Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown episode on Houston airs tonight at 8pm

Anthony Bourdain and Slim Thug at MacGregor Park

It’s finally almost here! Anthony Bourdain has traveled the world for his show on food and culture, Parts Unknown, and the latest episode is on the unique city of Houston. The episode will air tonight (Sunday, Oct. 30th) at 8pm CST on CNN.

SLAB city mane: How we ride down in the H-Town

From the preview, it looks like Bourdain really took the time to understand Houston and what makes the city unique:

University of Screwston: Visiting the DJ Screw and Pen & Pixel collections at the University of Houston

Recently I decided to make the pilgrimage to the MD Anderson Library at the University of Houston to see the DJ Screw and Pen & Pixel Graphics collections within the Special Collections wing of the library. Houston has been one of the most important cities within the hip-hop genre and the University of Houston has had it’s share of musicians who once studied within its many buildings. Master P, Lil’ Wayne, Paul Wall, Chamillionaire, L.E.$., and The Nice Guys (who were my next door neighbors at Cullen Oaks many years ago) all studied at UH at one point, not to mention the Kenny Rogers himself was once a student. I also remember a young Riff Raff hustling mixtapes by the shuttle stop in front of PGH hall back around 2008 when I was waiting to catch a ride back to Cullen Oaks. Short of Berklee, few schools have as much history with musicians studying on it’s campus.

Lil Troy plaque outside the Special Collections room at UH Anderson Library
“Houston Rap” photography book on display inside the Special Collections room

The DJ Screw Papers

First I took a look at the DJ Screw papers which is a mix of photos and documents relating to the late deejay’s life. The collection is not behind a glass enclosure like in a museum but contained within several boxes that can only be viewed upon request from the Special Collections staff, who are all incredibly helpful and friendly.

Screw is lionized within Houston and the hip-hop community nationwide, rightfully, as one of the most innovative people ever to touch a set of turntables and it’s easy to forget that he was just a regular guy but viewing the papers made me realize his normalness. Screw was just a kid from Smithville, Texas who originally wanted to be nothing more than a truck driver like his father when he stumbled across his mother’s turntables and decided to teach himself how to scratch like he saw in the movie Breakin’. Eventually he would completely redefine the entire hip-hop genre and create a unique sound that is still being duplicated by countless musicians today.

[Note: This article will take a few minutes to load due to the amount of photos included. It’s best to wait for the page to finish loading before clicking into the photo galleries. I’ve marked the last photo in each gallery as “The End” so you know when you’ve seen everything. To see the larger version of an image, right-click and open image in a new tab.]

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The Pen & Pixel Collection

Pen & Pixel founders Aaron and Shawn Brauch displaying their uniquely gaudy artwork in an ad for their firm
Pen & Pixel founders Aaron and Shawn Brauch displaying their uniquely gaudy artwork in an ad for their design firm

Pen & Pixel Graphics was a graphics design firm from Houston that was most known for designing, primarily, southern hip-hop album covers in the 1990s and early 2000s. The firm was founded by brothers Aaron and Shawn Brauch who originally started doing artwork for Houston’s Rap-A-Lot Records and received so many requests for artwork they decided to build their own art studio in 1992. Aaron is an MBA from Cornell and Mensa member (wonder if he knows Tom Herman?) and Shawn has multiple design degrees and is a scuba-diving and sailing fanatic and now resides in Oregon.

[note: short video documentary on Pen and Pixel from Noisey below]

The artwork typically was all very over the top and gaudy. Any hip-hop head, whether they listened to southern rap or not, was inundated by the images of Pen & Pixel in countless advertisements in The Source magazine and in record stores during this era. Pen & Pixel handled the majority of album covers for No Limit Records, Cash Money Records, and Hypnotize Minds as well as an endless amount of other independent record companies and aspiring emcees. While the hip-hop game has always been dominated by New York and Los Angeles, independent upstarts in America’s flyover country had to have attention grabbing artwork to entice listeners with the potential of a dope record inside the case to get them to purchase their album.

One of the most memorable album covers from Pen & Pixel
One of the most memorable and over-the-top album covers from the Pen & Pixel era

The firm designed over 19,000 album covers for an estimated 6,000-8,000 clients who sold a cumulative 750 million albums and were awarded over 80 plaques form the RIAA from 1992 until 2003. The artwork they made personified the Bling era, including the cover for B.G.’s “Chopper City In The Ghetto” who’s song “Bling Bling” put the term in the pop culture lexicon and eventually into both Webster’s and Oxford. Although hip-hop was what made them a household name, the firm also produced work for Cher, Chris Rock, Destiny’s Child, Lyle Lovett, and ZZ Top.

