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|Athletic director||Mack Rhoades|
|Head coach||Tony Levine|
2nd year, 14–11 (.560)
|Home stadium||Houston Football Stadium|
|League||NCAA Division I|
|All-time record||396–345–15 (.534)|
|Postseason bowl record||9–11–1 (.452)|
|Conference titles||Missouri Valley: 4|
Conference USA: 2
Scarlet Red and Albino White
|Fight song||Cougar Fight Song|
|Marching band||Spirit of Houston|
|Athletic director||Mack Rhoades|
|Head coach||Tony Levine|
2nd year, 14–11 (.560)
|Home stadium||Houston Football Stadium|
|League||NCAA Division I|
|All-time record||396–345–15 (.534)|
|Postseason bowl record||9–11–1 (.452)|
|Conference titles||Missouri Valley: 4|
Conference USA: 2
Scarlet Red and Albino White
|Fight song||Cougar Fight Song|
|Marching band||Spirit of Houston|
The Houston Cougars football program is an NCAA Division I FBS football team that represents the University of Houston. The team is commonly referred to as "Houston" or "UH" (spoken as "U of H"). The UH football program is a member of the American Athletic Conference. Houston is coached by head coach Tony Levine. From 1941 to 2012, the Cougars played home games on campus at Robertson Stadium, but that stadium was closed at the end of that season. The team used Reliant Stadium for most of its 2013 home games while the new Houston Football Stadium, set to open for the 2014 season, was being built at the former Robertson Stadium site. Throughout the Cougars' history, the team has won 10 conference championships and has several players as members of the College Football Hall of Fame, including a Heisman Trophy winner.
In 1941, Johnny Goyen, then sports editor for The Cougar, and Jack Valenti, president of the sophomore class, began a petition for an official intercollegiate football team at the university. The next year, the two called a student body meeting to organize another petition. This petition's purpose was to challenge Rice Institute (later known as Rice University) to a football game. The Rice Owls were an established program, having played since 1919 as a member of the Southwest Conference.
In August 1945, the University of Houston announced that the school would field a football team for the first time. Following the announcement, the Lone Star Conference, spearheaded by Theron J. Fouts of North Texas and Puny Wilson of Sam Houston State, extended an invitation for Houston to join on October 25, 1945.
In September 1946, the team became a reality after Harry Fouke, UH's first athletic director, hired successful high school coach Jewell Wallace, and tryouts were held. One hundred thirty students showed up, only ten of whom had actually played college football before. Many of the married students lived on-campus at a makeshift village for World War II veterans, while some others lived in the university's recreation center in bunks for naval recruits training at UH during the war. Prior to joining the Cougars, Wallace served as head coach for San Angelo High School.
During the spring training for the first team, Goyen and Valenti's petition was finally answered, as Coach Wallace arranged a small practice game between Rice and Houston. The meeting was to be at Rice. When the team arrived at the field in their practice uniforms, they realized that the game was much more serious. Officials were there, and the stadium was full of spectators. The game ended with Rice demolishing the Houston Cougars. The game had an attendance of 11,000. It wouldn't be until 1971 that the Cougars and Owls competed again.
Playing in Houston Public School Stadium as a part of the Lone Star Conference on September 21, 1946, the Cougars played their first official game against Southwestern Louisiana Institute (later known as the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) using the Split-T offensive strategy. Although Charlie Manichia, the Cougars' starting quarterback, scored the first touchdown of the game (and in Cougar history), the team lost to SLI 13–7.
The next game, the Cougars played against West Texas State Teachers College (later known as West Texas A&M University), and won their first game 14–12. The Cougars finished up their first season with a 4–6–0 record. Wallace continued as head coach for the Cougars until the end of the 1947 season, when Clyde Lee took over.
Clyde Lee, a University of Tulsa assistant coach, became Houston's second head coach in February 1948. To replace the remainder of Wallace's team that didn't return, Lee turned to junior colleges for the majority of his recruiting. At this time, the University of Houston, along with Texas Tech University, attempted to join the established Southwest Conference, but were rejected. In response, several universities from the Lone Star Conference formed the Gulf Coast Conference. This marked the Cougars' first time playing as an NCAA University division team (later known as simply Division I), and the first time Houston offered athletics scholarships. Also during this time, Lee set up formal housing facilities for students. The 1949 season was prefaced with an act of vandalism from Houston fans on the campus of The College of William & Mary. William & Mary was the opening game of the season between both schools.
