HOUSTON The University of Houston didn’t end up needing to go far in replacing head coach Tom Herman.
Major Applewhite, who served as Herman’s offensive coordinator the last two seasons, was promoted to the job on Friday. It will be the first head coaching job for the 38-year-old Applewhite.
“We had our sights set on a focused competitor who has demonstrated success and possesses a deep connection to college and high school football in the great state of Texas,” Houston athletic director Hunter Yurachek said. “As this process was completed, it was clearly evident the only individual to offer our position to was Major Applewhite and he was indeed the right man to lead our program.”
Herman recently left Houston to become the coach at Texas after two years with the Cougars and there was speculation Houston might hire Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. Instead, Houston went with Applewhite, a Louisiana native who nonetheless has deep ties and familiarity with Texas.
USA Today reported Friday that the Cougars had initially sought a big splash hire but top booster Tilman Fertitta was insistent on a huge buyout in the contract.
Houston had negotiated with Kiffin throughout the week, to the point where Kiffin had begun to line up a staff to go recruit this weekend for Houston, multiple people with knowledge of the situation told USA Today Sports.
Somehow on Thursday, Applewhite emerged, even after defensive coordinator Todd Orlando had been seen with better chances.
Meanwhile, Kiffin is being pursued by Florida Atlantic to become the Owls’ next head coach, two people with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press on Friday night.
The Cougars meet San Diego State in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 17.
“Living in the best state for high school football is a true blessing and advantage for our program and I cannot be more thankful for the support of our outstanding high school coaches from throughout the state,” Applewhite said.
Applewhite steps into a program that has had lot of success in the last 10 years and has become a launching pad for coaches. Art Briles went 34-28 with a Conference USA title at Houston from 2003-07 before moving on to Baylor. Kevin Sumlin went 35-17 from 2008-11 before leaving for Texas A&M. Herman went 22-4 with an American Athletic Conference championship in 2015 and was perhaps the hottest coaching commodity during his two-year tenure at Houston.
Under Applewhite’s direction, the Cougars gained more than 500 yards 11 times and passed the 600-yard mark four times. The offense piled up 40 points 12 times and scored at least 50 points five other occasions in the past two seasons.
“It’s no coincidence that the success UH football has achieved over the past two seasons happened with Major Applewhite running our offense,” Houston President Renu Khator said. “His energy and creativity are responsible for one of the most explosive passing games in college football and I am confident that as our head coach he will continue our upward trajectory as a nationally relevant athletics program.”
Applewhite spent seven seasons as an assistant at Texas before joining Herman’s staff. He was the co-offensive coordinator in his last four seasons with the Longhorns after working as assistant head coach for the first three seasons. The running backs had plenty of success under Applewhite’s guidance with their best season coming in 2011 when the group combined for 2,300 yards rushing and 23 touchdowns. A year later the team’s running backs combined for almost 2,000 yards rushing.
His time at Texas wasn’t without problems. Applewhite was disciplined in 2009 for what Texas called an “inappropriate” conduct with a student trainer on a bowl trip. Applewhite’s pay was frozen for a year and he was ordered to undergo counseling. He was later promoted to offensive coordinator.
The discipline wasn’t revealed until 2013, and now Applewhite’s case is a central element in a sex and race discrimination lawsuit filed by former women’s track coach Bev Kearney, who was forced out after it was revealed she’d had a relationship with one of her athletes. She claims that as a white male, Applewhite received favorable treatment.
Kearney’s lawsuit is pending before the Texas Supreme Court. Applewhite remains the only person deposed in the lawsuit, and his testimony and documents related to his discipline have been under court seal since 2014. He said in 2013 he was embarrassed by the incident, calling it a “one-time incident” and a “personal matter.”
Before joining the Longhorns, Applewhite spent the 2007 season as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Alabama, a season where he was the youngest coordinator in the FBS.
Applewhite spent some time in Houston before joining the Cougars when he was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Rice in 2006. That stop came after he spent one year as the quarterbacks coach at Syracuse in 2005.
His coaching career began at Texas where he worked with the offensive line for two seasons as a graduate assistant. That came after a playing career with the Longhorns where he went 22-8 as a starter and had 8,353 career yards passing and 60 touchdowns.