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DJ Screw’s Personal Vinyl Collection

In this post I couldn’t possibly include pictures of every single vinyl record that Screw’s family donated to UH, nor every record from each artist mentioned, as Screw’s family donated nearly 5,000 of the late deejay’s records to the library and Julie Grob, the library’s Coordinator of Digital Projects & Instruction for Special Collections, and staff curated the collection down to 1,500, weeding out duplicates and LPs that were damaged. I’m trying to include photos of the ones I felt were the most significant to the this story and to the history of Houston and hip-hop. I was pleasantly surprised with what I found as the collection includes pretty much every important hip-hop and r&b album from the late eighties and nineties, up until Screw passed away on November 16th, 2000 at the incredibly young age of 29. There’s a few surprises like Marvin Gaye, Nirvana, Funkadelic, and Destiny’s Child.

A young kid from Smithville, Texas named Robert Davis, Jr discovered his mother’s turntables and taught himself to scratch records. Later in his high school years Davis would move to Houston to live with his father Robert Sr. The younger Davis, now calling himself DJ Screw, would continue to work on his turntable skills while working deejay gigs at local clubs and selling his own cassette tape mixes (known as “mixtapes”) on the side. Soon fate would intervene and alter Screw’s fate and the fate of Houston forever:

One day in 1989, he was mixing in his apartment with some friends. They were drinking and smoking marijuana and, according to Charles Washington, who would become Screw’s first manager, Screw accidentally hit the turntable’s pitch button, slowing everything down. Screw liked the way it sounded, though he was incredulous when one of his friends offered him $10 to record a slowed-down mix tape. “Screw thought the guy was crazy,” said Charles Washington. But he did it, and the next day Screw’s friend came back with a couple of friends, who also wanted slowed-down tapes.[1]

LPs from the SUC and other Houston artists:

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Soon enough the teenager’s slowed down Maxell cassette tapes began to spread across the city earning the young upstart an increasing amount of money. As Screw’s customer base grew across the region he began to receive custom mix requests and started giving a shoutout to various Houston neighborhoods on his tapes. Then he started taking the instrumentals of the songs he was mixing and allowed local up and coming rappers to rhyme on the tracks.

The tapes began to spread like wildfire outside Houston across the region and various Houston aspiring musicians would make themselves household names on the increasingly growing Houston underground hip-hop scene. Fat Pat, Lil Keke, ESG, Big Pokey, and Big Moe were just some of the young rappers in a sprawling, loosely connected group called the “Screwed Up Click” who would soon become known all across the south thanks to their freestyles over DJ Screw’s slowed down cassette tapes. Throughout this whole time he was making money hand over fist selling tapes, Screw was still selling the majority of tapes out of his house on Houston’s southside with cars lining the street for blocks to buy the tapes during the few hours the deejay left open for business. So many people were lining up to buy the tapes night after night the Houston police were called multiple times because so many neighbors assumed Screw was selling drugs.

Screw would receive multiple requests to start his record company over the years as his mixtape empire grew, but he always resisted. All he ever wanted to do was to put the city of Houston on the map and to expose our city’s unique culture to the rest of the world. That unique culture was the central topic of the freestyles on the Screw tapes, which typically consisted of talk about candy painted cars with swangers poking out the side, popped trunks exposed to show a slogan, swanging one’s car left to right down the street while driving real slow, sippin’ syrup, and general braggadocious street content.

Through the nineties as Screw music and Houston hip-hop culture began to boom in the underground, many other musicians across the south began to get national recognition. OutKast, Trick Daddy, Eightball & MJG, Master P and his No Limit Records, Three 6 Mafia, Cash Money Records, and several others began to sell millions of records and become prominent hip-hop acts.

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Final Thoughts

It was pretty surreal going through many of the different crates of Screw’s records. This collection is a near-complete cross section of nineties hip-hop from across the country, a lot of the music I grew up on and several others I would discover as I grew older. As fans we tend to pigeonhole artists into being only within the type of music they make. Looking through Screw’s records I’m reminded that musicians were fans of the music first and they typically listen to a wide variety. Deejays in particular tend to be on the forefront of music, especially hip-hop mixtape deejays like Screw who are always looking for the next instrumental to flip into a dope freestyle beat for their next tape. I mean, who the heck thought a Kris Kross song would become the most famous underground hip-hop record from Houston and be later remade by an upstart rapper from Toronto?

