Houston coaching candidates: Dana Holgorsen leads list of potential replacements for Cougars

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Houston fired coach Major Applewhite on Sunday, after the former Texas quarterback went 15-11 in two-plus seasons with the program. This after three of the last four coaches posted at least one double-digit win season during their time with the Cougars.

Who will replace Applewhite? Let's break down some likely candidates for the attractive AAC post.

1. Dana Holgorsen, West Virginia coach: It might seem like a stretch to see a Power Five coach at an established program step down after a successful season to take over Group of Five team, but the amount of smoke on the Holgorsen/Houston front is thick enough to drive cigar smokers out of their favorite lounge. Football Scoop reported last week that the influential Houston boosters have already explored the possibility of luring Holgorsen -- who was the Cougars offensive coordinator from 2008-09 -- back to the program. Holgorsen has been at West Virginia for eight years, just lost quarterback Will Grier and wide receiver David Sills V to the next level and has a buyout that drops from $2.5 million to $1 million on New Year's Day. That's not a bad price tag for a high-end AAC school to pay to lure a successful Power Five coach away. What's even more intriguing is that Holgorsen and West Virginia have been at odds over a potential extension for quite some time, according to 247Sports.

Holgorsen worked as an assistant in the state of Texas from 2000-09, runs an offense that is suited for high school prospects in the Lone Star State and would bring the spotlight back to Houston immediately upon signing on the dotted line.

2. Kliff Kingsbury, USC offensive coordinator: The former Texas Tech coach was fired earlier this month and later hired to run the Trojans offense under Clay Helton. But a head coaching position at a familiar place with plenty of Group of Five upside would be perfect for Kingsbury. He was on the Houston staff from 2008-11 under former coach Kevin Sumlin and served as the offensive coordinator during his final two seasons with the program. He followed Sumlin to Texas A&M and helped the Aggies make an immediate impact in the SEC with 2012 Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel at quarterback.

It might seem like a quick jump to take a job only to leave one month later, but the head coaching job at Houston is far more attractive than being an assistant at USC for someone who already has Power Five head coaching experience.

3. Lane Kiffin, FAU coach: It's only a matter of time before Kiffin takes a bigger job, and taking a small step forward within the Group of Five is a perfect way to fast-track his career back to bigger and better things.

The 2018 season didn't go well for Kiffin and the Owls, but the former USC and Tennessee coach went 11-3 and 8-0 within Conference USA in 2017 and became the second-winningest coach in program history in just one year. He signed a long-term contract with FAU after last season, which suggests that he's comfortable spending a long time at a Group of Five program. But his $2 million buyout drops to $1.5 million on New Year's Day, which makes him very affordable for Houston if he's open to move up the Group of Five ladder.

4. Neal Brown, Troy coach: Somebody is going to scoop Brown up, and it might as well be Houston. He has posted double-digit wins in three straight years at the Sun Belt power, and won three straight bowl games in the process. He was the offensive coordinator at Texas Tech from 2010-12 under Tommy Tuberville, comes from the air raid coaching tree, played under Hal Mumme and has a proven track record of success.

The one drawback to going after Brown is his long-term viability. Houston is one of the top programs in the Group of Five, has poured tremendous resources into the program and was at the forefront of the expansion talk a couple of years ago. But it isn't a Power Five job, and Brown has a ticket for one of those gigs in the not-too-distant future based on his work with the Trojans.

College Football Writer

Barrett Sallee has been a member of the sports media in various aspects since 2001. He is currently a college football writer for CBS Sports, analyst for CBS Sports HQ and host for the SiriusXM college... Full Bio

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