New Coach Clyde Lee Transforms The Program
The 1948 season meant a lot of changes for the fledgling Cougar program. The program’s first-ever head coach, Jewel Wallace, left after going 1-10 in Lone Star Conference games in his two seasons. He was replaced by Clyde Lee, a Navy man that had just spent three years as an assistant at Tulsa.
Gone, too, were Wallace’s candy-stripe uniforms. In one season in the red and white stripes, the Cougars went 0-6 and scored just 21 points in LSC games in ’47. Houston was shut out by Teachers Colleges in three-straight games to end the year: by North Texas State, on Homecoming by Southwest Texas State, and against then-rival Sam Houston State.
Coach Lee came in and immediately chose a cleaner jersey with a single stripe on the helmet. He also wanted to upgrade the schedule in a significant way. Gone were Daniel Baker College, McMurray, and even Centenary, Lee’s alma mater. The new coach wanted to play better programs so that he could sell more tickets and upgrade his program. When he arrived, UH sold just 100 season tickets.
The 1948 season started well, as UH beat Texas A&I 14-0 after being shut out by the Javelinas the year before. The 40 points scored in a win over Louisiana Tech was the school record and, a week later, UH got their first win over East Texas State.
But the Coogs would lose Homecoming once again, this time to Stephen F. Austin Teachers College. Jack Valenti, former student body president then in grad school at Harvard, came back for the festivities and was accompanied by film actress Marjorie Williams.
More than the game or other events, the story of Homecoming 1948 was the bonfire. In the days before it was to be lit, numerous attempts were made by Sam Houston State Teachers College students to set fire or knock over the bonfire. On their final attempt, the day of the bonfire, UH students were ready for them.
Five SHSTC students were caught making an attempt on the bonfire and justice was served: the Bearkat 5 were shoved into Shasta’s cage and put on display for UH students on campus. Then, they were toured around the city in the cage as a Homecoming Committeeman announced their bad deed to passers-by.
Finally, the interlopers were taken back to UH and had their heads shaved. The bonfire was lit that night with the Bearkat pranksters in attendance (along with 5000 others).
After the shutout in ’47 and two losses in basketball that same season, as well as the ’48 bonfire incident, SHSTC was “fast becoming the Cougars’ bitterest rival” as the 1949 Houstonian Yearbook pointed out.
UH got revenge over North Texas State the following week with an 8-6 win in a monsoon. In the next game, at Southwest Texas State, the Cougars fumbled three times in the red zone before the Bobcats marched to the one-yard line and kicked a 4th quarter field goal. Final score: 3-0. UH was now 4-6 and 2-3 in the LSC and needed a win over Sam in the season finale for a .500 conference record.
Thanksgiving With The Bearkats
In the days before the Thanksgiving night game with the Bearkats, some UH students made the trip to Huntsville in order to create some mischief of their own. A group of 21 students swarmed the Sam Houston State campus to white-wash buildings and to hang UH placards. But they, too, were caught and had their heads shaved before being released.
By the time the game kicked off at Public School Stadium, the raids were over and the Cougars were ready. UH threw a TD pass then recovered a blocked punt in the end zone for an early 13-0 lead.
After Sam Houston scored to make it 13-6, back Max Clark went over the left side for what ended up being the winning score. A UH field goal and a late Bearkat touchdown made the final 22-13. It was UH’s first win over their 1940’s rival.
The Sam Houston win was the Cougars’ last game in the Lone Star Conference. UH would be part of the newly-formed Gulf Coast Conference beginning in 1949. The conference switch, the emphasis on better scheduling, and the shenanigans between the two student bodies led UH to cancel the series with Sam Houston.
The 1948 win would be the last game in the series for nearly 40 years. Since then, the schools have played in 1987, 1996, and 2005 with the Cougars winning each.
UH vs. SHSTC Box Score