Football-wise, it’s extremely easy to see why Major Applewhite wanted to hire Kendal Briles and Randy Clements.
In re-imagining his offense from Year 1 to Year 2 as Houston’s head coach, Applewhite wanted to hire an offensive coordinator who had a history of working with a particular offensive line coach, who ran a spread offense, and who was as good as running the ball as throwing it. Briles and Clements checked all three boxes. The pair ran roughshod over the Big 12 in the early part of this decade, leading the Big 12 in scoring while ranking first or second in yards per play and rushing from 2013-15.
The pair split up after 2015 (more on that in a second), but were immensely successful at different spots in 2017. As Florida Atlantic’s offensive coordinator, Briles helped the Owls go from 3-9 to Conference USA champions in one season on the staff; the Owls went from 51st nationally to sixth in rushing and from 80th to eighth in scoring from 2016 to ’17. Clements was the offensive line coach at Southeastern University in Lakeland, Fla., and in his one season on staff helped the NAIA school produce more points (55.1) and first downs (32.1) per game than any school in all of college football.
Again, in a pure-football sense, hiring Briles as his associate head coach, offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach and Clements as his run game coordinator and offensive line coach was, by far, the smartest thing Applewhite could have done.
But there is a non-football side of this package hiring to consider.
Both were original members of the Art Briles staff at Baylor, which brings an implication that will follow every person caught up in it like a black cloud for the rest of their careers. That’s just the truth of the matter.
Neither has been held liable for the Baylor scandal, though the younger Briles was mentioned in a lawsuit, but Houston invited a heap of scorn — fairly or unfairly — upon itself when the pair was hired in January.
Applewhite defended the decision in an interview with the Republic of Football podcast:
“It’s conversations, it’s meetings, it’s phone calls, one-on-one meetings, those types of things. Lot of communication with prior employees,” Applewhite said. “I know from my standpoint that’s mostly what it was — former ADs, former presidents, former coaches, co-workers, a lot of ancillary people that aren’t part of the athletic department that just have background on people. It’s something that everybody was tied together on and making sure that Houston is first and foremost. Nobody is pushing this or trying to force this. It’s got to be right and we’ve got to feel confident that everybody is treated right and protected.”
Applewhite was asked what he, specifically, saw that convinced him that bringing aboard Briles and Clements was not exposing Houston to unnecessary liability. His answer fell back on what he knew of both coaches as people.
“I’ve watched enough of them offensively that when I met with Kendal and Randy we did not pick up a single pen, we didn’t talk a single X&O,” Applewhite said. “We met for four or five hours and just talked philosophy and talked relationships, talked staff camaraderie. We talked a lot about how we want to piece together the staff, what the core values of this program are, what’s established from the president, then to the athletic director, then to our football program…. I’ve known Kendal for a long time. 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.”
“The general public typically does not read every article with a fine-tooth comb. It would sometimes take two pages to print out every single detail of every single thing, sometimes people are very creative in their style and it can mislead people, so see some details, hear some details that you thought you knew because you read the same article that every other person did but you realize, ‘Oh, alright.’ Because you’re looking at documents and talking to people that were involved.”
Houston hosted Brenda Tracy at its facility last week, and Applewhite said she will come back for an annual visit for as long as he’s the Cougars’ head coach.
— #HTownTakeover (@UHCougarFB) April 11, 2018
I’m glad I decided to go back to Houston. Sometimes things don’t go exactly as you would like, but if you give up or turn your back…you may never see the good that can happen. I’m proud of these young men 🙏🏼#SetTheExpectation https://t.co/JeitlLKKYq
— Brenda Tracy (@brendatracy24) April 11, 2018
Applewhite is confident in the character of the men he hired in Briles and Clements. As he should be, because he didn’t just stake their reputations on the line or his school’s, he put his own up, too.