Houston Cougars football coach candidate list

via USA TODAY Sports
via USA TODAY Sports

Tom Herman is gone to Austin and the Houston Cougars are now on the market for a new head coach. I’ll have more thoughts recapping the Herman era in the coming days, for now, here’s a list of potential replacements to take over the Coogs’ head coaching position. Some of these names have been rumored in the media, some will be pure speculation on my part, and the list is by no means comprehensive but I’ll try to keep it updated as much as possible… so keep checking back. Also, the list is in no particular order.

Updates – Added three more potential candidates at the bottom. Also, a few people expressed surprise there are some current P5 coaches listed. These coaches are all rumored to be in the mix for the UH opening by respectable journalists. All are coaching at lower-tiered P5 programs and may be sick of not being able to be the big dog in the conference. The Houston opening is better than about half of the Power Five. This is not a discussion about money, but in case you care: Of the still employed coaches, only the recently added Dan Mullen made more money last year than Tom Herman.

Mike Leach – Head Coach of Washington State – Leach is 55 but has been a head coach since 2000. Leach is one of the most innovative offensive minds in college football being the prime inventor, with Hal Mumme, of the spread/air raid offense. Leach has deep Texas roots coaching at Texas Tech from 2000-09 and going 84-43. Leach has been at Washington State since 2012 and has turned around one of the worst FBS programs in the country to be 8-4 this year and 9-4 last season. The Cougars from the northwest were a loss to Washington away from going to the Pac 12 title game this season. The Pirate has never won a division title but would be a strong hire for the Coogs if he got bored of the Palouse. Leach would certainly be one of the most entertaining hires Houston could make and would crank things up to eleven on offense.

Dana Holgorsen – Head Coach of West Virginia – Holgorsen is only 45 years old and is part of the Mike Leach coaching tree. He was also Houston’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach from 2008-09. Holgorsen mentored a young Case Keenum before moving on to the same position at Oklahoma State and on to become West Virginia’s head coach in 2011. Holgorsen hasn’t won too much at West Virginia but has guided the Mountaineers to an impressive 2016 season. He’d bring a high octane offense and would be likely to keep the Coogs on pace for more 10+ win seasons. Holgorsen is reportedly fond of the city of Houston and it would be interesting to see what he could do with the talent in the H.

Les Miles – Former LSU head coach – No seriously, Miles is a bit old at 63 but had been a head coach since 2001. Miles went 28-21 at Oklahoma State before getting hired to coach at LSU in 2005. Miles went 114-34 at LSU in 11 1/4 seasons before wearing out his welcome. Miles guided LSU to two SEC titles and two national title game appearances, winning the 2007 BCS national title. Miles has guided his teams to a bowl game every season since 2002. In spite of his age, if Miles can hire a better offensive coordinator than Cam Cameron, he may be able to keep the Coogs recent successes going. UH could do a lot worse than going to a bowl every season and Miles is a great recruiter and motivator. He’d need a solid X & O’s assistant coach under him, though.

Art Briles – Disgraced and Humiliated – Don’t you put that evil on me Ricky Bobby! Briles was the head coach at UH from 2003-07 going 34-28 in the process and turned around the once dormant Houston program, winning the 2006 conference title. Briles did an even better coaching job turning the Baylor Bears into one of the best programs in college football, going 65-37 from 2008-2015 and winning two conference titles in the process. The Bears were as dreadful (maybe even worse) as Kansas is right now before Briles arrived. From a pure football perspective, Briles is the best coach available. That being said, Briles was fired in the midst of the worst scandal since Penn State and hasn’t shown any true remorse for his lack of institutional control of the football program. Briles never apologized until stories started leaking out that he wanted to coach again. Expect many thinly-veiled PR fluff stories in the next few weeks how “changed” he is and “regretful” he is about what happened at Baylor. If UH has any morals they should show we have some gotdamn self-respect and stay the hell away from Art Briles. Expect a flood of season ticket cancellations if Briles is hired.

Todd Orlando – Houston Defensive Coordinator – Orlando has done a great job as Houston’s defensive coordinator these past two seasons. He also served as dc at Utah State, FIU, and UConn before Houston. He’d be a solid and safe hire and, in the few times I’ve seen him speak, seems like he has head coach written all over him. Orlando might not get the same level of headlines that Herman got, but he’d be able to keep the Coog train rolling. And don’t be scared about hiring from within…. as long as we don’t promote the special teams coach.