Even though Screw has passed on, others like Michael Watts from Swisha House and OG Ron C have continued the tradition of chopping and screwing the latest hip-hop tracks and releasing countless mixtapes. I moved to Houston in August 2004 right when the Swisha House track “Still Tippin” blew up and it was wild seeing Houston’s previously underground hip-hop scene getting national respect for the first time. A year later, to kickoff my sophomore year at UH, Paul Wall’s “The People Champ” dropped and referenced the Moody Towers in one of the songs, the same dorm that I was living in at the time the album was released. I was very fortunate to chop it up with Mr. Wall a few months ago and to tell him the story of how wild that whole time period was being a student at UH and being a fan of Houston hip-hop.

Special Thanks

A big special thanks to Ms. Julie Grob and the staff of the Special Collections at the University of Houston’s Anderson Library. Their friendliness and willingness to help me geek out for several hours and to pull countless crates of vinyl is much appreciated! I couldn’t have done it without their hospitality. Of course, even though I’ve never met them, a big thank you to the Davis family for donating the records to UH so the library can preserve Screw’s legacy.

The Special Collections room is open M-F 9-5 and on Saturdays from 12-4. More info on their website here. Be sure to check out some of their videos about the exhibit on YouTube.

Read more!

  1. The Slow Life and Fast Life of DJ Screw
  2. Syrupy Surprises: Random Selections From DJ Screw’s Personal Vinyl Collection
  3. History, Screwed and Chopped
  4. Letter of Recommendation: Pen & Pixel




Fear and Loathing on Cullen Boulevard

via the AP
via the AP

Hello darkness my old friend. Houston’s total and complete whoopin’ on Saturday night in Dallas shook the Coog fanbase to the core, re-triggering our PTSD that had been well hidden since the disastrous Levine era. The scoreboard read 38-16 at the end but it wasn’t even that close as SMU was up a convincing 28-7 at the half.

Not to be outdone by the meltdown on the field, many Coog fans have had themselves a near total meltdown on social media during and in the days following Saturday’s collapse. Multiple Coog fans have been gripped with a zest for conspiracy theories, rumor mongering, and general fear of the apocalypse not seen since, well, this current election season. Blame has been cast in many directions: At Coog assistants like offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, special teams and cornerbacks coach Jason Washington, and offensive line coach Derek Warehime who seemed to bear the brunt of the wrath of angry fans looking for a scapegoat. Nevermind that these coaches, and the units they coach, have had heavy losses since last season to graduation and this year to injuries, Coog fans have been calling for blood. I’m actually shocked that coach Warehime was able to keep the Coogs offensive line together for this long, considering how many injuries the unit suffered last season. I didn’t expect he’d be able to keep things duct-taped together enough last year for Ward and company to roll through the AAC title and on to a Peach Bowl win. Honestly, I thought Memphis and Cincinnati were going to beat us and Herman would have a nice nine or ten win debut season. The Jack Boys secondary lost Trevon Stewart, Adrian McDonald, and William Jackson III in the offseason so nobody should be surprised that the new unit will take time to play at the same level as last season’s squad.

In addition to blaming random assistant coaches, many Coog fans have been spewing conspiracies that the players aren’t motivated because Tom Herman has already accepted a job at UT or LSU, whichever Twitter rumor you prefer. The rumor goes: The Coogs have looked bad since Navy (or Cincinnati, again depending on the rumor) and it’s because the players know Herman is already out the door. Coaches don’t typically interview for jobs in late September or October so this rumor seems especially silly. This idea that the University of Texas has already decided to fire their head coach in October and already has an agreement with their next coach is completely batshit crazy. This is Texas for goodness sakes: Should there be an opening, the Longhorns will likely take their time and interview multiple candidates. I’d be shocked if UT doesn’t talk to David Shaw, Chris Petersen, Mike Gundy, Gary Patterson, and former UT assistant Bryan Harsin. In fact, looking at that list, Herman isn’t and shouldn’t be at the top of UT’s wish list. Just look at coaching salaries: Charlie Strong is #6 and Chris Petersen is #25. Why not offer to double Petersen’s salary? That’d be a hell of a hire for UT and his resume blows Herman’s out the water.

Also, consider if Herman wanted to leave Houston for another job, why in the hell would he make that decision in October? He’d most likely have his agent field multiple offers from all over the country towards the end of the season once there are actual job openings. The only opening now of that caliber is LSU, the UT job isn’t even open yet and we don’t know which other programs will have openings. What if the Oregon or USC jobs come open and offer a lot more money than UT? There’s nothing to gain by him making a decision now, especially when he needs to focus on keeping the Coogs from having a total collapse to the season. If the Coogs can’t get out of this tailspin then his leverage goes out the door, again if he wanted to leave.

Comparisons are being made to the Kevin Sumlin exit in 2011, but Sumlin was in discussions with Texas A&M in late November near the end of Houston’s 2011 season. Also, Sumlin interviewing was reported by actual journalists from reputable news organizations, not random Twitter accounts who don’t even cover college football and have less than 100 followers. If a journalist who gets paid a salary to write about college football, like Joseph Duarte, doesn’t report on it, then it’s probably bullshit and not worth worrying about.

