Major Applewhite’s 2017 coaching staff was about as disappointing as his 7-5 record. Major brought in a guy who had been demoted from OC at Utah and a DC that was wildly unpopular at Miami. He then hired several graduate assistants as full time coaches. The same GAs that filled in during the Las Vegas Bowl and were scapegoated for the poor second-half performance.
But my biggest complaint about Major’s first staff is that he didn’t hire a special teams coach. And quite predictably, special teams struggled for much of the season. A 4th quarter fumble on a punt return potentially cost the Coogs the Texas Tech game. A botched fake punt in the 4th quarter of the Memphis game could have changed the outcome. And UH finished 114th in punt returns in Applewhite’s first season (Coogs were 41st in Herman’s 1st year).
After the NCAA passed legislation allowing for a 10th assistant, I thought Applewhite would surely hire a STC for 2018. When OC Brian Johnson went to Florida, OL coach Chris Scelfo retired, and DBs coach Clay Jennings went to Texas Tech, I just knew the Coogs were getting a special teams coordinator.
There were now 4 open spots on the staff. Major made great hires on offense with Kendal Briles and Randy Clements but then he made a very curious decision. He hired 2 coaches to fill Jennings’ spot – leaving no room for a special teams coach. Again.
But who needs a special teams coach, right? Except that all 4 College Football Playoff teams have one. Scott Frost had one at undefeated UCF. Former UH head coach Tony Levine alleges he spent 100 hours a week game-planning as Purdue’s special teams coordinator last year. And now Houston has two paid coaches working with linebackers, 2 working with defensive backs, one with receivers and one with tight ends. That’s 6 coaches with, essentially, 3 position groups. But no special teams coach.
How different would Major Applewhite look right now with 9 wins instead of 7? How different would fans view him with wins over Texas Tech and Memphis? A special teams coach doesn’t guarantee those wins, of course, but he gives you a much better chance – especially on the fake punt against Memphis. Special teams change outcomes of games routinely – field position, points on the board, and extra possessions.
Major Applewhite needs to take special teams more seriously.