In 1951, the Cougars began playing in the Missouri Valley Conference, moved into Houston Stadium, and made it to their first bowl game. The 1952 season proved to be a breakout one for the Cougars, and the team claimed the conference title. In addition to being ranked #19 in the nation by UPI (the first time the Cougars were nationally ranked), 1952 also marked the first meetings between UH and Texas A&M University, University of Arkansas, and Ole Miss. J.D. Kimmel, a former player for the Army Cadets, became Houston's first All-American when the Associated Press chose him for the 1952 team. The year after, UH met with the University of Texas at Austin for the first time in football. Such events proved that the team was growing quickly. However, in 1954, Lee retired from coaching after a 37–32–2 overall record. Lee was credited with having transitioned the Cougars from a small-time team to a legitimate collegiate force in football.
After a 45-day search for a head coach replacement, Bill Meek, a successful head coach from Kansas State University, signed a contract with the Cougars and was appointed as Houston's head coach on January 19, 1955. The Cougars' 1955 opening game against the University of Montana marked a 54–12 victory, the first opening victory since 1948. It was during this season that UH attempted to gain a membership to the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Ole Miss, UH's sponsor to the conference, had played the Cougars in their ninth game of the season, and although the Cougars lost, Ole Miss felt the team was worthwhile. The SEC decided to wait a year to determine whether UH would be a member of the conference.
The 1956 season was thus an important one for the team. The Cougars won the Missouri Valley Conference title for the second time, and tied with the Southwest Conference's nationally ranked Texas A&M Aggies during their meeting. However, UH lost to both SEC scheduled teams during the season. Both Southwest Conference and Southeastern Conference bids by the Cougars were once again rejected. During the next season, Meek left UH for Southern Methodist University.
Hal Lahar was announced as Houston's next head coach on January 18, 1957. Lahar came from Colgate University, where he had served as head coach for five seasons. In college, Lahar had played for the Oklahoma Sooners, where he was a part of the school's first bowl team. Under Lahar, during the 1958 season, the Cougars became a nationally recognized offensive leader, as the team scored a combined 117 points in their first three games. Lahar's offensive strategy was best characterized as Split-T.
After winning the Missouri Valley Conference titles again in 1957 and 1959, Lahar left UH in 1961 and headed back to Colgate University.
Under Hall of Fame coach Bill Yeoman, the Cougars compiled a record of 160–108–8. His 160 victories rank 51st on the NCAA all time list and make him the winningest coach in Cougar history. He used the Veer offense in 1964, an offense which he pioneered, and quickly helped lead the Cougars to national prominence. Yeoman's Cougars finished the season ranked in the top 5 twice, four times in the Top 10, and ten times in the Top 20. Yeoman is considered one of the all-time greatest college football coaches and led Houston to sustained success over his 25 years as head coach.
In 1964, Yeoman broke the color barrier for major Texas football programs when the University of Houston signed San Antonio's Warren McVea to a scholarship. On September 11, 1965, the Cougars played their first nationally-televised game on NBC against Tulsa.
For three straight years Houston led the nation in total offense, averaging 437 yards a game in 1966, 427 in 1967, and 562 in 1968. The 1968 total was an NCAA record at the time. Houston also led the nation in scoring with 42.5 points per game that year.
He guided the Cougars to four Southwest Conference Championships — 1976, 1978, 1979, and 1984 — and a 6–4–1 record in bowl games including Cotton Bowl Classic victories over the Maryland Terrapins in 1977 and the Nebraska Cornhuskers in 1980. In 1976, Houston's first year as a member of the SWC, Yeoman was named Texas Coach of the Year and runner-up for National Coach of the Year. Yeoman was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. He coached 46 All-Americans and 69 NFL players. In 1978, the NCAA subdivided the Division I into Division I-A and Division I-AA with Houston being a part of the former (now known as Division I FBS).
However, his career was not without controversy. In 1986, allegations surfaced regarding illegal recruiting inducements and extra benefits for his players. Due in part to these revelations, Yeoman was forced to retire at the end of the 1986 season after a 1–10 campaign.
Yeoman is the longest-serving coach in Cougar history, having been with the team from 1962 to 1986. After retiring as head coach, Yeoman remained with the Cougars as a fundraiser, a position he still holds today.
Following Yeoman's retirement, Houston hired Jack Pardee to be the program's sixth head coach. Pardee was a former NFL All-Pro linebacker who had previously held head coaching positions with the Chicago Bears, Washington Redskins and the USFL's Houston Gamblers. Pardee brought with him the Run & Shoot offense and a young offensive coordinator named John Jenkins. The Run & Shoot offense was a strongly pass-oriented system that called for throwing the ball on most downs and in almost any situation. The Cougars would become one of the top offensive teams in the country during the Run & Shoot years.
