With the Rice Owls having played in the Hawaii Bowl on Christmas Eve, and the Houston Cougars playing in the Armed Forces Bowl next Friday, maybe now's a good time to take a look back at the year that was in UH and Rice sports.
Beginnings: A new era dawned on Cougar sports with the opening of TDECU Stadium where Robertson Stadium used to stand. The minimalist facility, seating 40,000 people, offers up great sight lines and a tremendous view of downtown Houston. Finishing touches are still being applied, but it's a huge improvement for fans and players.
Embarrassments: The Cougars opened up TDECU Stadium by losing 27-7 to UTSA. This was just the first of several embarrassing losses for the football team. The Cougars also lost to Tulane on homecoming (Tulane had won just two games at that point), and the Cougars struggled to defeat a Tulsa team that had managed just two wins up to that point. And the basketball team was embarrassed on multiple occasions, losing by 39 and 15 points to Louisville, 23 points to Memphis, 37 points to UConn, 23 points to Rutgers, and 21 points to UCF.
Departures: The school said so long to basketball coach James Dickey shortly after the basketball season ended, and with his departure, the team also said farewell to several players who decided to transfer rather than stick around. And head football coach Tony Levine was fired several weeks ago after a disappointing 7-5 season that not only saw the losses, but also saw 2013 AAC Rookie of the Year QB John O'Korn take major steps backward and be benched, while the school struggled to fill half the stadium for football games by the end of the year.
Triumphs: Todd Whitting coached his baseball team to a 48-18 record and a trip to the NCAA Super Regionals. The team was fundamentally sound and relied on outstanding pitching that paced it through one of the toughest schedules in the country.
Arrivals: Houston Rockets assistant coach Kelvin Sampson was hired to replace James Dickey as basketball coach. Sampson, who formerly coached at Oklahoma and Indiana, brings with him some baggage (the NCAA has come down on him a few times), but he's also shown an ability to produce winning teams that go far in the NCAA Tournament. It's not going to happen this year for the Cougars, however. And just last week the Cougars hired Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman to take Levine's job as head coach. The hiring has been universally lauded. Herman's got a Texas background, having coached at Sam Houston State, Texas State and at Rice.
Triumphs: For the first time in Rice history, the football team has won seven or more games for three straight years. The Owls also played in the school's third straight bowl game on Christmas Eve, and the Owls have never before played in three straight bowls. The baseball team won its second straight conference tournament championship and won Conference USA for the fifth time in a row. It was also the 20th season in a row in which the baseball team advanced to the NCAA Regionals. That would probably be a major achievement anywhere else, but it's become kind of a commonplace occurrence for Rice baseball.
Embarrassments: The men's basketball team had another awful year -- another common occurrence for Rice sports. The squad won just seven games, an improvement of two games over the previous year, but that wasn't enough to save the job of head coach Ben Braun, who was fired shortly after the season ended.
Arrivals: Virginia Commonwealth assistant coach Mike Rhoades was hired to fix the basketball team, a seemingly Herculean task that's been tried by many, many men before him. The season's still young for his team, but the win total will still probably be disappointingly slight. He seems to have a plan, and if given time, he might be the man to fix the long-broken program. And the Rice baseball team appears to have picked up a new student assistant coach, some guy named Lance Berkman. Berkman's returned to school to get his degree, and when he's not in class, he's working with the players to make them better hitters.
Beginnings: Rice has a new tennis facility, and it was announced last week that work would start on a new end zone complex that would house locker rooms and workout facilities for all of Rice's sports teams.
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