Why Houston made the right choice by hiring Major Applewhite

After weeks of speculation, reports and terrible Lane Kiffin memes on social media, the Houston Cougars finally hired a new head football coach Friday. And to the surprise of many, it wasn’t Kiffin.

After it was reported Tuesday that the Alabama offensive coordinator had the gig, Houston instead took an about-face, naming current offensive coordinator Major Applewhite the team’s head coach. With the decision, Applewhite will take over the Cougars full-time as they prepare for a Las Vegas Bowl showdown with San Diego State.

When the news broke, the initial reaction was probably more shock about Kiffin not getting the job than Applewhite getting it, but once the dust settled many started to question the hire. Was Applewhite really the best candidate for the job, or just the safest? Was he a guy put in place just to keep the program status quo, to take the keys handed to him by Tom Herman and continue to drive 60 down the highway? Would he really be the guy who was going to rev the engine and try to take the Houston program to another gear?

Admittedly, all those questions are fair, but naming Applewhite as the team’s next head coach was still ultimately the right decision. Not just because of the continuity he brings, but also his deep Texas ties. Besides, for all the Lane Kiffin love splattered across the Internet, there were plenty of questions about him as well.

Let’s start with Applewhite, who admittedly got the job in large part because he’s already at the school. If he were “Major Applewhite: UT-San Antonio offensive coordinator,” he wouldn’t have even been considered for the gig. And even if he were at another power like Texas A&M or TCU, he probably wouldn’t have been given the advantage over Kiffin. But whether local ties helped, they aren’t the only thing that make him a qualified candidate.

For one, his offenses have produced on the field. Remember, for all the credit Herman gets for the team’s success, Applewhite was the one actually calling the plays and was the architect behind an offense that averaged over 38 points per game this season and 40 the year before. He’s the guy whose offense topped 400 yards against Oklahoma in Week 1, and put up 38 points against Florida State in last year’s Peach Bowl. Herman’s fingerprints were obviously all over the game plan. But it was Applewhite pushing the buttons.

Beyond that, even if Herman did get the job because of his Houston ties, is that bad thing? The program has experienced huge success the past few years, in addition to unprecedented national media exposure. Is it the worst thing to hire a guy who saw first-hand how “H-Town Takeover” became a national brand and can potentially build on that with the city’s high school teams and players? Isn’t it more likely that Applewhite – a guy who has spent 11 of 13 years in coaching within Texas’ borders – will be able to keep the talent level up across the board than Kiffin? Sure, Kiffin is a great recruiter, but don’t undersell Applewhite’s abilities.

Finally, speaking of Kiffin, I’m not sure why everyone just assumed he was a grand-slam, can’t-miss hire. For all the talk about what he’s done at Alabama, Kiffin still has plenty of questions to answer. For example, has he really “matured” under Nick Saban’s watch? Or just been masked by the media? Considering that this is the same guy who sub-tweeted USC immediately after beating the Trojans and mockingly tossed his Alabama visor into the stands at Tennessee, I’d probably say it’s the latter, not the former.

Plus, here is the thing that everything is missing on Kiffin: While he’s a brilliant play-caller (no one would deny that), it turned into an outright disaster when he both called plays and served as head coach at USC. So are you really getting Kiffin the play-caller at Alabama, or a watered-down version of that? And if Kiffin were to give up play-calling what’s the point in hiring him in the first place?

Add it all up, and it’s why the Applewhite hire makes so much sense. He is a guy with both ties to the state of Texas and the Houston program itself, a guy who will bridge the gap from the past to the present.

He might not be the perfect candidate. But he’s the right fit at Houston.