In 1987, Pardee's first season, the team struggled in adjusting to the new system but scored a 60–40 home upset of the Texas Longhorns on the way to a 4–6–1 finish. The 1988 season saw great improvement in all aspects of team play with the Cougars posting a 9–3 mark, ultimately finishing 2nd in the Southwest Conference standings. The team played in the Aloha Bowl but fell 24–22 to Washington State. The Cougars' offense was led by quarterback Andre Ware, who had been originally recruited to UH by Bill Yeoman as a Veer-option quarterback. UH finished the 1988 regular season at #18 in the AP Poll.
In 1988, the NCAA announced that it would levy sanctions against the Houston football program for numerous major rules violations during the Yeoman era. The university was charged with around 250 violations and was assessed some of the most severe penalties for a program at the time. The program was placed on probation for five years, banned from playing in bowl games for two years, and barred from appearing on television for the entire 1989 season. However, the most damaging penalty in the long run was being limited to 15 scholarships for the 1989 season. The NCAA said that the penalties would have been even harsher (including being limited to 20 scholarships for 1990 and 50 paid recruiting visits for 1989) had Yeoman still been coach. The lack of television exposure in 1989 was a setback but ultimately did not dampen the accolades UH would garner in a record-setting season.
The 1989 season was one of the most memorable in UH football history. Andre Ware continued his dramatic development as a passer and posted unprecedented passing statistics en route to winning the 1989 Heisman Trophy. Ware passed for 4,299 yards and threw 44 touchdown passes on the season. He posted one of his finest performances with 475 yards passing in the Cougars' 47–9 rout of archrival Texas in the Astrodome. The Cougars set many offensive records during the season. The Cougars finished the 1989 season at 9–2 and 2nd in the Southwest Conference but could not go to a bowl game. UH finished the season ranked #14 in the AP poll.
After the 1989 season, Pardee was hired as the head coach of the Houston Oilers and Jenkins was named his successor. The Pardee era at UH had been the most successful period in Cougar football since the late 1970s. The program enjoyed consistent success on the field, and helped to usher in the explosion of passing offense in college football. The Cougars' prolific offense and Andre Ware's Heisman Trophy raised the program to a level of national recognition that it had perhaps never enjoyed before. Pardee was later considered as a returning head coach for the Cougars after Art Briles left the program, but was eventually passed up for Kevin Sumlin. Pardee had not coached since 1995.
Jenkins ascended to the helm at UH with a reputation as a brash, innovative young coach, considered by many the brains behind the high-powered Run & Shoot offense. Jenkins' offensive system reached its pinnacle in the 1990 season.
Led by new quarterback David Klingler, the Cougars' offense put up even more eye-popping numbers in the 1990 season than they had a year before. Klingler set a record by throwing 11 touchdown passes in a single game during an 84–21 rout of Eastern Washington University at the Astrodome. In a final-game victory over Arizona State University in the Coca-Cola Classic played in the Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Japan, the two teams combined for 107 points and over 1,000 yards passing.
The Cougars achieved a high ranking of #3 in the AP poll but fell out of national championship contention following a late-season loss to the #14 Texas Longhorns. The Cougars finished the 1990 season with a 10–1 record and a #10 national ranking, again good for only 2nd in the conference standings. Klingler finished 3rd in Heisman balloting behind BYU's Ty Detmer and Notre Dame's Raghib Ismail. The program was serving its final season of probation and was again ineligible to play in a bowl game.
Despite returning David Klingler and many of their best players, the 1991 season saw a significant downturn from the Cougars' previous four-year arc of improvement. The season began in rousing fashion with a 73–3 home rout of Louisiana Tech, but the second game marked what would in hindsight be the end of an era. In a nationally televised game that had been billed as an intersectional meeting of powers, the Cougars faced the Miami Hurricanes at the Orange Bowl. Miami blitzed early and often, keeping the Cougars' high-powered offense from getting any momentum. The Cougars not only lost the game 40–10, but also lost a good deal of the mystique surrounding their offense; other teams repeated Miami's game plan of heavy blitzing. Although the Cougars defeated Texas for the fourth time in five years, they finished the 1991 season 7th in conference with a 4–7 record. After the season, David Klingler was selected #6 overall in the 1992 NFL draft, while defensive end Glenn Cadrez was picked #154 overall by the New York Jets. The 1991 season marked the start of what would be a decade-long fall from the successes of the late '80s. From 1991 to 2004, the Cougars would have only two winning seasons.
The 1992 season saw the program continue its slide as the limited complement of scholarships for the 1989 season began to have their full effect. New quarterback Jimmy Klingler posted impressive performances against inferior competition, but the Cougars struggled against the better teams on the schedule. Jenkins increasingly came under fire for his teams' poor defensive performance and his propensity to "run up the score" in an unsportsmanlike manner against weaker opponents. The '92 season ended with the Cougars finishing 4–7 yet again.