The strangest part of all of the blame-gaming is the fact that Herman has been largely spared from any criticism. Herman seems to be held in some deity-level status that absolves him of any criticism or blame. If those assistant coaches are at fault for the Coogs’ collapse, then why not the man who hired them? Why is nobody wondering why in the world did Herman needlessly tape SMU jersey’s to the floor last year and then openly mock them to the media earlier this Spring? SMU coach Chad Morris is a hell of a coach who cut his teeth in Texas before running Clemson’s high-flying offense. Morris will likely be a very good Big 12 coach before the decade is out and Herman gave him and the Mustangs players some bulletin board material before Saturday night’s matchup.  The moment you don’t take an opponent seriously is how Texas State smacks you down 30-13 in your own stadium. Herman decided to let his mouth write a check his team couldn’t cash and the ‘Stangs had extra motivation to embarrass the Coogs and did so.

Herman won a conference title and the Peach Bowl last year with Tony Levine’s players and has done a great job recruiting since taking the job on Cullen Boulevard. The blowout up in Dallas last weekend should never have happened and makes me wonder how good of a coach Herman actually is. The guy who is considered to be the next Urban Meyer or Nick Saban barely beat Tulsa,  got whooped by SM freakin’ U, and couldn’t figure out how to slow down the Navy triple option. Herman may very well be the next Meyer but he also could just as easily be the next Brady Hoke or Charlie Weiss, both who had strong first seasons before ultimately getting fired. Herman has still only been on Cullen Boulevard for a season and a half and we don’t have a big enough of a sample size to really know how good of a coach he is.

Truthfully, I think Herman is potentially a fantastic coach, but I’d be more comfortable believing that after watching him coach successfully at UH for five seasons or more. I believe the reason the Coogs have lost their swagger on the field the past few weeks is due to injuries and losing several key playmakers in the offseason. Herman simply hasn’t had time to recruit enough depth at key positions. The SMU game showed that Houston has depth issues at multiple positions and will need another recruiting cycle or two to get back to championship level football. I can’t wait to see what the Coogs will look like after Herman has three or four full recruiting cycles under his belt and hopefully Herman stays long enough for us to do so.

University of Houston to retire jersey #7 for David Klingler and Case Keenum before UCF game

via Joseph Duarte on Twitter

The Houston Cougars football program will retire jersey #7 for in honor of both David Klingler and Case Keenum, legendary Coog quarterbacks. The jersey retirement ceremony will commence before the UH-UCF game on October 29th at TDECU Stadium.

More info from the official University of Houston press release:

Keenum ended his collegiate career in 2011, leading Houston to a 13-1 record and a win over Penn State in the TicketCity Bowl while winning the Sammy Baugh Trophy for a second time after claiming the honor in 2009. A finalist for the Davey O’Brien Award both years, Keenum earned Second Team All-America honors from and Walter Camp in 2009 while earning Honorable Mention All-America honors from Sports Illustrated in 2011.

Named Conference USA’s MVP in 2009 and 2011, Keenum was also named the league’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2008 and its Freshman of the Year in 2007. He was the NCAA’s leader in total offense in 2008 (403.2 yards per game), 2009 (416.4) and 2011 (404.7), leading Houston to the nation’s best in total offense in 2009 (563.4) and 2011 (599.1). Led by Keenum, Houston also led in the nation in scoring and passing offense in both 2009 and 2011.

Currently the starting quarterback for the Los Angeles Rams, Keenum owns 17 NCAA records, including total offense in a career (20,114 yards), career touchdown passes (155), career 300-yard passing games (39), career passing yards (19,217) and career pass completions (1,546). He is the winningest quarterback in Houston history with 37 wins in 51 starts.

Not to be outdone, Klingler owns 15 NCAA records, most notably for passing touchdowns in a single game with 11 vs. Eastern Washington on Nov. 17, 1990. It was one of five career games for Klingler with at least seven touchdown passes. One of those games, 1991 vs. Louisiana Tech, saw Klingler throw an NCAA-record eight touchdowns in a single quarter, the second quarter.

Klingler also owns the NCAA record for average passing yards per game as he averaged 467.3 passing yards per game in 1990, a season in which he would win the Sammy Baugh Trophy. Also a finalist for the Davey O’Brien Award that same year, Klingler was named the 1990 Southwest Conference Offensive Player of the Year and was a Third-Team Associated Press All-American.

Klingler was the 1990 NCAA individual champion in total offense with an NCAA-record average of 474.6 yards per game en route to leading Houston to the team championship in total offense (586.8), passing offense (473.9) and scoring (46.5).

