Tom Herman’s been seemingly everywhere since being hired as the University of Houston’s head coach. He’s done television and radio. He looms large on billboards dotted throughout the city. He’s likely been to more than a few gas station openings.
Herman’s job is to be a football coach. But he’s acknowledged that the job’s about more than football. It’s about promoting football and the university. About bringing the Cougars first and foremost into the minds of the area’s college football fans. There’s nothing wrong with Herman’s efforts, and he’s been an excellent ambassador for the school, the team, and the city.
Yet his efforts appear to have been for naught, at least for now. TDECU Stadium was disappointingly empty on Saturday night, the crowd of 30,479 falling well below the stadium’s capacity of 40,000. The standard UH excuses will be heard: it’s hot outside; the opponent was a no-name FCS school from Tennessee; the Aggies game was on television; the Astros were hosting the Twins. But the answer to that is equally simple: the UH fanbase is a fickle and nearly extinct beast.
The result of the game was essentially anticlimactic. The Cougars controlled Tennessee Tech for most of the game, leading 24-10 at the half and stomping down on the Golden Eagles for the entire second half to get the 54-24 win. The UH offense backfired at times, especially in the first half, where the best plays often involved QB Greg Ward, Jr. tucking the ball under his arm and taking off downfield. But all that matters is that the Cougars did what it had failed to do in two of its past three opening games, dominate, dismantle, and defeat a much, much lesser opponent.
“We’ve been working nine months for this,” Herman said after the game. “So the first win win was extremely gratifying. It was neat to see the smiles on the faces of all the guys that have put in the time, effort, energy, blood, sweat and tears to get to this point. It was extremely gratifying.”
It was fun watching the Cougars on Saturday night. The team seemed more confident on the field, more assertive, less inclined to throw a fade pass to the corner of the end zone on a first and goal from the one yard line. The defense was burned on a few big pass plays, but otherwise looked solid. And not watching the Cougars come out as a favorite to a FCS team then lose had to be the biggest plus of the night, especially when you consider the way Levine’s teams struggled in season openers against lesser opponents.
Perhaps the opening day losses to Texas State and UTSA by the Cougars under Levine did something to damper fan enthusiasm about the season. Perhaps UH will finally learn that a mediocre school playing in a mediocre conference just can’t schedule lower division opponents and expect the fans to turn out for the product. And maybe UH boosters will now begin to realize that a school that continuously fails to sell out its new football stadium is never getting an invite to a power conference.
Yet Herman continued to play the role of the PR booster, praising after the game the fans and the atmosphere of the non-packed stadium, and noting the presence of the packed student section, perhaps the only section of UH fandom that deserves accolades.
“It was fantastic. I thought the student section heeded our call for them to be there…It was really, really neat to see them in their seats early, packed into that student section. It’s a tribute to them. Not only were they listening, but I think they felt a little bit of a calling to hold up their end of the bargain in terms of coming in and supporting their team.”
But nobody can say that Tom Herman didn’t do his job as head coach. His team was prepared and ready to go. It executed plays and handily won the game. And nobody can fault Herman’s efforts to promote the team, to get fans into the stadium. His efforts were something not seen by a UH coach in many, many years.
And at some point, the realization has to hit that maybe it’s not the school, maybe it’s not the stadium. Maybe it’s not the weather or the opponent. Maybe it’s just that UH has a crappy fanbase that’s been burned one time too many.
AND OVER AT RICE STADIUM
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The Rice Owls also opened play this weekend, hosting Wagner at Rice Stadium. The game was delayed three times by lightning during pregame and started 75 minutes after scheduled kickoff. The delay didn’t harm the Owls, the team scoring on three of its first four drives, putting up 35 first half points, and coasting to a 56-16 win over Wagner.
Darik Dillard rushed for 93 yards and two touchdowns on 15 rushes while Austin Walter rushed for 107 yards and a TD on 12 rushes. The Owls as a whole rushed for 401 yards in a dominating performance that saw the team do just about whatever it wanted to do whenever it wanted to do it.
The Owls are now on the road for the rest of the month and won’t return to Rice Stadium until early in October. Next week’s game is against UT in Austin. The Longhorns would probably be heavy, heavy favorites in years past, but now can’t help but wonder if it's the Owls who might be heading into the game as the favorites.