The controversial Jenkins resigned under pressure on April 17, 1993 after a group of departing players including Trey Hooper, Tim Woods, Geoff Tait, Christopher Tuffin and star receiver Tracy Good contacted legendary sports columnist Dick Schaap, who arranged for an investigative team from ESPN to look into long-rumored NCAA violations allegedly being committed by their former head coach (the story went on to win ESPN a 1993 Sports Emmy). Jenkins finished his tenure with an 18–15 overall record. In the chaos surrounding the sudden resignation of Jenkins, Houston athletic director Bill Carr hired Los Angeles Raiders offensive line coach Kim Helton to become the eighth head coach in the history of the program.
After the controversy and NCAA sanctions of the late '80s and early '90s, the UH athletics administration was determined to remake the football program into one founded on sound discipline and transparency. The tough-talking, no-nonsense Helton seemed to fit this need perfectly. Helton was nearly the diametric opposite of the brash, innovative John Jenkins. Where Jenkins believed in the primacy of passing offense above all else, Helton preached a hard-nosed brand of football centered on fundamentals that was a throwback to the 1970s.
Despite returning all 11 starters on offense for the 1993 season, Helton discarded the high-powered Run & Shoot offense in favor of a more traditional run-based attack. The personnel already in the program found it hard to adjust to the new system. Additionally, the team was still reeling from the loss of scholarships in the 1988 probation report; the Cougars would not have a full complement of scholarships until 1994. The team struggled mightily under the weight of the offensive sea change and the scholarship limits. In Helton's first three seasons (1993–95), the Cougars limped to a combined 4–28–1 record for a winning percentage of just .125, including an 0–12 mark in nonconference play.
Helton eschewed the program's long-time reliance on local talent and instead began heavily recruiting junior college players from Florida, Georgia and Mississippi. By doing so, Helton effectively severed the program's ties to the local high schools that had long been the lifeblood of UH football. Indeed, many local high school coaches claimed that they never even saw Helton during his seven-year tenure as head coach. This was a dramatic change for a program that had historically featured national powers built around Houston-area talent.
In 1994 the Big 8 Conference and four schools from the Southwest Conference announced that they would dissolve their respective conference affiliations and merge to form what would become the Big 12 Conference. Houston, along with TCU, SMU, and Rice, would not be invited to join the new conference. After over 80 years of SWC play including 21 successful years of UH membership, the SWC ceased to exist at the end of the 1995 season.
UH joined the newly formed Conference USA for the 1996 season. In the inaugural season of C-USA play, led by future NFL running back Antowain Smith and quarterback Chuck Clements, the Cougars went 7–5 — their first winning season in six years. They also went 4–1 in conference play to win a share of the inaugural C-USA title, their first "official" conference title of any sort in 13 years. UH won that season's pivotal game against Southern Miss 56–49 in overtime. As part of a new trend, the game was played at on-campus Robertson Stadium rather than at their long-time home, the Astrodome. The Cougars also played in their first bowl game since 1988, losing to #21 Syracuse 30–17 in the Liberty Bowl.
UH regressed to consecutive 3–8 records in the 1997 and 1998 seasons. In 1999, the Cougars went 7–4, scoring an impressive late-season win at LSU. Four-year starter Ketric Sanford broke many Houston rushing records, but a 3–3 record in C-USA kept the Cougars out of a bowl. Despite the winning season, Helton was dismissed as head coach after the season. In his seven years at UH, Helton had compiled a 24–53 overall record.
The decade of the 1990s had not been a good one for UH football. Since the almost magical 10–1 season of 1990 in which they held a #3 ranking into November, the Cougars had since failed to crack the AP Top 25 and had gone to only one bowl game. The team's poor on-field performance had not been kind to fan interest. Attendance had slipped slowly downward throughout the decade, and the team often played in front of home crowds of fewer than 20,000 fans. The program also lacked stability in the athletic department after several changes at athletic director. Clearly, significant change was needed for the program to break out of its cycle of apathy. In a move to alleviate the financial burden of paying rent to the Astrodome's operators, Athletic Director Chet Gladchuk began a drive to renovate Robertson Stadium to modern standards and move all home football games back to campus for the first time since the 1940s. This idea became a reality in the 1998 season, and significant renovations to the 60 year-old stadium were completed the following year.
After coaching at Kansas State as an assistant under the legendary Bill Snyder, Dana Dimel was selected as the 9th headman of the Houston Cougars after a successful stint as the head coach at Wyoming. Dimel took over the program with fan support at an all-time low. The program's relationship and standing with local high school coaches was also at a nadir as a result of Helton's often dismissive attitude toward local programs. As part of Dimel's rebuilding program, he vowed to bring back the aggressive passing attack that the Cougars had featured during the successful Pardee/Jenkins years.
In the 2000 season, the Cougars opened with a 3–4 stretch before faltering late in the season to finish 3–8. During the off-season, Dimel brought in one of the program's best-rated recruiting classes in decades, and he began reestablishing positive relationships with local high school programs.
