Houston Cougars basketball coach Kelvin Sampson lamented his team’s attendance after last Saturday’s win over Arkansas. His hope, so he said, was that at some point people would come to see his team because they want to see the Cougars play basketball, and not because they want to go see the Cougars’ opponent. Perhaps he should have spoken to his athletic director, Hunter Yurachek.
Yurachek departed UH for Arkansas on Monday, accepting a five year, $850,000 a year contract to take on the job of revitalizing a once former great college power that has lagged ever since taking the leap to join the SEC. Yurachek also gets to experience an athletic department operating budget of $125 million, which is $80 million more than the UH athletics operating budget.
It was an unexpected move that surprised UH, primarily because the job offer to Yurachek from Arkansas came as a surprise. But surprise or not, the offer coming from nowhere was not one that you could be ignored or turned down.
“It caught me by surprise. It caught Hunter by surprise,” Tilman Fertitta, chairman of the UH Board of Regents told the Chronicle. “It happened very quick for him.”
For the Cougars, this now means the school is conducting its sixth job search since 2014 for the three major sports and for the AD job. Yuracheck was hired to replace Mack Rhoades who took the SEC AD job at Missouri then took over as AD at Baylor. Before he left, Rhoades hired Tom Herman. Yurachek hired Major Applewhite to replace Herman. Kelvin Sampson was brought on board to revive the moribund men’s basketball team and Ronald Hughey took over as women’s basketball coach.
Yurachek did more than hire coaches. He has overseen nearly $230 million is capital projects at UH. The most prominent of those will be Fertitta Center, which is taking the place of Hofheinz Pavilion. But there’s also the Guy V. Lewis Development Center, and the new indoor football practice facility next to TDECU Stadium.
He also oversaw the school’s move from Conference USA into the American Athletic Conference. That’s been a big improvement for the school in terms of competition level as the American is seen by many as being the non-power conference closest to actually being a power conference.
“It has always been an attractive job,” said Fertitta told the Houston Chronicle. “Just look at all of our athletic directors and what they have been able to do afterward.”
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And that is what jobs at UH are always going to be for the foreseeable future. The jobs are attractive to those who want to go elsewhere. The coaching jobs and AD jobs are stepping stones to better jobs at higher profile schools that pay a whole lot more money than UH will be able to pay for as long as it’s not in a power conference.
Fan support is still fickle — football attendance dropped way off this season from what it was last season as Major Applewhite’s team couldn’t quite generate the enthusiasm that Tom Herman’s teams could. Basketball attendance has been awful for a long time. Yurachek has overseen the football team trying to up its non-conference schedule — the team played Oklahoma last season, it played Texas Tech and Navy this season. BYU and Boise State have been added to the schedule in the years to come. But as football showed this season, even a winning team doesn’t guarantee decent attendance.
So now the Cougars are conducting a job search for another major job in the athletic department. It’s a pretty usual occurrence around the campus. It’s one that Tilman Fertitta is undoubtedly used to being part of. Until UH finds some way to that make leap to major power status, this is the ways things are going to stay.
There is some good news, though. UH may not be in a power conference. It might not be able to offer the same financial inducements as schools in the SEC. But if a person takes a job at UH, and if that person succeeds and the school benefits with great results, then greater things at bigger schools will happen. For that to happen, UH has to keep winning. And winning is a good thing.