The Houston Cougars lost their third game of the season Thursday night, blowing several big leads in a 42-38 setback against Memphis.
When Major Applewhite was hired, the joke was that “we fire coaches for going 8-4,” a reference to Tony Levine, who was dismissed after just such a mark.
What about 6-5? What will they do then?
People forget Levine’s recruits — many who litter the NFL — helped Tom Herman land the Texas job, and eventually got Applewhite the UH gig. That’s not to say Levine should not have been fired; there is no way they would have gone 13-1 with him at the helm. But Applewhite deserves the same scrutiny.
I believe Applewhite will be a good coach. But part of being a good coach is hiring the right people. Levine made one bad offensive coordinator hire after another and stubbornly stuck with John O’Korn at quarterback when he had a much better option with Greg Ward, Jr. It cost him his job.
Applewhite made a bad hire with his defensive coordinator. Mark D'Onofrio was a terrible DC at Miami. Before that, he was awful at Temple. He had been out of work for a year when Applewhite called him. It was a baffling hire at the time and looks worse now.
Last week, his defense was riddled by a bad Tulsa team. Thursday night, it gave up 42 points in the second half alone. They did not get ONE stop in the half. A team with the defensive talent UH has should never do that. Memphis made adjustments at halftime and their offense looked like a video game in the second half. UH never adjusted.
Applewhite has to realize the hire was a mistake and learn from that. If he does not fix it fast, it could be a fatal mistake. Hiring a guy with a track record of failure — and then watching him fail some more — is unacceptable. UH fans should demand better. They have seen this act with Levine.
Oh, and the Cougars QB situation is also a mess, but they were going to miss Ward no matter what. He was a terrific college quarterback. Kyle Postma is a nice backup thrust into a starter’s role. He played poorly at Tulsa and was OK against Memphis, although his late turnovers doomed any comeback attempt. The Kyle Allen experiment was just as big a failure as it was at A&M. And maybe, just maybe, Applewhite making the same mistake as Levine by not giving D’Eriq King a chance.
Applewhite also made a bad call late in the game by not going for it on fourth and short and instead trusting a defense that did not have a stop in the second half. Did we mention that?
And things could get much worse.
The Cougars get South Florida next and still have Navy on the schedule. At 4-3, they are likely staring at a 6-5 finish, 7-4 at best. They are probably lucky the UTSA game was canceled or they could have conceivably finished 6-6. They have way too much talent on the roster for that kind of season.
We have seen this act before in Levine era. If Applewhite is to succeed, it has to start with firing D'Onofrio and finding a competent replacement. If not? The Cougars will waste another year of Ed Oliver next season, and will be looking for a new coach. Again.
Of course, I hear Levine is available.
This column originally appeard on SportsMap.