Despite the positive attention surrounding Dimel's first recruiting class, the 2001 season was the worst to date in the history of Cougar football. The Cougars went 0–11 on the season, the first winless campaign in the history of the program. Despite the poor season, Dimel again brought in the top-rated recruiting class in Conference USA. The class featured a number of players who would form the nucleus of future winning teams, players such as Jackie Battle, Willie Gaston, Will Gulley and Roshawn Pope.
The Cougars fared better in the 2002 season, but new athletic director Dave Maggard made it clear that he expected significant progress in the program's performance on the field. Late in the year, with the Cougars holding a 4–7 record, AD Maggard informed Dimel that he would not be asked to return as head coach for the 2003 season. The final game of the 2002 season was a rousing 27–10 upset win over Louisville that spoiled the Cardinals' chances of winning the conference title, but UH finished with a 5–7 record which was good for only 8th best in Conference USA. Despite landing some highly rated recruits the Dimel era featured tremendous disappointment as the Cougars football team lost more games in any period in history, including the dismal 0–11 season in 2001 that followed a 1–10 record in 2000.
Seeking a sense of stability in the coaching staff, Athletic Director Dave Maggard began the search for a new head coach who would stay and build the program over the long term. To this end, Maggard began searching for coaches with close ties to UH and Texas football in general. The candidate who jumped to the fore was Art Briles, a former Cougar player under Bill Yeoman and assistant at Texas Tech. Briles had earned a reputation as a top-flight offensive coach while the head coach at Stephenville High School of Stephenville, Texas, where he led the team to multiple state titles running his unique version of the spread offense. Briles became the 10th head coach in Cougar football history, and the first former UH player to hold the position.
Briles inherited a program that had lost its way on the field but was stocked with young talent from Dimel's exceptional recruiting classes. The Cougars had only won eight games in Dimel's three-year tenure, but things were about to change. In his first season, Briles led the Cougars to a 7–5 record and their first bowl appearance since the 1996 season. The Cougars lost the Sheraton Hawaii Bowl to the Hawaii Warriors 54–48 in triple overtime on Christmas Day, 2003.
After a successful inaugural season under Briles, the Cougars fell back to 3–8 in 2004. Briles guided the Cougars to a 6–6 season in 2005 and an appearance in the Fort Worth Bowl. The Cougars' hopes for a winning season were ended in a 42–13 bowl-game rout at the hands of the Kansas Jayhawks.
The 2006 season was the most successful for UH in over 15 years. Led by senior quarterback Kevin Kolb, the Cougars romped to a 9–3 regular season record and a spot in the Conference USA Championship game against Southern Miss. The Cougars hosted the nationally televised game at Robertson Stadium and won 34–20 to claim the school's second C-USA Championship and 10th conference title overall. The Cougars finished the season with a loss to the South Carolina Gamecocks in the Liberty Bowl that gave them a final won–loss record of 10–4.
In 2007, the Cougars went 8–4 and finished second in the Conference USA West Division to the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. In late November the Cougars accepted an invitation to the Texas Bowl. Two days later, Art Briles interviewed for the vacant Baylor Bears head coaching position and was hired the next day. Despite criticism from many Houston fans, Briles promptly left Houston for Waco and did not return to coach the Cougars for their bowl game in December. Cornerbacks coach Chris Thurmond was named interim coach for the bowl game which the Cougars lost to TCU, 20–13.
Despite the rancor surrounding the departure of Art Briles, his coaching tenure had been the most successful at UH since Jack Pardee departed for the NFL almost 20 years before. Briles had recruited well and coached his teams to on-field success, compiling a 34–28 record in his five seasons. More importantly, Briles had helped to return the program to respectability, most notably with the 2006 C-USA Championship. Briles's close ties with Texas high school coaches helped him to strengthen the program's ties to its primary talent base, and several of his players had been prominent selections in the NFL draft. Fan interest increased in the Briles era, and talk began of expanding Robertson Stadium beyond its current capacity. It is not too much to say that Art Briles brought the program to heights it had not seen since the 1980s.
On December 14, 2007, Kevin Sumlin, a co-offensive coordinator for the Oklahoma Sooners, was named as the Houston Cougars' 11th head football coach. Sumlin became the first African-American head coach in Cougar history, and the eighth in the NCAA's Football Bowl Subdivision. In his final year with the Sooners, his offense was one of the best in the country, averaging 44 points per game. Sumlin's first game made history at UH, as it drew the second-largest crowd ever as a home opener at Robertson Stadium. Topping Bill Meek's record, he scored the most points in Cougar history for a coaching debut.