The sixth overall pick in the 1992 NFL Draft by the Cincinnati Bengals, Klingler spent six seasons on the professional level, four with the Bengals and two with the Oakland Raiders. After earning a master’s degree in theology and a Ph.D. in Old Testament studies from Dallas Theological Seminary, Klingler now serves as an associate professor of Bible Exposition at DTS.

The two are eligible for jersey retirement having met at least two of the Houston Football retired jersey stipulations listed below.

• Inducted into College Football Hall of Fame
• Major National Award Winner
• Consensus All-American
• Conference Most Valuable Player/Player of the Year
• Three-time All-Conference First Team member
• Hold at least 5 NCAA Records for at least 10 years

No. 7 is the third jersey to be retired by the Houston Football program, joining No. 11 worn by 1989 Heisman Trophy winner Andre Ware and No. 78 worn by 1976 Lombardi Award winner Wilson Whitley. Both Ware and Whitley are members of the College Football Hall of Fame.

True freshman receiver Marquez Stevenson and cornerback Patrick Rosette will be the last players to wear No. 7 and will switch jersey numbers following the 2016 season.

[h/t to Joseph Duarte for reporting this story first]

Houston Athletics: Major Without a Major Deal

via Houston Athletics
via Houston Athletics

As had been strongly rumored in the past month or so the Big 12 conference decided not to expand earlier this week. Instead of adding two or four members to insulate the conference better from poachers the conference decided to remain content in mediocrity. No real surprise there as the conference looked completely lost during the last major round of expansion in 2010-12, missing out on Louisville and settling for West Virginia and TCU at the last minute.

While I was wrong about the Big 12 expanding and including Houston in those plans, I was right about the Big 12 strongly considering Houston in those discussions. Up until the non-announcement a few days ago Houston was largely considered one of the expansion frontrunners alongside Cincinnati and BYU. I’m proud to say that CardiacCoogs was on the forefront of those discussions before any other publication and, possibly due to pure dumb luck, was correct about what the Big 12 (and eventually national college football journalists) would find appealing about Houston’s candidacy.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Nobody knows what the college athletics landscape will look like in a decade, but it’s entirely possible the Big 12 won’t exist in its current form and may even lose its “power conference” status if the league sees departures from Kansas, Oklahoma, and/or Texas. Unless one of the other major conferences decides to get very aggressive in the next year or two (such as the Pac 12 snatching up some Texas schools to expand their tv network) it’s more likely we won’t see any major changes until the current tv contracts are about to expire in the early part of the next decade.

The best the Houston Cougars faithful can hope for is Khator and Fertitta continue to work hard in continuing to grow the university and improve both our athletics and academics. We might not be Power 5 in designation or in revenue, but we can be Power 5 in mentality. We can continue to push to be the best of the Group of 5 and hope the rest of our leadership keeps us on track to duplicate the on-field football successes seen at Boise State, Louisville, Utah, and TCU the past fifteen years. If the Coogs can continue to play at a high level consistently, then many of the major conferences may end up wanting to add the Houston market to add tv viewers and open a recruiting pipeline to their conference.

What About Herman?

I’m actually least concerned about Tom Herman’s future throughout this whole process. He’ll certainly be offered a fat raise and extension in the coming weeks and if he still decides to leave, then that’s his prerogative. Look at those schools I mentioned before: Boise, Louisville, TCU, and Utah. Boise and Louisville particularly have had multiple coaches over the past fifteen years, but have still been able to continue to maintain a high level of success due to the culture established and the strong leadership at those universities. Houston is in a much better recruiting region and may have a higher ceiling than both programs, P5 or not. As long as the university has strong leaders then the athletics programs will follow.

We Can Still Win National Championships Here

One of the things Tom Herman has said in interviews is he has an easier road at Houston to the New Years Six bowl games than he would at a major program. If the Coogs win the AAC and have a higher ranking than every other G5 program, they’re guaranteed a NY6 bowl game. That’s tons of exposure and money for the university. If Herman were to guide the Coogs to three NY6 bowl games in five years at UH, he’d have a better resume than 95% of coaches in the country. And if the Coogs can strike it hot at the perfect time, they could sneak into the playoffs in future seasons, especially given the parity prevalent in the major conferences will likely lead to some two or three loss conference champions.

There are very few college football programs that realistically have a shot at winning a national title. Even blue blood programs like Texas, Notre Dame, and Tennessee have only one national title each in the past thirty years. If any G5 program would be able to recruit well enough to have a team that could get into the playoffs and get on a hot streak and with the national title, it’s the Houston Cougars. If the #HTownTakeover has proven anything it’s that the Coogs are the hot newcomer on the scene and all it takes is a few top recruits like Ed Oliver, Colin Wilder, and D’Eriq King to open the floodgates. Why go to Waco or Lubbock when you can stay in Houston and have a lot more fun and play in front of your family and friends in the process? The Coogs aren’t that far away from being a top-30 recruiting program within the next few years.

