Posts Tagged ‘UH Cougars’

Aggies Steal The Moment from UH

December 2, 2011

Robertson Stadium, UH Campus: Scene of tomorrow's C-USA Championship Game between Southern Miss and the University of Houston.

On the eve of their great closure for a C-USA conference championship, an undefeated 13-0 season record, and a BCS bid that will probably land them in the Sugar Bowl, if they are successful in Saturday’s game against Southern Miss, the # 7 ranked UH Cougars have had their big moment stolen away from them by Texas A&M.

The Friday, Dec. 2nd sports page headlines of the Houston Chronicle totally derailed the UH meditation on what the history about to happen on the field in a little more than 24 hours. These headlines screamed, “Uh Oh, Cougars! You better start sweating out the loss of your coach!”

They screamed it this way at the top of the page: “A&M fires Sherman, sets sights on Sumlin”

That’s right. The Texas A&M firing Thursday of their head football coach, Mike Sherman, has set in motion the swirl over UH Coach Kevin Sumlin that we knew was coming anyway. In fact, A&M didn’t really start it. Earlier word yesterday came out that Arizona State wanted Sumlin for their coach at a salary of $4 million per year. Sumlin makes $1.2 million at UH. The math is easy to do. If immediate money, or money itself, is the only consideration here, “have not” UH has lost again to one of the many “have” schools out there.

If UH cannot come up with the bucks to match these other offers, than the university will have to stay good at the art of finding and hiring their next winning coach and keeping them until they can no longer afford them. Just as UH found with Art Briles before him, UH may soon need to ferret out the next Kevin Sumlin on the staff of some other successful program and keep on moving from there. Until UH can afford it, success cannot hinge on having the bucks for hiring the obviously most successful candidate out there. Until the day comes around that UH trades in its “stepping stone” status for recognition as a “destiny” school, UH will just have to keep finding those diamonds-in-the-rough that only need the opportunity to show what they can do.

With all the clamor on campus these days about the drive for UH elevation to “Tier One” status academically, it’s important to keep in mind how that notion translates to collegiate athletics. “Tier One” in college athletics is becoming a “destiny school” along the lines of Notre Dame, Ohio State, Alabama, Oklahoma, LSU, and Texas.

With any luck, maybe Kevin Sumlin will turn out to be like Bill Yeoman and be one of those rare individuals whose loyalty to the cause will keep him in Houston for the full ride back to national greatness in football and basketball. Those are the money sports that pay for everything else. They just don’t produce the uber-dollars that some universities have for coaching salaries. That kind of support has to come from well-heeled alumni donors.

That’s it for now. The next few days should tell us much about how the Sumlin Story will play out from here in the near term. In the meanwhile, those of us who care only hope that the coach-swirl will not detract from the Cougars’ performance on the field tomorrow or in the bowl game to come.

 

Heartbreak Redemption

September 18, 2011

"I've hated the score of 35-34 since January 1, 1979, when UH lost to Notre Dame on the frozen tundra of the Cotton Bowl on the last play of the game, after leading the Irish 34-14 with 7:20 to go. Now, after the happier result of September 17, 2011, when my Cougars came back from a 34-7 deficit late in the 3rd quarter to defeat mighty Louisiana Tech, 35-34, I can love it too." - Bill McCurdy

Heartbreak on any level is tough, but it always seem to hit hardest from those sources that hit us first in the land of long ago. As a kid growing up in the Houston East End during the post-WWII years, the Houston Buffs were my first heartbreakers. When the 1950 Buffs finished last behind the Shreveport Sports on a shot at 7th place in the last couple of days of the season, I remember crying myself to sleep the night that I listened over the radio to the Buffs losing out on their hoped for escape from the cellar. I had to cry quietly, but I cried just the same. The Buffs pain carried over with some slightly diminished power over me through the early years of the Colt .45s and Astros. I thought it was gone completely, until Houston’s losses in the NLCS to the Phillies in 1980 and to the damn Mets in 1986 came along to teach me differently.  I didn’t cry those times, but I probably should have. It hurt so bad.

