Dana Holgorsen leaves West Virginia to become Houston head coach

Yahoo Sports
Dana Holgorsen spent eight seasons as the head coach at West Virginia. (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson)
Dana Holgorsen spent eight seasons as the head coach at West Virginia. (AP Photo/Brad Tollefson)

Houston has landed the coach it has long been after.

After multiple reports surfaced late Monday night, Houston announced Wednesday that is has hired West Virginia’s Dana Holgorsen to be its next head coach.

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“We are thrilled to welcome Dana back to Houston as the next leader of our football program. His offensive acumen with an emphasis on student-athlete development, on and off the field, is a perfect fit for our program, University and city,” Houston AD Chris Pezman said. “We are looking forward to Dana connecting with our student-athletes and taking over a program that is primed for continued success at the highest level.”

Added Holgorsen:

“I’m beyond excited for the opportunity to return to Houston and lead this program. This city and the University of Houston has unlimited potential and I am honored to be a part of it. I’d like to thank Tilman Feritta, Renu Khator and Chris Pezman for their trust in my plan. I look forward to meeting our student-athletes and establishing a culture that thrives on championship competition, on and off the field.”

SB Nation, which first had the news, is reporting that UH and Holgorsen have reached an agreement on a five-year contract worth $20 million. The deal would make Holgorsen the highest-paid coach among the Group of Five conferences.

The news comes a few days after Houston fired Major Applewhite following the conclusion of his second season as Cougars head coach. Applewhite had a 15-11 record at UH.

After Houston was demolished 70-14 by Army in the Armed Forces Bowl, it quickly became apparent that Applewhite’s job was not safe. Holgorsen, who has a 61-41 record over eight seasons in Morgantown, was the top target.

On Monday, Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel reported that Houston officials formally requested permission to interview Holgorsen. It was a mere formality in a process with an expected outcome. The New Year’s timing is related to the buyout language in Holgorsen’s contract at WVU.

Thamel explains:

The delay in Holgorsen’s hiring has come because of his buyout at West Virginia. He needs to wait until Jan. 1 for the buyout to dip from $2.5 million to $1 million. In the immediate aftermath of reports linking Holgorsen to the job, he hadn’t been in touch with West Virginia officials, seemingly leaving his departure as an inevitability.

Holgorsen, who spent two seasons as Houston’s offensive coordinator under Kevin Sumlin, has long been a target of university power brokers, including Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, the chairman of UH’s board of regents.

Writes Thamel:

Houston’s target has long been expected to be West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. His cronies have been burning up the lines for more than a week, whispering the move was inevitable. Holgorsen has long wanted out of West Virginia and, quite frankly, there won’t be a lot of institutional tears if he decides to follow Will Grier out of town.

Holgorsen has run his course there, so he’ll head back to a school that will hail him as a savior, where he’d worked as a coordinator in 2008 and 2009 and considers a recruiting comfort zone.

Holgorsen made around $3.8 million at West Virginia in 2018. The Mountaineers finished 8-5 after falling to Syracuse in the Camping World Bowl, a game played without star quarterback Will Grier. With Grier off to the NFL, Holgorsen was set to enter 2019 with the position as a major question mark at WVU.

Instead, he is dropping down from the Big 12 to the American Athletic Conference as the league’s highest-paid coach by significant margin. His first game as Houston’s head coach will be a challenge. The Cougars open the 2019 campaign in Norman on Aug. 31 against Oklahoma.

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