Houston coaching rumors: Cougars, West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen discussing vacancy

Rob Ferguson, Rob Ferguson-USA TODAY Sports

Houston fired coach Major Applewhite over the weekend and have now set their sights on West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. Following a report from Pete Thamel of Yahoo Sports, CBS Sports has learned that Houston has indeed asked for permission to speak with Holgorsen and that West Virginia has granted that access. Reports connecting Holgorsen and Houston began this past week before the Cougars officially pulled the plug with Applewhite on Sunday. 

If Houston were to offer Holgorsen a job, it may take a major extension and raise from West Virginia to keep him in Morgantown. While that might be labeled a lateral move at best to some, there's some context to consider. First is his history with the program. Holgorsen called plays for the Cougars from 2008-09 and knows the talent in the area well. He was CBS Sports' leading candidate to replace Applewhite. Another candidate, USC offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury, has already declined the job, per Brett McMurphy

Another thing to consider is Holgorsen's current contract, which was agreed upon in 2016 when his name was previously connected to the Houston vacancy. West Virginia paid Holgorsen $3.7 million this season as part of his five-year deal that runs through 2021. If Holgorsen left for Houston today (Dec. 31), he would owe the university $2.5 million in buyout money. That amount drops to $1 million on Jan. 1, 2019. 

Keep in mind, too, that Holgorsen's name has been floating around the coaching carousel for the past month or so, specifically in connection to previously open vacancies at Colorado and Texas Tech; however, nothing ever came of those rumors -- Colorado hired Georgia defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and Texas Tech replaced Kingsbury with Utah State coach Matt Wells -- and WVU athletic director Shane Lyons told reporters he hadn't "heard anything formal" about Holgorsen communicating with either school, which is written into his contract. 

Holgorsen is 61-41 in eight years at West Virginia and he has one 10-win season in the last seven years. This year's 8-4 effort, which ended in a 34-18 loss to Syracuse in the Camping World Bowl, was an unquestioned disappointment for a program that had preseason expectations of, at the very least, an appearance in the Big 12 Championship Game. With quarterback Will Grier and a strong supporting cast of wide receivers and running backs, this was Holgorsen's best team at West Virginia and he was unable to win at the level expected. As a result, the general feeling is that Holgorsen has peaked at West Virginia. The Camping World Bowl previewed what could be a tough rebuilding project for the foreseeable future unless Holgorsen successfully grabs a talented quarterback in the offseason, either through a grad transfer or in the JUCO ranks. 

A strong season would have been a perfect time for Holgorsen to re-work his contract. With the results falling below expectations, however, Holgorsen has found it difficult to get that new extension and/or raise without some leverage. Holgorsen's previous flirtation with Houston was largely considered to be leverage. Whether this round of communication is the same or not will likely be determined in the coming days. 

CBS Sports Writer

Ben Kercheval joined CBS Sports in 2016 and has been covering college football since 2010. Before CBS, Ben worked at Bleacher Report, UPROXX Sports and NBC Sports. As a long-suffering North Texas graduate,... Full Bio

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