Right behind the Buffs, however, I learned about an even deeper personal heartache when I lost my childhood sweetheart over something young and stupid. That one was a real seasoning experience to this thing we call “loss,” but it turned out to be an experience we almost have to go through on some level to survive some of the even steeper  trenches that await us on the various roads of life. I’m a little wiser from that one today. At least, that’s what I keep telling myself.

The heartbreaker I never seem to toughen to, or learn from, however, is this ancient emotional investment I have in the athletic fates of my undergraduate alma mater, The University of Houston Cougars, and, especially in the trials and tribulations of the football team. The football crossover for this baseball man is easy to trace. I grew up very near the UH campus and my dad took me to some Cougar football games from very early on, from their very first game ever played in 1946 – and I was hooked on the Coogs. From our Salad Bowl victory over Dayton in 1951, behind running back Gene Shannon and onward through  the years of QB Bobby Clatterbuck through the great era of Bill Yeoman, the Veer, Warren McVea, Paul Gibson, Elmo Wright, WIlson Whitley, the Mad Dog Defense, the 1967 pasting of Michigan State, 37-7, at East Lansing and the 30-0 rout of UT at Austin in 1976. These memories are simply delicious to the Cougar appetite for gridiron glory.

But anything that joyful, I’ve learned, bears the equivalent power to generate sorrow. On that level, it doesn’t matter if it’s your team in the big game, the woman you thought would be the joy of your life forever, or that big job or career move you hoped was going to put you on the path of “happily ever after.” If it can raise you up, it can drop you down.

How do you avoid it? Don’t go there. It’s just that simple.

Oh really? If 90% of us heeded that advice, every major commercial sport in America would shut down tomorrow, as would every major luxury mall and fine new car dealership, or must-live-here gated new homes community. We won’t do it. We won’t give up these things.  – Winning! – It’s the tiger blood in us all. We live to have our clocks wound with new and high expectation, but the rub is – even for the Steinbrenners of this world, that we also always hang around long enough to have our clocks cleaned eventually by the competitive expectation needs of someone else.

Yesterday I was watching my UH Cougars go down 34-7 to those great titans of college football, the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs. With about five minutes to go in the third quarter, on the fabled fields of Ruston, the Coogs looked down and out for good. An undefeated team from C-USA was about to get crushed by a nobody club from the WAC. No surer path to collegiate football ignominy than that exists anywhere else. I’m already thinking, “If this is the best we can do, we may as well hang it up in our pursuit of a better conference membership!”

Then it happened. The Cougars scored to make it “only” a 34-14 twenty point deficit. Then they caught fire on turnovers and new life to score 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to take their first lead , and the win, with their last score coming in the last minute and one-half of the game.

UH won, 35-34, by a margin and mark that had been my least favorite final score in the whole world  previously, thanks to Joe Montana on New Years Day 1979. Now it also instantly had become my favorite final score as a result of the Ruston Resurrection.  Like a fresh chip of crack cocaine, I had been injected again by the chemical effect of these events upon my nervous system with the wild hope that UH could overcome all odds against them on the road to Tier One status at every level of their university existence. I do believe we will get there, but that it will be equivalently as easy as that victory in football last night.

I’m pumped. But anything that can be pumped can also be deflated.

GO COOGS! EAT ‘EM UP!

At UH, It’s Still the Same Old Story, A Fight for Love and Glory.

May 3, 2010

At UH these days, it’s still the same old story, a fight for love and glory, and maybe on the NCAA sports level, even a case of do or die, as well. The big UH sports question really is: (1) Will UH President/Chancellor Renu Khator and UH Athletic Director Mark Rhoades be able to recognize the historical entrenchment of the obstacles they each face and be able to martial the university’s fairly powerful alumni elders and legislative supporters behind them as they concurrently rally the diverse student body and general population of UH sports fans and ordinary peopled alumni to get behind this latest big push for excellence at the NCAA Division I level? The questions alone is a mouthful. The answers are far more mercurial than they always first seem. An this is not the first UH dance with this problem.

The UH fan support plight has been mentioned fairly often as a challenge in the past, but usually in far less sophisticated terms as a ticket “selling job.” It is that, but more too. We know better now. It comes down to selling tickets, but the job at hand is really so much larger.

In 1979-80, Babe McCurdy served as mascot of the UH Mad Dog Defense.