Sumlin's first season in 2008 began with a rocky start as Houston lost consecutive games to Oklahoma State, Air Force, and Colorado State but rebounded to finish with a promising 8–5 record and achieved a bowl-game victory in a rematch with Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. The up-and-down 2008 season saw walk-on wide receiver Patrick Edwards suffer a horrifying injury during a road game against Marshall University as Edwards broke his leg colliding with Thundering Herd band carts inexplicably placed in the back of the Marshall end zone in Huntington, West Virginia. At the start of the 2008 season Coach Kevin Sumlin named sophomore Case Keenum as the starting quarterback for the Cougars and implemented a high octane pass based offense. Keenum would throw for over 5000 yards that season. In 2008, under Coach Sumlin, Houston ended its twenty-eight year bowl game losing streak as they won the 2008 Armed Forces Bowl
In the 2009 season, the Cougars defeated Oklahoma State on the road in what was one of the most memorable Cougar football seasons ever. On September 12, 2009, the Sumlin-led Cougars defeated #5-ranked Oklahoma State in Stillwater to win its first victory over a top-10 opponent in 21 years, and first victory over a top-5 opponent in 25 years. After defeating then-#5 Oklahoma State, the Cougars were ranked (#21 in the AP Top 25) for the first time since September 17, 1991. In the following game, in front of a sold-out crowd at Robertson Stadium, Houston would pull out yet another exciting win, this time over Texas Tech 29–28 following a furious final-minute comeback. In 2009, Houston went on compile a 10–4 record that also featured a last-second come-from-behind victory at Tulsa and a win over Mississippi State from the SEC. Despite great success the 2009 season culminated with disappointment with losses to UCF and East Carolina in the C-USA Championship game which was followed by an uninspired performance against Air Force in the Armed Forces Bowl. The Cougars continued to be nationally ranked throughout the majority of the 2009 season, reaching #12 in the major polls before losing their final 2 games. There was great promise as Houston was ranked to begin the 2010 season, having not seen a preseason ranking since the early 1990s. After the Cougars routed their first few opponents, star quarterback Case Keenum suffered a season-ending ACL injury, and backup QB Cotton Turner was also lost for the season, being injured in the same game against UCLA. The 2010 season resulted in a disappointing 5–7 record, but the NCAA granted quarterback Case Keenum a sixth year of eligibility, which allowed the record-setting passer to return for the 2011 season.
Kevin Sumlin led the Cougars to a national ranking at some point during each of the three consecutive seasons from 2009 to 2011. In 2011, after compiling a 12–0 record and reaching #6 in the BCS rankings, Houston was on the verge of becoming a so-called BCS buster, needing only a home win over Southern Mississippi in the C-USA Championship game to clinch a bid to the Sugar Bowl and a 17 million-dollar BCS Bowl payout. But the Sumlin-coached Cougars' dreams were dashed as the Golden Eagles defeated UH 49–28 at Robertson Stadium, amid rumors that Sumlin was already being courted for the head-coaching position at Texas A&M, which Sumlin denied. Sumlin was announced as the new head coach of Texas A&M University on December 10, 2011. The Kevin Sumlin era saw Houston return to prominence behind the arm of the NCAA's all-time leading passer, Case Keenum, and an air-raid offense designed by Offensive Coordinator Dana Holgerson. As with Briles, under Coach Sumlin Houston was known for its offensive prowess, leading the NCAA in yards per game in 2009 and 2011 with a scoring average of over 50 points per game in the 2011 regular season. Houston scored over 70 points three times during Sumlin's tenure and broke numerous offensive passing records behind the NCAA's all-time leading passer, Case Keenum. Kevin Sumlin won more games in his first four seasons than any other Houston head coach in history, but this success was tempered by the Cougars' twice falling in the C-USA Championship game. Despite tremendous success, Sumlin's departure before completing the 2011 season, like Art Briles's in 2007, left many Houston fans with a bitter taste that was amplified by Sumlin's publicly insisting he intended to coach the 2012 season at Houston just hours before accepting the head coaching position at Texas A&M. In 2011, Houston finished the season 13–1 and was ranked in the final major-college football polls (#18 AP/ #14 USA Today Coaches, #19 BCS) for the first time since the 1990 season.
Tony Levine was named interim head coach for the TicketCity Bowl scheduled for January 2, 2012, and, following a ten-day coaching search during which eight candidates were considered, Levine was promoted to permanent head coach of the University of Houston football team. In his initial press conference, Levine indicated that Houston was his dream job, and, unlike Briles and Sumlin, he intended to make coaching UH football a long-term commitment. During his statement at his initial press conference, Coach Levine affirmed a commitment to continue the high-flying Houston spread offense of his predecessors while improving the defense, which had already shown some improvement in the 2011 season after underachieving for many years. While Houston has long been an offensive juggernaut, defense was also a staple of Houston teams under Houston coach Bill Yeoman's so-called "Mad Dog" defenses. Houston football competes in the American Athletic Conference in 2013 and announced that it will break ground in December 2012 on a new state-of-the-art football stadium.
