HOUSTON – The leader of the #HTownTakeover’s offense the past two years, Major Applewhite has been named the 14th head coach of the University of Houston Football program Houston Vice President for Athletics Hunter Yurachek announced Friday.
Applewhite’s appointment is effective immediately and he will serve as Houston’s head coach for the Dec. 17 Las Vegas Bowl with Todd Orlando serving as defensive coordinator.
“When we set out on our search for the new leader of our football program, we wanted a coach with great integrity who believed in our mission and truly believed in our student-athlete experience,” said Yurachek. “We had our sights set on a focused competitor who has demonstrated success and possesses a deep connection to college and high school football in the great state of Texas. As this process was completed, it was clearly evident the only individual to offer our position to was Major Applewhite and he was indeed the right man to lead our program.”
Applewhite, who has spent 11 of his 13 professional years coaching in the state of Texas, has spent seven years as an offensive coordinator beginning in 2006 at Rice where he was the youngest coordinator on the FBS level at the time.
“My family and I are excited and honored to have the opportunity to lead such a tradition rich program and continue our lives in one of the greatest cities is the nation, a city we love,” said Applewhite. “The student-athletes truly are the backbone of every great program and as they’ve demonstrated over the past few years, we have an exceptional group of young men in our program, and we’ll continue to add men with great character and a competitive drive in our recruiting. Living in the best state for high school football is a true blessing and advantage for our program and I cannot be more thankful for the support of our outstanding high school coaches from throughout the state.”
Over the last two seasons, Applewhite’s explosive offenses have helped the Houston program to the best two-year win total in program history with the 22 wins over 2015-16 ranking fourth nationally behind only Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State. Houston started out 5-0 in back-to-back seasons for the first time in program history with Applewhite’s offense averaging 45.3 points per game in those 10 games.
“It’s no coincidence that the success UH football has achieved over the past two seasons happened with Major Applewhite running our offense. His energy and creativity are responsible for one of the most explosive passing games in college football and I am confident that as our head coach he will continue our upward trajectory as a nationally relevant athletics program,” said University of Houston President Renu Khator.
His offense eclipsed the 500-yard mark in 11 games and the 600-yard mark in four games over the past two years. Scoring wise, Applewhite’s offense has eclipsed the 40-point mark 12 times and the 50-point mark on five occasions.
“Major Applewhite is a huge reason we’ve won 22 games in the last two seasons and I’m excited that he’s our head coach. He has demonstrated success on the field and on the sideline throughout his career. He knows we are positioned to compete for championships and I’m confident we’ll continue our success under his leadership,” said University of Houston System Board of Regents Chairman Tilman Fertitta.
Applewhite led a 2016 Houston offense that was among the nation’s best, ranking 15th in passing offense (301.9 yards per game) and 21st in scoring offense (38.0 points per game) as Houston scored over 30 points in 11 of 12 games.
Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. was the only player nationally to average over 300 yards passing per game and over 45 yards rushing per game en route to earning second team honors from The American. Under Applewhite’s leadership, Ward finished the regular season fourth nationally in total offense per game with an average of 349.6 yard per game while ranking eighth in completion percentage, 67.6 percent, and 11th in passing average with 302.5 yards per game.
Showing its balance, the Houston offense was one of only eight nationally to average over 300 yards passing per game and over 157 yards rushing per game in 2016. The versatility of the offense was evident with seven different players recording rushing touchdowns and eighth players pulling in receiving touchdowns.
Houston was one of only six programs nationally with three players pulling in at least 650 receiving yards led by Linell Bonner who became Houston’s 19th 1,000-yard receiver with 93 receptions for 1,076 yards, ranking fourth nationally with an average of 8.5 receptions per game.
In his first season at Houston, Applewhite led an offense that was one of only three nationally to average over 235 yards per game in both rushing (235.8 yards per game) and passing (248.4 yards per game) as the Houston offense ranked 20th nationally in total offense with an average of 484.1 yards per game.
The explosive Cougar attack ranked 10th nationally in scoring offense with an average of 40.4 points per game, an improvement of 47 spots from 2014 when it finished the year 57th nationally with an average of 29.8 points per game. Houston scored over 30 points in 12 games, over 40 points in six games and over 50 points in four games.
Houston was led by the Earl Campbell Award winner – junior quarterback Greg Ward Jr., who was one of only two players nationally to rush for over 1,000 yards and throw for over 1,400 yards, finishing the regular season with 1,108 rushing yards and 2,828 passing yards. The junior broke 14 Houston or The American records in 2015 while tying three others.
Applewhite arrived in Houston after seven years at Texas, his final four years as co-offensive coordinator after serving as assistant head coach his first three seasons. Position wise, Applewhite oversaw the program’s running backs his first five seasons and the quarterbacks his final year.
In 2013, despite losing starting QB David Ash for a majority of the season, Case McCoy stepped in and helped the Longhorns post a 7-2 Big 12 record that had them in position for the league title in the last game of the season under Applewhite’s eye. The season pushed McCoy into the top 10 in career passing at UT with 3,689 yards, a list Ash ranks eighth on with 4,538. Overall, Applewhite guided the offense to an average 408.7 total yards, including 196.2 yards on the ground (No. 3 Big 12). It also set a UT single-game record with 715 total yards, including 359 on the ground and 356 in the air, against New Mexico State.