Across Campus

I’m extremely optimistic that Kelvin Sampson and staff will turn the Coogs basketball team into a team that’s good enough to compete in the NCAA Tournament. There’s zero reason why the Coogs can’t, at minimum, be a sweet sixteen contender for the next several years. Todd Whitting has done an excellent job with Houston baseball and I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of his teams get hot and go all the way to Omaha in the next few years.

Coog fans have been packing TDECU this season and have been making a lot of noise, but we won’t even be considered again for a potential P5 invite if we don’t also support Houston basketball and baseball. Our basketball attendance as been particularly dismal and Coach Sampson has done a tremendous job rebuilding one of the worst programs in the country and deserves our support.

The Future Is Bright

Ultimately having the best coaches and the best school leadership is only part of the battle: Students and alumni have to show up in full force for our sports programs, and not just when we’re winning. If Herman leaves and there’s a flood of season ticket cancellations, then we have nobody to blame but ourselves if our program slumps. It’s up to the fans to show the college athletics world that we’re not fair weather fans and that we’re Coogs for life, win or lose. We can’t control the insanity of college athletics realignment but we can control our support of our university.

The title of this article is “Major Without a Major Deal” which was a Swisha House slogan back in the early 2000’s when they were a powerful independent record company in Houston before they signed their major record label distribution deal with Asylum/Warner. Instead of waiting on a major label to discover them and offer a less-than-ideal contract, Swisha House knew if they sold enough records and had enough of a fanbase they’d have a multiple record deals offered in no time and would likely be able to dictate their own terms. That’s the mentality we need to take: Don’t complain about not being in a major conference, focus on being the best non-major program in the country. If we keep supporting our programs and keep winning, eventually we’ll have several major conferences knocking on our door and we’ll be able to dictate Power 5 membership on our own terms.

Houston now #4 in rushing defense, #7 in total defense, and #19 in total offense

via USA Today Sports
via USA Today Sports

In spite of the defensive meltdown Saturday afternoon in Annapolis (serious, what the heck happened?), the Houston Cougars and their Third Ward Defense still have impressive stats on the season. The rushing defense dropped from first in the nation to fourth and total defense is now seventh. Both are still very impressive and hopefully the Navy game was an outlier and things get back to normal Saturday verses Tulsa.

The Houston offense is now nineteenth overall thanks to Greg Ward Jr being 32 of 50 on passing with three touchdowns but unfortunately made a few too many mistakes with two interceptions. Ward Jr did add 94 yards on 17 carries and one rushing touchdown. In spite of the impressive numbers there were some horribly thrown passes and some the receivers simply dropped others.

If Houston has aspirations of another big time bowl game both the offense and defense will need to tighten up soon as the Coogs are now getting into the meat of their heated divisional games. Let’s hope the Navy game ends up being like last year’s UConn game and the team can fix their weak points and get back to dominating the rest of the season!

Nobody Cares, Work Harder

via USA Today Sports
via USA Today Sports

Oh you thought this was going to be easy? You thought a #6 AP ranking in the early October meant anything? You thought the Coogs were just going to blow out everyone on our schedule and waltz into another conference title and another playoff bid? Sorry, doesn’t work like that.

College football is the greatest sport because every single game matters. There are no 9-7 champions. One missed tackle, one errant throw, one blocked kick can be the difference between a big time bowl game on New Years Eve and or a lesser tiered bowl game that’s gone through five sponsors in five years.

These Houston Cougars? Not your father’s underdog squad any more. These Coogs beat Florida State and Oklahoma recently and now have a big fat target on their back. Every one of our opponents has the Houston game circled on their calendar and is going to try and knock us off just like Navy did. We’re the alpha dog on the block and everyone is gunning for our spot. Everyone wants to be the next champion.

We took a licking but the season still rolls on. It’s not how you get knocked down but how you get back up. Every rep matters in the weight room and in practice. These players have to ask themselves: How bad do they really want it? Do they really want to repeat as conference champs and to go to another NY6 bowl game? Do they really, really want it, or do they just kinda want it? If they really want it they’ll realize the Coogs are still in the hunt for the division title and they will keep pushing on going 1-0 each week. That’s what that slogan means. The Navy game is done.. it’s time to focus on Tulsa who’s 4-1 and undefeated in conference play if you haven’t noticed. But if they just kinda want it, but don’t want it that bad, then we’re in for a long season because Tulsa, Memphis, and Louisville are all chomping at the bit to assert their dominance. Not to mention SMU, Tulane, and UCF all have first or second year coaches who could really use a win over Houston to keep them off the hot seat. If we win all the rest of our conference games and Navy loses two conference games then Houston will return to the AAC title game.