Major Applewhite – Houston Offensive Coordinator – The 38-year-old has done a respectable job as Houston’s OC, even though depth issues along the o-line have hurt the Coogs’ offense this year. Applewhite was previously co-OC at Texas from 2011-13 and was OC at Alabama and Rice in previous years. Applewhite was one of the rising coaching prospects in the industry until he had “an inappropriate relationship with a student at the 2009 Fiesta Bowl” which is a way of saying he cheated on his wife with a UT athletic trainer. Applewhite might do a decent job as head coach, but he does come with a bit of baggage, albeit far less than Briles: One mistake seven years ago is slightly different than multiple years of distasteful behavior.

Joe Moglia – Coastal Carolina head coach – Wildcard! Moglia was Chairman and CEO of TD Ameritrade where he made millions on Wall Street. Moglia then turned in his P&L statements for a headset and got hired as a head coach of the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers. Using the same skills he used to use to motivate as a CEO, Moglia has gone 50-15 as the head man in Conway, South Carolina. Now, why would the Coogs be interested in the 67-year-old coach of an FCS program? Moglia was originally hired by current Houston athletic director Hunter Yurachek. If Moglia was a decade younger he’d likely get more consideration for Houston top job, but he may at least be able to convince his old boss for at least a courtesy interview.

Sonny Dykes – Cal head coach – A Mike Leach disciple, he’ll probably push hard for the UH job, but he’s never won anything. Dykes went 22-15 at Louisiana Tech and has gone 18-30 at Berkeley. Reportedly contacted about Houston’s opening back in 2012, he’d be a desperate hire for the Coogs in 2016.

Lane Kiffin – Alabama offensive coordinator – The controversial and polarizing Kiffin is still only 41 years old. Currently serving as Alabama’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Kiffin went 28-15 as the head coach at USC and a respectable 7-6 in one season at Tennessee. Kiffin also coached 20 games with the Oakland Raiders nearly a decade ago. Kiffin would keep the media interested in Cullen Boulevard and would bring some innovative offenses and strong recruiting. He’s more likely to end up as LSU’s offensive coordinator, but may soon be a head coach again.

Brent Venables – Clemson DC and LB coach – The 45-year-old Venables has been a top defensive coordinator and linebackers coach since 1999(!). He currently coaches at Clemson and was at Oklahoma from 1999-2011. Venables is one of the major reasons why the Tigers have been dominant the past few seasons. Clemson coordinator Chad Morris has done an excellent job at SMU the past two seasons and it’s only a matter of time before Venables gets hired to take over a program as HC. He’d be another Herman-like hire: A big time P5 coordinator getting his first HC gig.

Sonny Cumbie – TCU co-OC and QB coach – The 35-year-old Cumbie was a quarterback under Mike Leach from 2000-04 and is a fast rising star in the coaching ranks. Cumbie was co-OC at Tech in 2013 and has been co-OC and quarterbacks coach at TCU since 2014. Would be a decent hire, but more of a gamble on a very young coaching prospect who doesn’t have a ton of experience as a coordinator. Expect him to be a head coach somewhere soon, most likely a G5 program.

Doug Meacham – TCU co-OC / iWR – The 51-year-old Meacham has been TCU’s co-offensive coordinator since 2014 and was Houston’s coordinator in 2013. He previously cut his teeth as an assistant at Oklahoma State from 2005-2012. This would be an average hire: Not great, but not awful.

Joe Moorhead – Penn State OC & QB coach – Moorhead has done a respectable job as Penn State’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach but has only been in Happy Valley for one season. Before that, Moorhead went 38-13 as FCS Fordham’s head coach. He’s mostly an east coast guy so he’d probably be more in-line for a job for a program out on that side of the country.

Dino Babers – Syracuse head coach – The Art Briles prodigy would be an interesting hire for Houston since Babers spent 2008-11 as an assistant in Waco. Babers went 19-7 at Eastern Illinois coaching Jimmy Garoppolo in the process. He then went 18-9 at Bowling Green before taking over the Syracuse job a year ago. He’s only gone 4-7 with the Orange this season but the team was in the dumps when he got there and managed a solid upset of #17 Virginia Tech this season. He’d have to think Syracuse is hopeless to leave so quick for a G5 program.

Lincoln Riley – Oklahoma OC/QB coach – If you can’t beat the Third Ward D, might as well join them? Riley is only 33 years old and might not have the experience the Coogs would need to take over the program. He’s been at Oklahoma for two seasons, was at East Carolina from 2010-14. Would be more a hire based on potential than anything.

