How to Hire a Power 5 Coach at Your Group of 5 School
by Rick Bouch Scores & Statson
When you taste some success – like going 13-1 and winning in a New Year’s Six bowl game – you want to continue that ride. What you don’t want to do is go 8-5 and get blown out in the Armed Forces Bowl.
That is exactly what happened to Houston, which went 13-1 in 2015 under Tom Herman. A 9-4 season followed as did an invitation for him to coach at Texas where Herman went 10-4 in 2018. Houston hired Herman’s offensive coordinator, Major Applewhite, thinking there would be some continuity in the program. There wasn’t.
In two seasons, Applewhite went 15-10 overall and lost two bowl games. In this year’s Armed Forces Bowl, the Cougars didn’t just get beat. They were embarrassed by Army. Yes, Houston was without starting QB D’Eriq King and potential first-round NFL defensive tackle Ed Oliver, but getting beat 70-14 just doesn’t cut it. So, the university went out to find a solution.
The Backstory After a successful run working with Mike Leach at Texas Tech, a young Dana Holgorsen left the school to become the offensive coordinator at Houston under head coach Kevin Sumlin. In two seasons, Holgorsen’s offenses finished third and first in the nation in total offense. More importantly, Holgorsen fell in love with a city that offered plenty. Despite leaving Houston in 2010, Holgorsen continued to visit Houston four or five times a year. He even did a radio show in Houston while serving as the head coach at West Virginia.
Show Me the Money If you don’t know Tilman Fertitta, he is worth a lot of money. Like $4.6 billion. He is the CEO of Landry’s, Inc., a Texas-based restaurant and entertainment company. He owns a couple Golden Nugget Casinos. He even tried his hand at reality TV as the star of Billion Dollar Buyer, a show where he decides whether or not to order from businesses in the hospitality industry.
What Fertitta is to the University of Houston is a huge benefactor. The new Fertitta Center, the school’s indoor basketball facility is named for him. He gave the school $20 million for the project. Fertitta is on Houston’s Board of Regents and he is a good friend of one Dana Holgorsen.
When Applewhite was fired after the bowl game, Fertitta told school officials if they wanted to really fix the problem at Houston he had the solution – hire Holgorsen. To hire a Power 5 coach and lure him to a Group of 5 schools, it was going to cost money and Fertitta sold Houston on Holgorsen.
Holgorsen will actually make more at Houston – average of $4 million per season – than he did at West Virginia ($3.5M). The $4 million per season is also a lot more than Applewhite’s $2.25 million. Fertitta calls it an investment.
Mo’ Money Applewhite’s 7-5 and 8-5 seasons weren’t all that bad, but what was awful was the number of empty seats at TDECU Stadium. Since Herman left for Texas, the Cougars lost 7,000 season tickets. That translates to about $3 million a year. That is a significant chunk of change and something that Fertitta and Houston athletic director Chris Pezman believe Holgorsen will change.
Good Timing The move also works for Holgorsen who, as noted, loves the city of Houston. In seven years at West Virginia, the Mountaineers fought uphill battles. Oklahoma has won the Big 12 four years in a row. Texas is on the way back and Matt Campbell has Iowa State turning into something special. The Big 12 presents plenty of problems especially in a state (WV) where 3-, 4-, and 5-star recruits are hard to come by.
With star QB Will Grier off to the NFL and WR David Sills graduating, 2019 will be a rebuilding year in Morgantown. The timing couldn’t have been more perfect and while it seems odd for a Power 5 coach to move to the Group of 5, Holgorsen will be perfectly happy at Houston.