And us fans? We gotta ask ourselves the same question: How bad do we want it? Do we really want Houston to be considered one of the best college football programs in the country, the next TCU or Louisville? Do we really want to have the best gameday experience in the G5? Do we really want Coach Herman to stay? If we do we’ll show Herman and the coaching staff that we’re here to support the program through thick and thin and we’re here to show up in full force every Saturday. Nobody respects the city of Houston’s sports scene: They think we’re fair weather and front runners. Now’s the chance to prove them wrong. I don’t care how much Herman thinks Houston is the next Miami, if TDECU isn’t sold out then it’s our own fault if he leaves. The players feed off our energy and if we’re apathetic and the stadium isn’t full then the players’ performance will reflect that.

No excuses because nobody cares. Just work harder.

Tom Herman and hot girlfriend syndrome

via ABC13
Let Austin pretend it’s weird. We’re gonna Keep Houston Trill. via ABC13

Tom Herman coaching at the University of Houston is like dating a really hot girl and everyone expects her to leave you for someone else. At first other people are coming up to you saying, “Hey, she’s way out of your league.” and you laugh and say “Thanks!” But then people keep saying it and are openly discussing her leaving you for someone else in front of you like, “She’s totally going to dump him and be married to a 6’4″ doctor one day”, and you give a forced smile and don’t say anything out of politeness. Instead of them just letting you two be a happy couple and enjoying your time together they’re still openly trying to get your girlfriend to date someone else after nearly two years. I mean, you weren’t the prom king or the starting quarterback but you think you’re a decent catch and you got a good-ass job and why can’t people just be happy for you?

Other people aren’t used to you being viewed as successful or getting any recognition and are now naturally jealous of your success, so you can’t enjoy your newfound success without other people trying to knock you down to their level. Bunch of got damned crabs in a bucket. I mean, even if nobody else realizes how good of a catch you are, you know that there’s got to be other attractive women out there who finally see your potential, even if miss ex-prom queen leaves you for the starting-quarterback-turned-pediatrician after all.

That’s how it feels as a Houston fan with Tom Herman as our coach: Nobody outside of our fanbase is really happy for our success and they can’t wait for Tom Herman to leave us for another football program. Everyone can’t stop telling us how our program will immediately fall off, never mind that three of our last four coaching hires were Art Briles, Kevin Sumlin, & Herman and we’re likely to find another kickass replacement if Herman left.

It’s like people think Houston football didn’t start until 2015. Forget the Bill Yeoman era and the veer offense, or the Run and Shoot, or Andre Ware’s Heisman Trophy, or multiple Southwest Conference titles, or Kevin Kolb and the Art Briles air raid offense, or Kevin Sumlin turning Case Keenum loose so he could morph into the greatest statistical quarterback in college football history. Nope, none of that happened.

Don’t Forget How Strong UH’s Leadership Is

Tom Herman didn’t hire himself: He was either hired by former UH AD Mack Rhoades or the well funded UH boosters (depending on whom you believe) but the point is it takes strong leadership and football acumen to hire a Tom Herman in the first place. Rhoades left Cullen Boulevard but his deputy Hunter Yurachek is now our Athletic Director and has done a very good job continuing Houston’s successes while in the top spot. Yurachek has particularly been instrumental pushing for improvements in Houston’s athletic facilities and increasing UH season ticket sales.

In addition to Yurachek, the university has an extremely powerful booster in Tilman Fertitta who also serves as the Chairman of the Board of Regents. Fertitta has been very vocal putting the university on the map and the world’s richest restauranteur now has his own national tv reality show which he can use to promote the UH brand to the rest of the country. I wouldn’t be shocked if Bauer and the Wolff Center (both of which this author is a graduate of) saw an increase in applications from around the country after watching Billion Dollar Buyer.

Last but not least, President and Chancellor Renu Khator has been the single biggest reason the University of Houston has gone from a little respected commuter school to having the second highest number of students living on campus in Texas and also being a Carnegie Tier 1 university (were you aware UH is Tier 1?). The campus and university is so drastically different than when I was a freshman in 2004 it’s astonishing to really think about it. The biggest change is the level of respect us Cougars have for ourselves and the rest of the city has for us compared to before Khator was hired in 2008. I’d be far more worried about UH’s future if Khator left than Herman.

