Oscar Giles builds a brotherhood on the defensive line

A month before Willie Fritz’s first spring practice began, the Houston defensive line didn’t have a position coach.

Former UH D-line coach Brian Early, the beloved architect of “Sack Ave” and tutor to NFL Draft picks such as Payton Turner and Logan Hall, was briefly let go in December during the transition but was quickly brought back after a planned hire fell through.

But in the middle of February, Early — whom numerous players vouched for on social media to be the Cougars’ next head coach after Dana Holgorsen’s firing in November — left for the same position at Missouri, leaving the Cougars’ defensive line room in flux.

“It was hard, I’m not going to lie,” said sophomore Anthony Holmes Jr. “You didn’t know what you really wanted to do or what was going to happen, so you were just kind of iffy.”

The position group wasn’t left without a coach for long, though. Days after Early’s departure, Oscar Giles, a familiar face on Cullen, was hired to fill the position.

Giles’ hiring now marks his third stint at UH in an illustrious 25-year coaching career. The gruff, old-school Palacios, Texas, native first came to Houston in 2003 under Art Briles as defensive line/special teams coach. Then, after a wildly successful tenure at Texas, his alma mater, from 2005-2013 and a brief stint at Lousiana Tech, Giles returned to Third Ward for the exciting but short Tom Herman era. Giles was part of the group that recruited superstar lineman Ed Oliver and coached him for a season before following Herman to Austin in 2017.

“I’ve done some research on him. I’ve looked at the resume. It’s phenomenal,” said redshirt senior Hakeem Ajijolaiya, now in his sixth year at UH. “He’s put great guys in the league. He’s coached some great guys and I’m just trying to be another great guy that he’s coached.”

A little over a month into the job, Giles has enjoyed a warm welcome from his new players.

“Brian did a great job while he was here. I do think, though, these D-line guys have really opened up their home for me,” Giles said. “They’re saying, ‘Coach me, Coach. Coach me.’”

Despite little time to get settled in with the new players and new system (Giles said that the transition has felt like “drinking out of a fire hydrant” at times), guys like Holmes have already been able to build a strong relationship with the veteran coach.

“He’s like a high school coach,” Holmes said. “It’s like when your bond is so good with your coach, you can go to him about anything. He builds that brotherhood in the room.”

According to Ajijolaiya, Giles has spent more time individually coaching interior linemen than his predecessor. UH’s scheme under Giles includes a linebacker-edge hybrid position called “dog,” which works mostly separately from the linemen.

“He’s more hands-on with the DTs,” Ajijolaiya said. “I feel like with Coach Giles, it’s just straight work with the DTs, and I really do embrace that, too.”

The transition for the DL has mirrored the overall shift in the atmosphere at Houston since Fritz took the job and even more so since spring practice began. Everyone appears to be rowing in the same direction.

“The vibe is more of a brotherhood with everyone together and stuff like that,” Holmes said. “Not just out for yourself or out for individual stats. We’re all just trying to win as a team.”