HOUSTON (AP) — In recent years, Houston has been a stepping stone, a quick stop for up-and-coming coaches on their way to jobs seen as bigger and better. Art Briles was at Houston before leaving for Baylor. Kevin Sumlin started with the Cougars before moving on to Texas A&M, and last month Tom Herman left for Texas after just two seasons with the Cougars.
HOUSTON (AP) — In recent years, Houston has been a stepping stone, a quick stop for up-and-coming coaches on their way to jobs seen as bigger and better.
Art Briles was at Houston before leaving for Baylor. Kevin Sumlin started with the Cougars before moving on to Texas A&M, and last month Tom Herman left for Texas after just two seasons with the Cougars.
On Monday, Houston introduced Major Applewhite as its latest hire and the 38-year-old first-time head coach insisted he's different than those who simply used the job as a springboard.
"I want to be here long-term," Applewhite said. "I want to be here for the guys. I want to be here for the city and for the university ... I think at this point in time in the history of this football program I think it is important to develop continuity."
The introduction of Applewhite was less a news conference than it was a pep rally. There were cheerleaders waving white and red pom poms, a band and scores of fans and dignitaries, which included Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and state lawmaker Sheila Jackson Lee. But the pomp and circumstance of the day couldn't hide the fact that the Cougars weren't expecting to be introducing another new coach so soon.
"Seems like we just did this ... the players look a lot happier this time though," board of regents chairman Tilman Fertitta said with a laugh.
Applewhite spent the last two seasons as Herman's offensive coordinator and takes over a program that went 22-4 in that time. The Cougars (9-3) wrap up the season on Saturday when they meet San Diego State in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Houston got wins over Oklahoma and Louisville this season, but took a step back by losing to SMU, Navy and Memphis, and failing to qualify for the American Athletic Conference title game a year after winning the league championship. Applewhite said he expects better than winning nine games and he'll work to get the team back to where it was last season when the Cougars finished 13-1.
"Nobody in this room will set a higher expectation for this football team than me. That is the facts," he said. "I've always been a winner, I will always be a winner and I will always set those expectations for our football team."
He directed his first practice as head coach on Monday morning and though he's waited for the opportunity to be in charge of a program for years, he downplayed the significance of the moment.
"It really hasn't sunk in," he said. "It's very similar to when I was playing and I was in a backup role and then I was put in the game. It's just: Go do your job."
Quarterback Greg Ward was chosen to introduce Applewhite to the group and it seemed to catch him a bit off guard.
"I appreciate that," Applewhite said. "That was pretty solid."
Ward, who worked closely with Applewhite over the past two seasons, raved about his coach.
"Regardless of any circumstance, he's going to be honest with you," Ward said. "He's also going to be more competitive than you if you let him and he's going to bring his 'A' game every single day."
Under Applewhite's direction, the Cougars gained more than 500 yards 11 times and passed the 600-yard mark four times. The offense piled up 40 points 12 times and scored at least 50 points five other occasions in the past two seasons.
Applewhite spent seven seasons as an assistant at Texas before joining Herman's staff. He was the co-offensive coordinator in his last four seasons with the Longhorns after working as assistant head coach for the first three seasons. In his time with the Longhorns he focused on working with quarterbacks and running backs.
Before joining the Longhorns, Applewhite spent the 2007 season as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Alabama, a season where he was the youngest coordinator in the FBS. It was there that he found his most important mentor among many who have influenced him as a coach.
"Working a year with Nick Saban. I just think he's in the major leagues and a lot of people are playing farm-A ball," he said. "He is ahead of the game. Just his organization, that hand he has in everything, the way he distributes roles and gives everybody a sense of purpose and a sense of motivation when they walk in the office."