Philip Montgomery – Tulsa head coach – Montgomery was Houston’s coordinator under Art Briles from 2005-07 and was an assistant at UH for two seasons before that. Montgomery followed Briles to Waco and was Baylor’s coordinator from 2008-14, coaching RG3 to the Heisman, before taking over the head coaching job at Tulsa. Not sure why he’d make a lateral move to Houston but expect his name to be rumored to be in the mix. I could see him taking over at Baylor before moving back to Houston. He’s done a decent job turning around the Golden Hurricanes, though, winning nine games this season and nearly beating the Coogs.

Tim Drevno – Michigan OC/OL – Drevno has done an excellent job as Jim Harbaugh’s offensive coordinator the past two years up in Ann Arbor. Drevno was also an assistant under Harbaugh with the 49ers from 2011-13, at Stanford from 2007-10, and at San Diego from 2003-06. He’ll likely be a head coach somewhere in the next few seasons.

Greg Schiano – Ohio State DC & AHC – The last Ohio State coordinator the Coogs hired did a pretty decent job on Cullen, why not duplicate that success? Schiano has only been at Ohio State for one season but previously turned around the atrocious Rutgers Scarlet Knights from 2001-11, making them relevant enough to eventually become a Big Ten team. Schiano was only 68-67 up in New Jersey but Rutgers was considered one of the worst programs in the history of college football. Schiano oddly left for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and was an 11-21 disaster, but will likely get another head coaching job soon in college football. Before Rutgers, Schiano was DC at Miami for two seasons under Butch Davis and took over Rutgers the year Miami dominated college football and won the national title. He’s only 50 years old and will still have some good years left in him.

Gene Chizik – North Carolina DC – Coach Chizik went 5-19 at Iowa State before somehow landing the Auburn head coaching job, where he went 33-19. Chizik won the 2010 national title thanks to Cam Newton and was fired just two years later after going 3-9. Not sure if he is even a good head coach, but the 54-year-old might be a decent hire for a lower level G5 program.

Randy Shannon – Florida co-DC & LB – The 50-year-old Shannon has spent nearly his entire career in the state of Florida, serving as an assistant for the Miami Hurricanes from 1991-97 and as defensive coordinator from 2001-06 before taking over as head coach of The U from 2007-10. His Hurricane teams struggled on offense and he was fired after going 28-22. Shannon resurfaced at TCU as linebackers coach, then at Arkansas for two seasons in the same position, and is now back in the state of Florida running defense for the Gators. Might not be a good fit for Houston due to his weak ties in the state of Texas, but will likely get another shot at being a head coach one day.

Charlie Strong – Former Texas HC – Strong was just fired as the Texas head coach to make room for Tom Herman. There are some people who may link him to the Houston job, but I doubt the boosters would make the move to hire him. Regardless of how poorly he was treated in Austin, I see coach Strong taking a year off and enjoying that fat $11+ million buyout before taking another job.

Dan Mullen – Mississippi State head coach – Coach Mullen was the original Tom Herman and served as Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator at Florida, most notably turning Tim Tebow into a legend. Mullen also served under or with Meyer as an assistant at Utah, Bowling Green, and Notre Dame. Mullen hasn’t won a whole lot with the Bulldogs, though he mentored Dak Prescott into an NFL starting quarterback and has gone 59-42 since arriving in Starkville in 2009. Perhaps he’s sick of being a lower-level SEC program and wants a new challenge? Either way, he’d be a respectable hire for the Coogs.

Jason Phillips – Kansas WR coach – The UH alumnus and former co-offensive coordinator from 2008-11, Phillips was passed over for the Coogs’ top job in 2012 for Tony Levine. For some reason, Phillips didn’t join the Sumlin staff in College Station and ended up at SMU before landing in Kansas as a position coach. Some UH fans might mention him as a candidate but I doubt it’ll happen. We can do a bit better.


6 thoughts on “Houston Cougars football coach candidate list

  1. A well thought-out and comprehensive list. Do you have a realistic personal preference or two?

    I think one of Leach/Venables/Holgorsen would be “home run” hires, but I’m not convinced Leach/Holgorsen would leave P5 HC jobs.

    I want nothing to do with Briles’ return. Coaching prowess aside, it would be difficult to root for his success given his troublesome handling of the Baylor scandal.

    1. Agreed, Leach/Venables/Holgorsen would each be an excellent hire. If Leach or Holgorsen are sick of being a second tier program in their respective conferences then they may make the move. Neither WVU nor W-State is easy to recruit to. UH can also offer equal or even more than their current salary.

  2. All good names but BrIles and Schiano. Schiano was well hated by the players in Tampa he doesn’t fit here in Houston. He single handedly ruined Josh Freeman’s career.

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