The University of Houston went in-house to pick the next Cougars football coach, selecting offensive coordinator Major Applewhite, the school announced Friday.
“My family and I are excited and honored to have the opportunity to lead such a tradition-rich program and continue our lives in one of the greatest cities in the nation, a city we love,” Applewhite said in a statement.
The pick ends weeks of nationwide speculation on who would replace Tom Herman, who decamped for greener (well, orange-er) pastures at the University of Texas last month.
Applewhite, 38, has been with the Cougars since last season. He has also coached for Rice, Alabama and UT, and has spent 11 of his 13 coaching years in Texas, UH said. As a player, Applewhite quarterbacked UT to two Big XII championships and a pair of bowl wins.
Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando had been interim head coach since Herman departed, and was also in consideration for the permanent job. Lane Kiffin, the offensive coordinator for powerhouse University of Alabama, and recently sacked LSU head coach Les Miles were the other two finalists for the job.
Applewhite inherits a talented team that has a 22-4 record since last season. But after shellacking No. 3 Oklahoma to begin the season, which vaulted the Cougars into being a playoff contender, UH stumbled down the stretch.
Inconsistent play led to losses to good teams (Navy) and less-than-stellar ones (SMU, Memphis). Yet despite barely beating Tulsa, the Cougars walloped No. 4 Louisville at home, shutting down star quarterback and Heisman contender Lamar Jackson.
The Cougars suffered an off-the-field blow in October, when the lily-livered Big XII decided against expansion, depriving UH of major-conference television cash and ending (though we didn't want to admit it) any chance of keeping Herman.
Applewhite has a tough act to follow, and now that Cougars fans have had their first taste of success in a generation, they may set the bar high for the team next year.
While Applewhite was far from the most controversial candidate to replace Herman (here's looking at you, Art Briles), he has been punished for his conduct off the field. In 2009, Applewhite admitted to his bosses at UT that he had an inappropriate, consensual relationship with a student during that year's Fiesta Bowl in Arizona. UT required Applewhite to attend counseling, and the coach apologized for the incident.
UH did not immediately release the details of Applewhite's contract. Herman, whose base salary was $3 million this season, was the highest-paid coach in school history.
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