Holgorsen’s apathy towards NIL is why players are leaving

Matthew Golden entered the transfer portal on Thursday afternoon, becoming the highest-profile UH player to leave this season. Unlike Alton McCaskill leaving, it feels like the fanbase shrugged its collective shoulders this time.

They shrugged, not because Golden is a bad guy, but because they’ve been through this before. Golden was a good player, perhaps overhyped by Dana Holgorsen, but a good player. In truth, UH can replace Golden’s on-field production. He caught 38 passes in each of the last two years for 988 total yards and 13 touchdowns. Sure, that’s a lot of touchdowns to replace for an offense that wasn’t very good at scoring them, but the University of Houston will never struggle to attract WR talent.

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Golden is the fourth guy from the 2023 offense with 4+ starts to transfer, joining Dalton Carnes, Tyler Johnson, and Reuben Unije. Some players leave because of loyalty to the old coach. Some leave because of the new coach. Some do it because their friends are leaving. Some want a fresh start. Some are told they won’t play. Some want a chance to compete at a higher level. Some want increased playing time or to be their unit’s focus. Some leave because they feel they are disrespected or have been slighted.

And yes, some leave because of money. These days, many more depart for money than all the other reasons above combined.

If a player leaves for a fresh start or playing time or feels disrespected, there’s not much you can do systemically to stop it. But money? You can make that a non-issue, but it won’t happen until UH rises to the level of its peers, both in facilities and in NIL. I’m not talking about Alabama and USC; I’m talking about Texas Tech, Baylor, Oklahoma State, and TCU.

In reality, players care way more about NIL than facilities. Dana Holgorsen tried to sell the idea that he could only recruit HS kids once he had shovels in the ground for the ops building.

But players would prefer to have shovels in the ground on a major NIL initiative. The ops building is excellent, but it just replaces their existing facilities. NIL provides them with something they don’t have, and players are not leaving for better ops buildings. They’re going because other programs have razor-focused NIL programs, and UH does not. Recruits aren’t shying away from Houston because there’s no ops building. They’re shying away because other programs have razor-focused NIL programs.

Dana tried to sell a load of bull about recruiting. GoCoogs reported his “that ship has sailed” answer to a radio-show question and our story made the rounds at E. Cullen and in the Athletics/Alumni Center. This week, Joseph Duarte got Dr. Renu Khator to admit that it was the breaking point that led to his firing.

But Dana’s lack of desire around NIL was the chief reason UH is starting to be used as a farm team for other major programs. NIL has been a back-burner issue for UH Football, mainly because Dana was unwilling to do the work required to get NIL off the ground and get fans, donors, and businesses focused on it. Willie Fritz has vowed to change that, but it takes time, and he’s been here just five days.

Golden was dynamite early in the kick return game, but UH shifted their strategy on returns in the second half of the season (teams rarely kicked to Golden, too). That took away his most significant contribution to this team. He never lived up to the hype Dana put on him and struggled with the pressure of being called the number-one receiver by his coach. Maybe Golden will go on to have a productive career somewhere else, and I’d be happy for him. But he never became “the man” at UH. Someone else will step up, and that person must be cared for NIL-wise.

Now, the elephant in the room is that many people don’t like NIL. Some of those same people, and many others, don’t understand the need for NIL. That’s fine. To be honest, there was a time I didn’t like it, either. But the game changes, and if you’re going to play the game, you have to adapt. NIL is shaping recruiting, the portal, rosters, and winning.

In the NIL era, retaining key players year after year takes a lot of work. But in about 8 months, UH has lost the program’s two most visible offensive stars – Alton McCaskill and Matthew Golden. Willie Fritz has a lot of messes to clean up, but one of the biggest is to make NIL work for Houston Football.

Stewart J. Guss, Injury Accident Lawyers, is proud to be a corporate sponsor as the Official Personal Injury Law Firm for the University of Houston Athletics.

“As a University of Houston alum, I am honored that the University of Houston Athletics chose our firm to be their official and exclusive personal injury law firm,” says Stewart J. Guss, the firm’s founder.