons at West Virginia, Holgorsen made an unprecedented move "down" a level, leaving WVU on his own volition to take a Group of 5 job at Houston. Two seasons in, that gamble looked like a bust. The Cougars went 4-8 in a disastrous debut season of 2019, then 3-5 in the pandemic-shortened season of 2020, which was a disaster in its own right as UH was near the top in college football in postponements and cancellations.
Then came 2021. Holgorsen's team went 12-2, dropping their opener to Texas Tech and the AAC title game to Cincinnati but sweeping everyone else, including a win over then-No. 19 SMU and a Birmingham Bowl triumph over Auburn. Houston finished the year No. 17 in the AP poll, its first year-end appearance since 2015.
But Houston's fortunes off the field were even better than they were on it. The school officially accepted a Big 12 bid on Sept. 9, ending a 25-plus year journey back to the top of the sport's hierarchy following the breakup of the Southwest Conference. The Big 12 paid out $34.5 million in Tier 1 and Tier 2 rights to its schools last year; the AAC payout is in the $7 million range. Even if the Big 12's payout is cut in half in the new TV contracts without Texas and Oklahoma, you're still talking an 8-figure-per-year difference in what AAC teams will earn, especially considering Cincinnati and UCF are on their way out the door, too.
Barring a major, unforeseen shakeup at the top, this latest round of Big 12 expansion was a last-train-out-of-Dodge situation. A school like Houston had to hop aboard or get left in the dust.
Houston got the bid that SMU, Boise State, Memphis and others coveted, and now Holgorsen and his football program will reap the benefits.
Holgorsen, who signed the deal last week, is now under contract through 2027. The extension keeps his original salary structure in place; he'll make $4.2 million in 2022 with annual $100,000 raises, topping him out at $4.7 million in '27.
Additionally, Houston has made a major commitment to its assistant coaches salary pool. The school will immediately give Holgorsen another million to spend, moving from $4.5 million to $5.5 million, and will add another million on top of that within six months of joining the Big 12. The Cougars immediately put that money to use, bumping defensive coordinator Doug Belk to $1 million a year, doubling his 2021 salary. Houston will join the Big 12 no later than 2024, with eyes on the '23 season.
AD Chris Pezman also told Khan that Houston is raising funds for a $75 million football operations building. Houston has a standalone ops building for basketball, built in 2016 at a cost of $25 million, but not for football, though the school did plunk down $125 million to build TDECU Stadium in 2014.
“Look at what’s happened with (men’s) basketball with the investment of facilities,” Pezman told The Athletic. “Where we are with the consistency of that program, that’s what we have the ability to be in football.
“We’ve had glimpses of it. But instead of having these peaks and valleys, we’re trying to raise the floor.”