NCAA Football: Houston at Central Florida

Houston has fired coach Dana Holgorsen, the school announced on Sunday. Holgorsen posted a 31-28 record during his tenure but stumbled to a 4-8 mark as the Cougars transitioned into the Big 12 this season. 

Houston sat at 4-5 with an opportunity to reach a bowl game after beating Baylor 25-24 in overtime on Nov. 4. Unfortunately for Holgorsen, the team lost three straight games to end the year with all three losses coming by double-digits. The capper was a 27-13 loss against UCF where the Coogs were outgained 476-259 in total yards, including 223-94 on the ground. 

"Over the course of his five seasons with the Cougars, Dana made strides in our football program in many ways and laid the groundwork for our transition to the Big 12 Conference," Houston vice president of athletics Chris Pezman said in a statement. "Ultimately, the results on the field fell below our standards of excellence. We are grateful to Dana for his efforts and commitment to our student-athletes and we wish him the very best in his future endeavors."

Landing Holgorsen was seen as a coup in 2018 as Houston attempted to make its case for Big 12 membership. He left West Virginia after eight seasons to sign a contract that paid him $4 million per season on average, one of the richest contracts in the Group of Five. The contract had a kicker that immediately paid Holgorsen an extra $1 million bonus if Houston reached power conference membership. 

In 2021, Holgorsen led Houston to a 12-2 record, an American Athletic Conference Championship Game appearance and No. 17 AP Top 25 finish. However, the Coogs fell to 8-5 one year later despite returning quarterback Clayton Tune before bottoming out in 2023. 

Holgorsen signed a contract extension in 2022 that upped his pay to $4.5 million per season. With his termination, he is now owed a buyout of nearly $15 million as Houston embarks on its first coaching search of the Big 12 era. 

Successful mission

When Houston poached Holgorsen from West Virginia, the Cougars were hoping to signal investment to the Big 12. After Texas and Oklahoma left for the SEC, Houston quickly emerged as a top expansion option for the league. On-field, Holgorsen soon delivered with the lone 12-2 campaign, which led to UH's second-best postseason AP Top 25 ranking since the Southwest Conference collapsed. From that perspective, the Holgorsen hire achieved Houston's goals. 

"We were doing it in the hopes tha twe would have a chance to make this transition," Houston athletic director Chris Pezman told CBS Sports in May. "And now that it's coming together, we're seeing the ways that the finances start to work for an athletic department to be self-sustaining." 

With a long-term television deal signed, Houston will soon have more than $20 million more coming in from the conference office than when it existed in the AAC. That made a sizable buyout feel more manageable, but more importantly, it opens the door to Houston to take a swing as it enters its Big 12 future. 

Attractive job

Sources around Houston have long said that they believe the organization will be highly attractive as a power conference locale. That will be put to the test as the Coogs enter the coaching market. Houston enters at the same time as Texas A&M and UTEP, and more Texan jobs could go on the market in the coming weeks. 

Houston president Renu Khator famously said that Houston is a place that fires coaches for going 8-4. Obviously, sitting in a power conference changes the calculus. Still, expectations at Houston are to compete near the top of the conference, and especially be competitive with the other Texan programs in the conference. 

Only adding pressure, SMU is preparing to elevate to the ACC, giving the state of Texas seven Power Five schools across three of the four continuing power conferences. The state is about to be the chief battleground of the college football landscape. Houston can't afford to fall behind. With access to some of the best recruiting grounds in the nation within 20 minutes from campus, the Coogs have plenty to sell.