What if …
UH were to fire Major Applewhite after this season? Is it possible? Is it prudent? Should the Cougars give him one more year to prove himself?
Just to be clear: I am not advocating a change at the top. I think the season should play out and an honest assessment of the entire program completed by AD Chris Pezman. This article is merely a “what if.”
Can we afford to do it?
If … Major is relieved of his duties, UH would owe him his base salary for the remaining 3 years of his original 5-year deal. The school would also owe the remaining portion on a few assistant contracts.
Applewhite – Base Salary – $650,000 – 3 years left
D’Onofrio – Base Salary – $440,000 – 1 year left
Briles – Base Salary – $400,000 – 1 year left
Clements – Base Salary – $290,000 – 1 year left
All-in, we’re talking about nearly $3.1 million to gut the staff and start over.
That’s a lot of money especially when you account for the cost to hire a new staff. But when everything is factored in, there’s an even better question.
Can we afford not to do it?
In the last 3 games of the 2015 title run, Cougar fans came out for the excitement and we averaged 39,480 for those games. With smaller crowds at the start of the Herman regime, we averaged 33,980 for the season. Still, that was an increase of 5,669 per game from Levine’s last year (28,311 in 2014).
In 2016, we saw another big jump up to 38,953 – an increase of over 10,600 per game from where we were in 2014. Levine’s final year was also bolstered by the curiosity factor of a new stadium on campus. It could have been much worse.
But Herman left and we’re now heading in the opposite direction under Applewhite. With a boring offense and awful defense, we averaged 32,583 in 2017. This year, even with a high-scoring offense, attendance is down further to 30,964.
Under Major, we’ve dropped an average of 7,989 a game of announced attendance in just two seasons!
Even with a small crowd expected or Tulane, there’s little chance that we announce a number with Tulane that puts the average decrease over 8,000.
And remember, that’s tickets distributed. In March, a Chronicle writer tweeted an audited report of actual paid attendance average from last year (tickets sold plus students). It was 26,660 per game. That’s 5923 per game less than reported or about 35,500 total less for the season.
In year two of the Applewhite regime, our paid attendance is filling just 2/3 of the stadium. With next year’s home slate of Cincinnati, Memphis, Navy, SMU, and Prairie View, there is little hope for improvement. The only (possibly) attractive game in 2019 is against Washington State and it’s been moved to NRG Stadium.
Houston needs to get excited about UH to show up. With a quiet and attention-shy head coach as well as your #1 star moving to the NFL, there’s little doubt that home attendance is going to slip again.
The 2018 team isn’t helping the cause by squandering a top 25 ranking, a two-game lead in the division and fielding one of the worst defenses in the country. What happens if we lose one or both of the remaining games? What happens if we don’t backdoor a division title?
At what point does it become cost prohibitive to keep Major?
Major & His Style of Play Doesn’t Interest Most Fans
This brings me to the real issues I have with Applewhite. UH isn’t a place where you can throw up a good record and people will just magically show up for games. We’re in a big city with a lot of options for the public’s money and attention. We’re also in a town that doesn’t know about or care about the teams in our conference – to get fans to show up, it has to be about UH.
UH’s head coach needs his program to be a big damn deal. And by big I mean win 10+ wins, division and conference titles, winning high profile games, bowl games and get (and stay) in the top 25. Houston’s head coach has to be a nonstop salesman and command attention at every turn.
Does Applewhite fit the bill for any of that?
Major’s 14-9 record in a nobody conference isn’t going to cut it. Spending one week in the top 25 before getting blown out isn’t going to cut it. Being invisible on social media and virtually silent in traditional media isn’t going to cut it.
Expectations and our financial commitment are much higher than before. UH cannot afford to slip backwards or wallow in mediocrity if our expectation is to be in a good position for the next round of conference realignment.
We didn’t spend $150+ million on facilities to stay in the AAC.
We have seen what UH can be: after a 25 year bowl-drought, we won four in 8 years from 2008-2015. We’ve won a conference title, a NY6 bowl, spent 19 weeks in the top-25, and five weeks in the top-10. We beat three top-10 teams and created a lot of buzz.
But that’s all gone now.
The crowd and excitement against Temple felt like it did in 2004 when 13,000 showed up for Homecoming. All of our gains have been erased.
UH hired Major Applewhite out of fear. Fear that we’d lose another successful coach. We wasted a great opportunity due to fear. It’s time to escape that mentality.
2023 is the beginning of the next, and possibly last, round of conference realignment. We have to reach and maintain our potential through that time if we want to be in a position for a move up.
I wish Major Applewhite could be the one to lead that charge but through 23 games it isn’t looking good. If things don’t turn around in a big way the rest of this season we better be prepared to pay now otherwise we will be paying more later.
And later might end up being too late.
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Towns is a former UH athlete, having played baseball for the Cougars in the mid-90’s. He is most famous for walking 9 LSU batters in just 3 innings vs. LSU. He also fired a 2-hit complete game shutout of SFA.