As a UH alumnus (1960), I dove in for a first hand look at what I might do individually to help sell the team back in 1979. Back then I owned an English Bulldog named Babe, whom I thought would make a great mascot for the UH Mad Dog Defense. I also had a hunch that UH could do something with an authentic football game jersey that no other university or professional team had ever tried. In my proposal, UH would retail the sale of real UH football jerseys to fans. All would bear the digit #1 that currently was in use by UH linebacker Danny Brabham. At the end of the season, we would hold a retirement ceremony for #1, reserving that number of singular sensation fame from there to forever for the exclusive use of fans who bought official jerseys from UH.

As the best laid plans of mice and men so often unfold, things didn’t happen the way I hoped they would. UH ran off an 11-1 season in 1979 that included a 17-14 win over Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl and a #4 finish in the final AP Top 25 Poll, but the university dropped the ball in the way they decided to handle this incredible success: (1) The Retirement of Jersey #1 for the fans never happened. When linebacker Brabham went out with an injury early in the 1979 season, he applied and received permission for another year of eligibility in 1980. The retirement ceremony was postponed, but still never happened because the importance of the event was not communicated to the football coaching staff – who promptly promised the #1 to another recruit. And that was that. (2) Mad Dog Babe had become a darling of the fans, but the presence of the feisty and talented bulldog on the field had aroused some jealousy among members of the Cougar Guard students who took care of Shasta, the live Cougar, on the sidelines. There wasn’t much they could do with Shasta, who came to each game under heavy sedation for the safety of one and all. Meanwhile, the Mad Dog Babe was roaming the sidelines, tearing up jerseys and replicas of the opposition’s mascots and leading the Cougar defense on the field prior to games. As her owner, trainer, and good buddy in ridiculous mayhem, I got to be there with her for every game, even getting to kick a 35 yard field goal in an after midnight half time ceremony in a game with Texas A&M that had to be postponed until later in the evening due to a baseball playoff game between the Astros and Phillies back in 1980. It was simply a wonderful time for the two years (1979-80) that it lasted.

Babe was trained to move the football anytime she heard the Cougar Fight Song.

(3) The worst misunderstanding by former AD Dempsey fell hard upon Cougar Nation in 1980. Instead of grasping and flying with the jersey retirement-fan inclusion plan after that successful 1979 season, Dempsey decided to add a $100 per ticket personal seat license on sales to all UH season ticket holders. The crashing sound that followed was the clatter of UH fans, including yours truly, allowing their season ticket options to fall and hit the pavement. Babe and I were gone from UH after 1980 – and it took another twenty years and former AD Dave Maggard to get me back as a season ticket holder again.

The spirit of Mad Dog Babe is as long as her teeth.

Cedric Dempsey was simply the worst thing that ever happened to UH Athletics. He never really understood UH or the people of Houston. We cannot again afford to have anyone at the helm who either thinks or acts as Dempsey once did.  If UH athletics are to rise again to their SWC football and Phi Slama Jama basketball glory days, the Cougars are going to need (1) an infusion of new blood into the body of season ticket holders. When we remove our Cougar game caps, our current alumni bunch pans out like a field of aging cotton tops;  (2) first class facilities for football and basketball are a must; (3) more season ticket holders who are willing to pay more because they’ve been clearly told what they are paying for; (3) exceptional recruits and better salaries for ket staff that will allow us to keep coaches like the intelligent and classy Kevin Sumlin; and (4) membership in a first tier BCS football conference.

It’s a tall, tall order, but it either has to be done or we Cougars have to stop complaining. It’s put up or shut time at UH.

UH Honors Alumnus Richard Coselli and Others.

April 27, 2010

UH Grads Mary Jo & Richard Coselli, At Home in Chappell Hill.

For five years, 2004 to 2009, it was my great pleasure to work along side attorney Richard Coselli as volunteers in service to the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. As Board President from 2004 to 2008, and as President Emeritus through the crack of doom since 2008, but now retired from active service, it remains my fondest hope that the TBHOF will still someday find its home in the form of a physical presence that Houstonians and fellow Texans will be proud to embrace as worthy of its fully stated mission statement for preserving Texas baseball history.

