Tom Herman’s departure from the University of Houston this offseason is the continuation of a trend.
Herman, UH’s football coach of two years, went 22-4 with the Cougars and then took the head job at prestigious but downtrodden Texas. Before Herman, UH coach Kevin Sumlin went 35-17 from 2008 to 2011, then he left to take over at Texas A&M. Sumlin’s successor Art Briles went 34-28 from 2000 to 2007, then left for Baylor.
Now Major Applewhite takes over and will have to deal with a program that has the expectations of a power conference team yet is still in a Group Of 5 league, similar to the atmosphere at Boise State. Just read what Houston president Renu Khator says about the stakes at UH:
"The winning is defined at University of Houston as 10 and 2," she told faculty and staff at the annual holiday party at her home. "We'll fire coaches at 8 and 4.”
Whether she was joking or not, it’s true. Herman’s predecessor Tony Levine went 8-4 during the 2013 regular season and 7-5 in the 2014 regular season and was fired before the team’s bowl game. But that’s an interesting way to welcome a new coach into the fold, even if Applewhite is familiar with the program having been an offensive coordinator for the Cougars for two seasons.
Applewhite seems to be about the party line though, he said this at his introductory press conference.
“It truly is a gold mine. Everything is in our back yard, and everything is here for these young men to be successful. This job was extremely attractive to me and my wife and our family. It’s somewhere we want to stay and build continuity and continue to win at a championship level and go beyond — 9-3 is not good enough for us. We know that as players and coaches. Nobody in this room will set a higher expectation for this team than me. That is the facts. I’ve always been a winner. I will always be a winner, and I will always set those expectations for our football team.”
Khator also gave an interesting window into how Houston operates as a program from a fiscal sense:
"Think about our business model. We hired the best, got the best out of them and made money on the exit," she said to cheers. "That's our business model."
When Sumlin left, either he or Texas A&M paid Houston $600,000, thanks to his buyout clause. When Briles left in 2007, the school was owed $300,000. As a testament to the rising cost of everything in college athletics, the real windfall came from Herman’s buyout, which was a reported $2.5 million. Houston’s AD said Monday that the school will keep the Longhorns on the hook for the full amount after a discount was offered.
The nitty gritty of Applewhite’s buyout came to light on Monday, when he was formally introduced.
New Houston head coach Major Applewhite’s contract details were reported by ESPN as: “5 years with an average salary of $1.5 million per year. Buyout if Applewhite leaves is remaining value of contract and goes up by 50% if he goes to another school in Texas.”
Houston is wise to what it is: a unique factory for up and coming head coaches. That means that the new head man will be on the hook for a pretty penny if the poachers come for him as he experiences success at Houston.
It is an interesting moment of transparency into the way college programs fund themselves.
Khator also added a little burn to Herman’s exit too:
UH President Renu Khator on Tom Herman at UT: “I hope he does better than (Kevin) Sumlin is doing for A&M or (Art) Briles did for Baylor”— Brett McMurphy (@McMurphyESPN) December 10, 2016
Sumlin went 11-2 in his first year at A&M but has won eight or nine games in four years in a row now, which isn’t great for College Station. If Houston’s president wants to cite Sumlin as evidence that grass isn’t always greener across the pasture, that’s a point she can make.
The Briles example is a bit different. Briles was hugely successful in winning games at Baylor, where he went 65-37 in eight seasons and helped get a new stadium built.
But Briles failed in a much more important way, and now he’s in a legal fight with Baylor administrators over his firing in a sexual assault scandal last May. Drawing a Briles parallel to Herman, who hasn’t presided over a sexual assault scandal, is odd.