The Cold Reality

The cold reality of the college football world is this is a business. One where head coaches make millions of dollars and have agents that take a percentage of the value of the contract as opposed to a flat fee. When a coach like Les Miles or Charlie Strong could be fired or even on the hot seat then every coach knows they’re only as good as their last win. They’re going to try and accumulate as much money as possible before they burn out and/or flame out. For every Urban Meyer there’s fifty Ron Turners. Gotta stack that paper while your name is still hot.

That doesn’t mean I think Herman is automatically out the door, I doubt even he knows what he’s going to do. Likely he’s staying silent and giving the same generic denials because his agent will be able to play hardball and increase his salary after this season. It’s up to UH and Fertitta to open their pocketbooks and match any offer, which they’re rumored to be working on right now.

It would be hilarious if Herman was remaining silent on the coaching rumors to create instability in our rival programs. Herman is now good enough that UH is recruiting against the Texas’ and LSUs of the world (Ed Oliver was not an outlier; he’s just the beginning) for many of the same players. It behooves Houston for neighbors like LSU and Texas to think they have a chance at hiring Herman and to create instability in their 2017 recruiting commitments. Let them fire Les Miles because they think they can hire Herman and then eventually settle for a washout like Lane Kiffin once Herman signs the inevitable extension in a few weeks.

The Grass Isn’t Always Greener

I do have no doubt that Herman and every other coach in college football has a slight uneasy feeling about what just happened to Les Miles at LSU. Don’t forget Miles was 114-34 in Baton Rouge with a national championship and was just canned midseason after several months of indecision from Athletic Director Joe Alleva. They’re also watching how various people with the University of Texas are anonymously trashing Charlie Strong through the media when he’s only four games through his third season in Austin. UT is a great job and Strong has been giving the Horns a much needed makeover but the batshit crazy expectations of fans and boosters will have him out before his first recruiting class even makes it to senior year. This isn’t an Ellis Johnson situation, Strong still knows how to coach. Strong, like Herman, is an Urban Meyer disciple and I have no doubt he’ll give Herman the inside scoop about the backstabbing if he feels UT behaves scummy over the next few months.

The University of Michigan couldn’t wait to get rid of Rich Rodriguez after three years and ended up with Brady Hoke. Notre Dame ran off Tyrone Willingham because they thought they could hire former assistant Urban Meyer from undefeated Utah and ended up settling on Charlie Weiss when Meyer rightly decided to stay away from the insane boosters and unrealistic expectations in South Bend. Patience is a virtue.

Just because Texas, LSU, and Southern Cal have more money and are bigger programs than Houston doesn’t mean they have stable, competent leadership to guide their programs towards national championships. Many close watchers of the LSU program are embarrassed about the total mismanagement displayed by athletic director Alleva. Why would Herman want to get involved in that? Austin isn’t any better considering UT’s athletic director is a Houston attorney named Mike Perrin. Perrin is in the middle of many power struggles within the UT campus and likely can’t keep their notoriously fickle boosters in line. Remember when Red McCombs said Charlie Strong would be a good position coach and maybe a coordinator?  When those statements were made in 2014 Srong had almost the exact same resume as Herman does now, except he won two national championships working for Urban Meyer, not just one. The fuss was all because McCombs wanted Jon “Hasn’t been relevant since 2002” Gruden.

And If Herman Does Leave?

Honestly I’m not worried if Herman does leave. Maybe that’s naive but I’d be much more worried if Khator left or if Fertitta suddenly got bored being UH’s sugar daddy. Every single top up-and-coming coach sees the potential of the University of Houston’s football program after watching the past two seasons if they didn’t see it already during the Briles and Sumlin eras. We’ve got some great in-house candidates who could pickup the mantle, like Todd Orlando, or we could snag another top assistant or head coach (not Lane Kiffin or Art Briles, pls).

Ultimately only Herman knows what he’s going to do and it’s useless trying to speculate or worry. In the meantime I’m sitting back and enjoying the ride being the scrappy little kid punching above his weight class. Focus on #1-0 each week and let’s beat Navy!

Houston now 10-1 odds to win the national championship, tied for fifth best

via Houston Athletics
via Houston Athletics

Twitter user @CFBN0W has the Houston Cougars currently at 10/1 odds of winning the college football national championship this season which has the Coogs tied for fifth best in the country with Michigan and Louisville. The full rankings:

via CFBN0w
via @CFBN0W

CFN has Greg Ward Jr second in the current Heisman standings

College Football News has Houston quarterback Greg Ward Jr in second place in the Heisman standings behind Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson. Bruce Feldman of FoxSports has Ward Jr. in third place and ESPN’s Heisman Watch has him in fifth place. Ward Jr is looking to become the second UH football player to win the Heisman, the first of course being Andre Ware in 1989.