Building an embedded culture in UH Football

UH needs players who have grown up here and can lead when it is their turn


It looks like a team and a program that lacks leadership, an identity, and an embedded culture of excellence. Sure, there are “leaders,” and guys are named captains yearly. But where’s the leadership?

Read Part 1 here.

So where is the leadership? I think how the roster is built lends itself to a void in leadership. Since Dana Holgersen arrived, he has taken a different route to recruiting than other coaches. With the advent of the transfer portal and immediate eligibility, he has sought to rebuild the roster, taking full advantage of the opportunity. On the surface, it is a great plan. You get a second shot at guys you might have missed out on, or you get guys you never had a shot at who are looking for a new opportunity. You get guys who have gone away for school and want to come back home. Making the portal a focus has many benefits, especially in the City of Houston.

There are several downsides as well, and that’s highlighted at UH. By and large, UH has been getting guys in the portal from P5 schools. They were highly sought-after high school recruits and wanted to play for “big-time” P5 schools. Many had a path to playing time blocked by more senior players or were recruited over and wanted to get on the field ASAP. UH became a perfect choice because they could immediately step in and play.

While the school is getting talented players, they are mixing and matching guys who have learned a certain way to do things. Over the last four years, UH has taken players from over 25 different Power 5 schools and 12 G5 schools, not including JUCO players. UH has brought in 59 players from four-year schools, 28 JUCOs, and 62 high school players.

That is a lot of players to get acclimated, a lot of de-programming and integrating into what you do. Without a strong core culture, it is a near-impossible task. What makes this even harder is that at least 68 players have left the program with remaining eligibility during this same time frame. Some have been guys recruited out of HS, and some of the early transfers used a Covid exemption to transfer again.

This becomes a problem because you do not have enough upperclassmen well-versed in “the UH way.” The guys who set the standards of excellence, the guys who hold each other accountable every day. Coaches can yell and scream all they want, but discipline comes from being accountable to the guys in the locker room. I don’t place blame on these players, either. Most haven’t had the experience of being in leadership roles at UH, nor were they core guys at their previous schools who were expected to be team leaders. They are first thrust into that role when they come here.

Today is a historic day for the University, one of the cornerstone days that will be celebrated for years. It can be argued that only joining the SWC and winning the league in 1976 and Andre Ware winning the Heisman are in the same stratosphere for Cougar Football. UH may win today and be remembered as a remarkable day in UH lore.

But that does not change the identity crisis the program is suffering. UH must invest in cultivating and building leaders in the program, not just on one- or two-year fixes. To change the program’s trajectory, Houston needs players who have grown up at UH, that upperclassmen have taught, who have seen those lessons at work, who embrace that culture, and who can lead when it is their turn. Massive turnover year after year has led to a lack of identity in the program and to the rollercoaster the team lives from week to week.