Major Applewhite is not busy running around kissing his players on the cheek. He’s not wearing a grill or buddying up to rappers. There are no feuds with the media, no angry denunciations of rumors that he’s about to take another job. There’s no talk about family.
Such is life at the University of Houston in year one of the post-Tom Herman era. That era was only two years, but in many ways it felt much, much longer. But Major Applewhite doesn't demand attention. He's not busy courting the national media. It’s a refreshing change — but Cougar fans have yet to find out whether this is good change.
“I don’t really pay a whole lot of attention to that [style],” Applewhite told reporters at the opening of camp. “I don’t think any coach really does. You just be who you are.”
There are a lot of Cougar fans who are still angry at Tom Herman. They don’t like the way he departed for the University of Texas — there’s still lingering suspicion among many, many fans that, despite his many denials throughout last season, Herman’s focus for the last half of the season was less on coaching the Cougars and more on securing the job in Austin.
The Cougars were so close coming into last season. The previous year, they were undefeated most of the season and ended up with just one loss. After winning the conference title, the Cougars were chosen for a New Year’s Six bowl and demolished Florida State during the game.
Houston was once again part of the national conversation. Herman drew a lot of attention due to a feud with a local talk show hosts and due to bets that ended with him wearing a grill. But none of that noise really mattered because the team won football games. The winning thrust QB Greg Ward Jr. into the Heisman conversation. Couple that with that the talk that UH was soon to join the Big 12 and things were at a fever pitch this time last year.
But the Big 12 yanked the rug out from under UH and decided not to admit new schools. Then the Cougars started to fall apart due to injuries. The Herman to UT talk really heated up, and things just fell apart. Then came Thanksgiving night when the rumors of Herman’s departure to LSU flooded the airwaves. Herman angrily denied these just before an embarrassing loss to Memphis. And soon after Herman was off to Austin.
Major Applewhite, who served as a coach under Herman last year, claims not to be flashy. His focus in on fundamentals. He wants to not only coach the players to do things a certain way, but he wants them to understand why. He is also clear that his job is to find a way to use his players to the best of their abilities and finding the best schemes and formations for them.
“From the coaching staff, [my focus is] how you teach,” Applewhite said. “But not only how we teach, but getting a player to understand why. Understand why they’re using certain techniques, understand why they’re meeting a certain way, and why they’re watching film in this fashion.”
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Applewhite admits that being a head coach is an adjustment for him. He’s learning that he has to back off and that he cannot be hand-ons with every aspect of the game.
Tom Herman is Austin’s problem now. He’s already feuding with the media, and he’s already bringing in the rappers. If UT starts winning games, Herman will be able to do anything that he wants, whenever he wants. But here in Houston it’s quiet, and the focus is on coaching and teaching. This doesn’t bring a national focus to a school, but it does allow for a little sanity.
“I’m still learning.” Applewhite said. “I know what I want. I know what I want to see from our staff and from our players.”
Will his approach pay off? Will the Cougars continue winning football games and going to bowl games? Houston’s season kicks off on Labor Day weekend at UT-SA. It’s not a game against a glamours opponent like Oklahoma, but it’s not about glamour for UH right now. Right now it’s just about winning football games.