Mr. Richard Coselli was the major person who helped us organize this effort as a legal entity from 2004 through 2009, even providing us with the use of his own office board room for our periodic meetings. We could not have done it all without him. Richard Coselli just happened to have been the exact person we needed during our transitional years in Houston. He was a native Houstonian and a man who loved baseball. Put that all in the basket with his intellect, experience, wisdom, and senses of balance and humor, and we could not have found a better counsel of service to a cause that remains to this day – one that shall always be larger than the whims, aims, needs, or desires of any single person at the helm of leadership. Although Richard Coselli, yours truly, and most others of us from our original formative group are now gone from direct connection to the TBHOF, I think I speak for us all when I say that we still hope for the best and that the organization will survive these hard economic times and find a way to flourish and grow in the future along lines that are governed by integrity of purpose and stable financial support.

Richard Coselli is no newcomer in service to this community. I could not begin to list all the things that both he and his wife, Mary Jo Coselli, have done for Houston, but the two University of Houston graduates continue to do a great many things.

I first became acquainted with Richard Coselli’s contributions while we both were students at UH more than a half century ago. Richard was slightly older than me back then – and still is, for that matter. Funny how that works. – Anyway, we never met back in the 1950s, but I was very aware of his work in organizing the original Frontier Fiesta at UH, the largest campus college show on earth, one that grew big enough to gain a write-up in Life Magazine – a publication from back in the day that spread the good word  in those primitive pre-Internet times that something big was happening in Houston. Ironically, even though I worked on the Frontier Fiesta myself, Richard Coselli and I never met until we both fell into involvement with the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame move to Houston in 2004. I had been a volunteer member of the TBHOF’s selection committee since 2001, but I didn’t wade into the deep water of its work until 2004, when Greg Lucas of Fox Sports and I agreed to head up a move of the organization’s headquarters from Dallas to Houston. Richard Coselli soon came on deck as our legal advisor.

Last Friday night, April 23, 2010, the University of Houston honored Richard Coselli (BS ’55, JD ’58) as one of eleven distinguished alumni who have made enormous contributions to the benefit of UH over the years. The occasion was marked by a formal dinner party, hosted by the UH Alumni Association and addressed by UH Chancellor and President Renu Khator.

President Renu Khator & Jim Parsons (BS '96) of TV's Big Bang Theory.

Richard Coselli was denied the opportunity of being the funniest man on the dais Friday by the presence of fellow honoree Jim Parsons. A 1996 UH graduate, Parsons is having a pretty good run these days on television as the star of the hit comedy show called “The Big Bang Theory,” but that is OK too. Our UH people come in all ages, shapes, and sizes across a diverse line of differential talent.

Richard Coselli simply brings a quartet of elements to the table of any enterprise that money cannot buy. Their names are intelligence, loyalty, honesty, and integrity.

Congratulations, Richard! It’s good to know that our university has now officially recognized what a lot of your friends have known for years. You are the kind of person that has made the University of Houston and the City of Houston the great places they each are.

“In Time” is our UH motto. In time, UH has now finally recognized one of its own for all he has done in service to the greater good of the university community. Congratulations again, my friend. You deserve every ounce and inch of credit that flows from this much larger measure.

Wondrous Warren McVea.

January 10, 2010

He was a human water bug as a running back. Try to trap him with your hands as a defensive lineman and he will simply relax the muscles in his legs and torso, allowing your touches to suddenly slide off his body as though they were spoons slipping off a buttered noodle. You are left in the lurch, grasping at air as the water bug quickly squirts off in another burst of animated motion down the field behind you.

If you then, as one of three linebackers, pick up all this happening before your disbelieving eyes, you have about one nanosecond to make eye contact with the tiny approaching figure as he looks you one way and then dashes around you another. By the time you have all relocated your jock straps, the water bug has gone again, moving deeper into your team’s side of the fifty, and now heading on a left angled diagonal trek across the field and into the intercepting pathways of four quick, cunning, and converging defensive backs.

As interceptor one, you make a calculated dive for the dancing legs. They boogie by your empty-armed grasp and you are left tumbling on a teeth-clinching roll into the turf.

