Reports on Thursday claimed that the University of Houston had decided on current Alabama offensive coordinator and former USC and Tennessee football coach Lane Kiffin to become its next head football coach. Instead, current Houston offensive coordinator Major Applewhite was named the next coach a day later. What truly happened in the interim period to change the futures of two men and one football program remains a gray area, but it’s clear that Applewhite’s familiarity with Texas high school football was a critical factor in the decision.
How do we know? Because Houston board of regents chairman Tilman Fertitta told us so, via a local Houston radio show.
Fertitta, who is also a billionaire booster of the football program, called in to Houston radio host Marc Ryan, who was discussing the decision to hire Applewhite, allegedly to explain the decision to stick with Applewhite, as noted by Fox Sports.
“I think for numerous reasons [why we went with Applewhite instead of Kiffin],” Fertitta told Ryan. “Number one, the Texas high school football coaches bombarded our athletic director. They said, ‘We want our players to play for Major Applewhite.’ Here’s a guy whose been on the big stage, he played quarterback at the University of Texas. He has a great relationship with the high school football coaches in Texas, Lane does not. That was a major ‘X’ against Lane compared to Major. Continuity in the program. The recruits today playing wanted Major Applewhite. They let it be known. It was just one thing after another that it steamrolled to Major.”
One thing after another sure sounds like multiple things related to Texas high school coaches and recruiting. Everyone knows how pivotal recruiting success is to on-field success, but citing Applewhite’s recruiting acumen as a significant advantage isn’t really fair. After all, Kiffin was an excellent recruiter at both Tennessee and USC, and there’s no reason to believe he would have struggled in Texas. Yet, Houston apparently got enough real-time feedback from high school coaches to think that, actually, Kiffin would have struggled, because Texas coaches didn’t view him as one of their own.
That’s essential in Texas recruiting, and it’s a status that is earned from years of acculturation or birth, not status. That’s something Kiffin doesn’t have but Applewhite does, both from his time as a Texas quarterback, a Texas assistant and then co-offensive coordinator and, most recently, Houston’s OC.
And perhaps that was enough to push everything in Applewhite’s favor. As a result, he’ll be the man leading the Cougars out of the tunnel in fall 2017, while Kiffin will be leading Florida Atlantic instead. If anyone ever said recruiting was only of secondary importance, there’s the official proof they’re wrong.