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Houston’s firing Applewhite, and WVU’s Holgorsen is the top candidate

Major Applewhite didn’t meet the school’s stated standard. On the horizon could be a former Lone Star State assistant coach.


Houston is firing head football coach Major Applewhite after just two seasons, per a source.

Before the firing, SB Nation reported the school had already begun to evaluate multiple candidates, most notably West Virginia head coach Dana Holgorsen. Houston’s interest in Holgorsen was first reported publicly by Football Scoop.

The timeline for Houston’s move — and the reason for inaction following Dec. 22’s bowl loss — is likely due to Holgorsen’s contract with WVU, which calls for him to pay the school $2.5 million if he leaves before Jan. 1. If Holgorsen is hired away on or after New Year’s Day, the buyout drops to $1 million, a difference that could help the Cougars cover a significant portion of Applewhite’s estimated $2 million buyout.

Why might Holgorsen consider that move?

Holgorsen’s current deal with West Virginia has three years and $11.5 million remaining. Given that and his status as a successful Power 5 head coach, Holgorsen’s pay would likely be near the top of the Group of 5 ranks.

The former UH, Texas Tech, and Oklahoma State assistant would also return to one of the best recruiting areas in the country after years of competing with schools in talent-richer areas than West Virginia. Additionally, 2019 was already setting up to be a transition year at WVU, given QB Will Grier’s departure.

Sources confirmed to SB Nation that no deal is currently in place for Applewhite’s replacement and that the school planned to contact multiple coaches, not just Holgorsen.

As for Applewhite ...

Sources close to Applewhite confirmed the coach was in limbo following the Cougars’ 70-14 blowout loss to Army in the Armed Forces Bowl, as Applewhite sought to confirm contracts for new assistant coaches with no response from UH decision makers.

Offensive coordinator Kendal Briles resigned following the bowl to take the same job with Florida State, and Applewhite had fired defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio amid the regular season, when Houston ranked 100th in Defensive S&P+.

Sources confirmed to SB Nation that Briles was not considered a candidate to become Houston’s next head coach.

Applewhite went 15-10 in two full seasons leading the Cougars. Notably, the former Texas quarterback had a record worse than 8-4 in both of his years as a head coach, after Houston’s president said upon his hiring that the school fires coaches when they go 8-4. His Cougars not only didn’t challenge UCF for AAC supremacy the last two years; they lost out to Memphis in the AAC West both times, not even getting the shot. His five-year contract was loaded with penalties in the event he left for another job, but light on obligations in the event Houston just decided to fire him.