Editor’s Note: This brief profile of Major Applewhite begins an offseason series in which we’ll introduce you to various FBS coordinators, mostly in the Power 5 conferences. We’ll also spend time examining the crop of coordinators as a whole, and we’ll spend a part of the offseason exploring the careers of various non-coordinator assistant coaches as well. -M.Z.
Major Applewhite is in a very good place right now.
If he does really well this fall, he could be in a worse place next year — at least, that’s a genuine possibility, not something to be laughed off.
Confused? Life is complicated.
Welcome to big-time college football.
Applewhite has coached under Nick Saban at Alabama and Mack Brown at Texas. In 2009, he was part of a staff which reached the BCS National Championship Game, and Saban was the opponent. That should have been a high point of Applewhite’s career, but as this story on a lawsuit at the University of Texas shows, 2009 marked an ethical and moral low point in Applewhite’s professional life. His improper relationship with a female student did not get him kicked off Brown’s coaching staff, but it raises an exquisite dilemma if the Houston Cougars defend their conference championship in The American and represent the Group of Five for the second straight year, as they are favored to do.
Applewhite is thriving on a professional level in Houston with the Cougars. ESPN’s Ivan Maisel documented the friendship between Applewhite and UH head coach Tom Herman. The two work really well together, and not just because the Cougars posted such impressive results last season; the key point to reinforce is that Herman has been able to oversee the whole program and not get bogged down in the minutiae of play selection. Applewhite takes care of that task, enabling Herman to maintain the big-picture focus a head coach must inevitably devote to each day on the job.
What’s the complication which could potentially face Applewhite? It is simply this: If Houston plays up to expectations in 2016 and Texas falters one more time under head coach Charlie Strong, the Longhorns will very possibly fire Strong. This is a point worth considering, even though much was made of Texas’s supposed desire to ensure that Strong’s new offensive coordinator would have at least two seasons in which to grow into his role. If Sterlin Gilbert gets a second season in Austin, that naturally means Strong would get a fourth season if this next one, his third, doesn’t quite pan out.
Let’s run with this hypothetical and say that Texas wins only seven games and fires strong. Herman — who didn’t go to Georgia or South Carolina in the latest spin of the coaching carousel — would be the favorite at Texas next December if the job opens up. He would probably like to bring Applewhite with him.
Oops. That’s where the lawsuit could prove thorny, and where Applewhite’s 2009 indiscretion comes back to haunt him. Would Applewhite be given the keys to the Texas program at the age of 38?
We return to the beginning of this discussion: Succeeding this year in Houston under Tom Herman could actually put Major Applewhite in a worse career position relative to what he has now.
It’s a first-world problem, to be sure, but it’s a problem nonetheless.
We’ll see where the road carries Major Applewhite over the next several months.