Levine experienced success in his first game as head coach with Houston defeating Penn State 30–14 in the 2012 TicketCity Bowl at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas. During the game, Case Keenum broke an NCAA bowl record for passing yards in a quarter as the all-time leading NCAA passer shredded the Big 10 Conference defense of Penn State for 227 yards in the first quarter. Following the bowl game, Coach Levine began assembling his staff while the Houston coaching staff inherited from the former coach underwent the usual attrition that follows a change of head coaches. Coach Levine promoted assistant coach Jamie Bryant to defensive coordinator and hired Mike Nesbitt of Stephen F. Austin as the new offensive coordinator.
Houston entered the 2012 season with high expectations and a bevy of returning starters on defense. David Piland had been given the reins of the Houston offense at quarterback after the departure of Case Keenum. In the 2012 season opener for the Cougars, Houston suffered a crushing home loss to the Texas State Bobcats, who were playing in their first game as a Division I FBS team. In the fallout of the loss, coach Mike Nesbitt resigned his position as offensive coordinator for the Cougars. Assistant coach Travis Bush assumed play-calling duties for the Cougars for the rest of the season. The Cougars lost the first three games of the season but were then able to rebound with three consecutive wins. With a 3–3 record, UH was set to face SMU in Dallas. The Cougars played a game riddled with mistakes against the Mustangs on their way to a 72–42 defeat, allowing the most points to an opponent in school history and giving up a school record nine turnovers. The Cougars went 2–3 in their last five games to finish the season 5–7 and miss out on a bowl bid.
What seemed a promising beginning to his coaching tenure with a bowl win at the end of the 2011 season turned sour for Coach Levine during the 2012 season. With a more challenging AAC schedule looming in 2013, Coach Levine faces the difficulty of rebuilding a team and staff that left alumni disgruntled and uncertain. Robertson Stadium, home of the Houston Cougars, makes way for a new on campus stadium that is scheduled to be finished in time for the 2014 season. UH will play its 2013 season off-campus at Reliant Stadium, BBVA Compass Stadium and Rice Stadium.
Houston has traditionally stayed consistent with their scarlet and white uniform design. However, they switched from adidas to Nike in 2008 and then in 2011 began rolling out alternate uniform designs. For the 2011 homecoming, Houston wore a "throwback" uniform against Marshall to honor the Bill Yoeman era during the Golden Age of Houston football. The uniforms were auctioned after the game and raised nearly $60,000 for the Cougar Pride and UH Alumni Association. For the 2012 homecoming football game, Houston wore gray football uniforms for the first time in school history and every helmet had a new Cougar head logo and the number 2 on it to honor the injured D.J. Hayden.
In 2013, Houston revealed a new uniform template that was drasitcally different than previous designs with shoulders that were the opposite color of the jersey. For the first time in school history, UH released new white helmets for the 2013 season. Houston also had a Thursday night game on ESPN against the USF Bulls that happened to fall on Halloween and Nike designed a special alternate Halloween uniform for the game.
The Houston Cougars' football program started the same year as its basketball program in 1946. The Cougars played in the Lone Star Conference for their first few seasons through 1948. The university then decided to leave for the Gulf Coast Conference. From 1951 to 1959 Houston played in the Missouri Valley Conference. In 1956, when the NCAA split into divisions, the team began playing as a part of the University Division (later known as Division I). From 1960 to 1976 the Houston Cougars were a major independent, achieving six straight final Top-25 finishes (eight total while independent) and five bowl appearances. In 1976, the Cougars began to play in their first athletic conference since 1959 when they joined the now-defunct Southwest Conference. After the breakup of the SWC in 1995, Houston became a charter member of then newly formed Conference USA.
In October 2011, Houston was extended an invitation to join the Big East Conference in all sports. This invitation was significant because the Big East is an Automatic Qualifying conference in football, meaning that the conference champion automatically is invited to play in a lucrative BCS bowl. The invitation was motivated by the departures of Syracuse and Pittsburgh from the Big East to the Atlantic Coast Conference and was part of an effort by the Big East to shore up its strength in football. The Board of Regents of the University of Houston voted to authorize Houston President Renu Khator to take whatever action she deemed beneficial regarding conference realignment. On December 7, 2011, the University of Houston was officially announced as one of the newest members of the Big East Conference, effective July 2013. However, further membership turnover led to the Big East splitting into football-sponsoring and non-football conferences. The football-sponsoring conference, after selling the Big East name to the non-football conference, announced that it would operate as the American Athletic Conference after the split.
