When I wrote my wrap-up of the Houston Cougars baseball season last week, I had a change of heart and didn't write something that I actually believed. Instead I went with the conventional wisdom that coach Rayner Noble would return for another season because he was in the midst of a five-year contract signed after the team last made the NCAA baseball tournament.
The thinking was simple -- with all of the new coaches Houston had hired over the year, with the school buying out the contract of former basketball coach Tom Penders, with all of the work needed to raise money for new/upgraded football and basketball facilities, and with the possibility of huge upcoming changes on the college conference landscape, AD Mack Rhoades would be willing to let Noble go another year.
The conventional wisdom was, as in most cases, wrong. Mark Berman reported that Noble was being replaced on Friday afternoon. Steve Campbell at the Houston Chronicle followed through that night. The university has yet to release any official statements (and my few sources won't talk, on or off the record), but I've learned to trust Berman and Campbell when it comes to their reporting. So I expect that once the conditions of the contract buyout are finalized, the University of Houston will be issuing press release after release.
My thinking with Noble was that it appeared, during the season, that he lost his team. There were multiple lackluster games where the players just didn't look like they gave a damn. And there were just too many games like that blowout loss to Rice where the Cougars weren't even competitive.
It's my opinion of Rhoades, based on my conversations with him, and my observations, that while he doesn't like losing, he'll accept the losing if the team looks competitive and puts out an effort. And looking competitive and putting out an effort was just something not often seen from the baseball team. So while it defies the conventional wisdom, the firing of Rayner Noble shouldn't really be seen as a surprise because Rhoades is a man who wants to bring a new attitude to UH sports.
This is a shame, in some ways, because for many years, Noble's team was the only one keeping UH sports relevant while the football and basketball programs were flailing about in a sea of disrepair and ineptitude. In his 16 years as coach, Noble was 551-240 and took the school to eight NCAA Tournaments and three Super Regionals. But he was 27-31 two years ago, and just 25-32 this past season, and the program was clearly moving in the wrong direction at the wrong time.
What this also means is that, once again, Mack Rhoades is in the market for a new coach. Since he's been at Houston, Rhoades has had to replace the men's and women's basketball coaches (women's coach Joe Curl had to retire because of health problems). He's also replaced the golf and volleyball coaches. So if there's one thing Rhoades is becoming experience at, it's finding coaches for the University of Houston.
Steve Campbell gives the consensus of names that should be on any shortlist (while in Austin this weekend, I gossiped with people from Rice, and they agreed as to the shortlist, and if there's anybody who knows college baseball in Houston, it's Rice).
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The early favorites on the list are a pair of former Cougars, Rice assistant coach David Pierce and TCU Associate Head Coach Todd Whitting. Both played for the Cougars, and both were assistants to Noble, and both are prime candidates for head coaching jobs in college baseball. It's been rumored that Pierce is next in line to succeed Rice coach Wayne Graham, should he ever decide to step down, but the real question there is how long Graham is going to coach.
A good name on the list, one which should be strongly looked at, is Tom Arrington, the baseball coach at San Jacinto. San Jac has been to the NJCAA World Series in seven of the past 10 seasons, and Graham has shown that a juco coach can succeed beyond all expectations at this level. Also on the list are Texas A&M assistant Matt Deggs, UT assistant Skip Johnson, and UH-Victoria head coach Terry Puhl -- yes, former Astros outfielder Terry Puhl who is 66-44 as coach.
I've also heard mention of Craig Biggio being in line for the job. Biggio has, so far, succeeded as a high school head coach, and he would generate some much needed buzz for the program. But if Mack Rhoades was concerned only with buzz, the current UH men's basketball coach would be Billy Gillispie. I honestly believe that Rhoades will pass on Biggio because he doesn't want a name, he wants a builder. I can easily see him grabbing Pierce or Whitting, and I think Arrington would be a good hire.
But that's just my opinion. And my opinion is often wrong.