During his time with the running backs at UT, Applewhite had success with Fozzy Whittaker, Chris Ogbonnaya, and Cody Johnson all having advanced to the NFL. In 2012, the running backs combined for nearly 2,000 rushing yards, including 701 by freshman Johnathan Gray who earned Honorable Mention All-Big 12 honors. Joe Bergeron also posted 16 rushing TDs, which was second in the Big 12. Four backs rushed for more than 200 yards and the RBs combined for 836 receiving yards on 84 receptions.
In 2011, Texas running backs combined for 2,300 yards and 23 touchdowns while adding 36 receptions for 285 yards. Four different backs recorded five or more rushing touchdowns and four players had over 300 rushing yards, led by Malcolm Brown (707 yards, 5 TD), who missed five games due to injury in 2012, and Bergeron (454 yards, 5 TD). Brown was named Big 12 Newcomer of the Year by the Associated Press.
In 2010, the running back corps combined for 1,396 rushing yards and 14 TDs, while catching 47 passes for 322 yards. During Applewhite’s tenure, the current Texas RBs who have started at least one game in their careers fumbled only 12 times and lost only three. Of those 12, only four belonged to backs on the 2010 team and of those, only one was lost.
The running backs rushed for 1,665 yards and 24 TDs in 2009. Newton, a redshirt freshman, emerged to lead the team in rushing, helping fill the void of Ogbonnaya, who was drafted by the St. Louis Rams. Newton combined with junior Vondrell McGee, Johnson and Whittaker, who each had at least 50 carries.
In 2008, Applewhite guided a running backs unit that had to replace Jamaal Charles, who went to the NFL. Ogbonnaya, McGee, Whittaker and Johnson stepped in and combined to rush for 1,371 yards and 20 TDs, including 12 TDs by Johnson, which tied the UT freshman record. The group did not lose a fumble during the entire season and showed its versatility by combining for 65 receptions for 640 yards and three TDs, led by Ogbonnaya, who set the UT single-season record for receptions by a running back with 46. He also finished second on the single-season receiving yards list with 540. Ogbonnaya earned Honorable Mention All-Big 12 honors and was named Second-Team Academic All-American.
Applewhite returned to his alma mater after spending the 2007 season as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Alabama, where he was the youngest coordinator on the FBS level.
In Applewhite’s one year at Alabama, the Crimson Tide bounced back from a losing season in 2006 to post a 7-6 record under first-year coach Nick Saban. Under his guidance, Alabama improved its offensive output by nearly 40 yards per game (335.9 to 373.8) and increased its scoring from 22.9 points per game to 27.1. His offense generated 256 yards passing and 388 total yards to cap the year with a 30-24 win over Colorado in the Independence Bowl.
In 2007, the Crimson Tide gained 510 yards of offense (363 passing/147 rushing) en route to a 41-17 victory over a Tennessee team that finished the year ranked 12th nationally. Trailing 20-10 in the fourth quarter against a Georgia team that finished the year ranked No. 2, Applewhite’s offense scored 10 points in the final six minutes, including a 10-play, 88-yard drive that tied the game and sent it to overtime.
Prior to Alabama, Applewhite spent a season as offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach at Rice where, as the youngest coordinator on the FBS level, he directed an offense that scored the then-most points (350) and gained the then second-most yards (4,486) in Owls’ history. Under his guidance, Rice produced a 1,000-yard rusher, a 1,000-yard receiver and a 1,000-yard passer for the first time in school history en route to the program’s first appearance in a bowl game since 1961. The 2006 Rice offense produced a 109-point improvement in scoring over the previous season.
Before his stint at Rice, Applewhite joined Greg Robinson at Syracuse where he served as quarterbacks coach in 2005. Applewhite’s coaching career began where he starred, at Texas, where he served as a graduate assistant coach and worked with the offensive line for two seasons (2003-04). In his final year in 2004, the Longhorns went 11-1, beat No. 12 Michigan in the Rose Bowl and earned a No. 4 final ranking – its highest since 1981.
The Longhorns’ team captain in 2001, Applewhite helped Texas to four straight bowl games (1999 and 2000 Cotton Bowls/2000 and 2001 Holiday Bowls) and posted a 22-8 record as a starter. He capped his career by throwing for a UT record 473 yards and a Longhorn-bowl-game best four TDs en route to Offensive MVP honors in a 47-43 victory over No. 20 Washington in the 2001 Holiday Bowl. The 1999 co-Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year set then-UT records for career (8,353) and season (3,357/1999) passing yards, as well as career TD passes (60). He threw for 2,453 yards and 18 TDs, UT freshman records at the time, in claiming Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors in 1998.
A native of Baton Rouge, La., Applewhite threw for 50 touchdowns and ran for eight more in two years as a starter at Catholic High School. He was tabbed an Honorable Mention prep All-America by USA Today after leading Catholic High to a 13-1 record and No. 10 national ranking as a senior. He was 25-2 as a starter.
Applewhite and his wife Julie have two children, daughter Lila, and son Nash.
Houston is slated to take on San Diego State in the 2016 Las Vegas Bowl presented by GEICO on Saturday, Dec. 17, at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. In one of the more anticipated bowl games, Houston’s No. 3 rushing defense will face the Aztecs and running back Donnel Pumphrey, the No. 2 rusher in the nation this season.