Houston has competed in bowl games during seven of the last nine football seasons. Prior to Houston's 2008 Armed Forces Bowl win against Air Force, the Cougars had not won a bowl game since the 1980 Garden State Bowl. This put the Cougars in second place behind the Notre Dame Fighting Irish for the all-time longest bowl-game losing streak. Overall Houston has made 21 bowl appearances during its history, including four Cotton Bowls in which Houston holds a 2–2 record with wins over Nebraska and Maryland. On January 2, 2012, Houston matched up with Penn State of the Big 10 in the TicketCity Bowl and won 30–14.
The Houston Cougars have finished in the AP Poll and Coaches' Poll sixteen times in the program's history, with the highest-ranked finishes being #4 in 1976 and #5 in 1979. Note: The AP Poll began in 1936, and the Coaches' Poll began in 1950. Before 1990, only the top 20 teams were ranked in the AP Poll.
|Year||Record||AP Poll||Coaches Poll|
The Cougars have won ten conference championships in their history, half of which were outright championships. From 1960 to 1975, the Cougars were not eligible for a conference championship as they were not affiliated with any conference.
|1952||Missouri Valley Conference||8–2 (3–0)|
|1956||Missouri Valley Conference||7–2–1 (4–0)|
|1957||Missouri Valley Conference||5–4–1 (3–0–1)|
|1959 §||Missouri Valley Conference||3–7 (3–1)|
|1976 §||Southwest Conference||10–2 (7–1)|
|1978||Southwest Conference||9–3 (7–1)|
|1979 §||Southwest Conference||11–1 (7–1)|
|1984 §||Southwest Conference||7–5 (6–2)|
|1996 §||Conference USA||7–5 (4–1)|
|2006||Conference USA||10–4 (7–1)|
§ – Conference co-champions
|Team||Games Played||Houston Win||Houston Loss||Ties||Win %||First Meeting||Last Meeting||Next Scheduled Meeting||Trophy|
|Baylor Bears||28||13||14||1||.482||1950||L 47–7 (1995)|
|Rice Owls||40||29||11||0||.725||1971||W 31–26 (2013)||TBD||Bayou Bucket|
|Tulsa Golden Hurricanes||38||20||18||0||.526||1950||L 7–41 (2012)|
|Texas A&M Aggies||34||12||19||3||.397||1952||L 7–31 (1995)|
|Texas Tech Red Raiders||30||18||11||1||.617||1951||L 20–35 (2010)||September 16, 2017|
|SMU Mustangs||29||18||10||1||.638||1975||W 34–0 (2013)||TBD|
|Texas Longhorns||25||7||16||2||.320||1953||L 11–41 (2002)|
Heisman Trophy winners
|1||UTSA||Texas State||at Texas State||at Arizona||Arizona||Kansas||at Kansas||Texas Tech||at Texas Tech|
|2||at BYU||at Louisville||Louisville||Texas Tech||at Texas Tech|
|Tony Levine||Head Coach|
|Travis Bush||Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach|
|David Gibbs||Defensive Coordinator|
|Jamie Christian||Special Teams Coordinator/Inside Receivers Coach|
|Brandon Middleton||Outside Receivers Coach|
|Lee Hays||Offensive Line Coach|
|Zac Spavital||Defensive Backs Coach|
|Carlton Hall, Ricky Logo||Defensive Line Coaches|
From the program's inception, until the end of the 1950 season, the Cougars played their home games in the Houston Public School Stadium, which would eventually be renamed to Robertson Stadium in 1980. However, with the exception of occasional single games in the 1995 and 1996 seasons, the Cougars did not return to the stadium until the 1998 season following renovations. This remained their home stadium through the 2012 season; demolition began shortly afterwards to make way for a new stadium at the same site. From 2006–2011, the stadium was also home to Houston's Major League Soccer team, the Houston Dynamo.
Houston Football Stadium is the description of the Cougars' new stadium. The groundbreaking for the project occurred on February 8, 2013, and the Cougars are scheduled to move in for the 2014 season. The stadium's estimated cost is $120 million. It will be built upon the former Robertson Stadium site.
In 1951, Houston Stadium, a stadium subsidized by the city of Houston opened. Until 1964, the Cougars played their home games in Houston Stadium along with Rice University. During this time, President John F. Kennedy gave his famous address regarding the nation's space effort at the stadium. It is now simply known as Rice Stadium, and is only home to the Rice Owls.
In 1965, the Astrodome was officially opened, and the Cougars moved in the same year. In 1968, the Bluebonnet Bowl also changed its location to the stadium, and the Cougars regularly began to participate in the bowl. After the 1997 season, following renovations, the Cougars moved back into Robertson Stadium. The Astrodome remains the team's longest serving home stadium.
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