As interceptors two and three, you pick up the bug in your sites and attack from cross angles. One of you reaches a left shoulder, causing the bug to spin back. The other of you explodes against the right calf of the bug as it turns back from you in response to the other side assault. Another nanosecond later and the two of you joint interceptors are crashing into each other. A near 360 degree spin by the water bug has first freed him from your almost deadly grasp and then propelled him on a course to the opposite right pylon corner of the now even evermore inviting goal line.

As the fourth, last, and greatest interceptor. you close in upon the water bug from an angle that is slightly to his left. Your paths converge at the one yard line. Just as you are about to finally bring down the elusive bug, he stares and you blink. A quick frame later, the water bug has braked just long enough to cut behind you and step over the goal line for an 84-yard touchdown run.

At journey’s end, no ball-slamming or end zone dancing takes place. The water bug simply discards  the no-longer-needed football with a gently releasing toss and trots back to his team’s sideline.

“What an incredible run! How does the guy do it?” As a fan, your dual points of exclamation and wonder about the water bug helped invent the word redundancy as it came to apply to sports page expression in the 1960s.

That human water bug, of course, was a diminutive running back from the University of Houston named Warren McVea. Between the lines, there’s never been another one like him. His ability to escape capture in an open field made him something like the Harry Houdini of college football back in the salad days of “once upon a time.”

Here’s how it all began, once upon a time in San Antonio, just days after the John F. Kennedy assassination in November 1963. Brackenridge and Lee high schools of San Antonio met in the Alamo City in a state football bi district playoff game that is still regarded by many (and all of us who saw it) as the greatest playoff game in Texas High School Football history. It also marked the very daybreak of television’s power to make overnight stars of high school kids. The image-building job was made easier by the fact that this game featured two kids who were doing pretty darn good on their own without the face of television.

Linus Baer of Lee and Warren McVea of Brackenridge were each the star running backs of their two schools, propelling their teams over all comers with virtually unstoppable running attacks. Now they had to play each other and it was anyone’s guess as to which team would prevail. The demand for tickets was so great that the game was put on television by a San Antonio station. I’m not sure how far their TV coverage reached into other markets, but I was fortunate to have been visiting with my folks in Beeville following the Kennedy death and I got to watch it with my dad.

Both clubs put their stars back to receive on kickoffs. As a result, both clubs avoided kicking deep. The one time that Lee made the mistake of doing so, Warren McVea ran it back something close to 100 yards for a touchdown. McVea collected over 200 yards rushing in the game and both stars scored multiple touchdowns before Lee finally prevailed on a last second touchdown by 55-48.

Linus Baer went on to play for the University of Texas Longhorns. Warren McVea had his pick of any top school in the country that then accepted black players. Above 73 others, McVea chose to sign with the University of Houston and to become the first black football player in the school’s history.

At UH from 1965-1967, McVea played masterfully in multiple rolls as a running back, wide receiver, and kick returner. On September 23, 1966, McVea took a pass from QB Bo Burris and went 99 yards for an unbreakable one-play distance TD catch-and-run record against Washington State. In 1967, McVea’s 84 some-odd yard touchdown run against Michigan State led the visiting Cougars to national prominence with a 37-7 win on the road at East Lansing. He made two first team All American teams in 1966-67 and then left UH for an NFL career.

After a six-year stint with Cincinnati and Kansas City of the NFL, McVea played briefly with the Detroit Wheels and old Houston Texans of the now long defunct World Football League. By this time, the 5’8″ 160 pounds soaking wet water bug had seen his better jiggling days.

Sinking into a life dominated by domestic violence, petty crime, and heavy drug addiction, Warren McVea sadly found himself sentenced to twenty-years in the Texas Department of Corrections penitentiary system.  After several years of incarceration, McVea was paroled and left to pick up the pieces of his once promising life. From all appearances, he apparently has done that neatest escape from ignominy.

Warren McVea today is sober and living in San Antonio. He works as a courier/delivery guy in the Alamo City . He came to Houston and was admitted to the University of Houston Athletic Hall of Honor in 2004 and he has since also been inducted into the San Antonio Athletic Hall of Fame.

Life’s one day a time now. If Warren McVea can avoid a relapse into that lost dark hall of the soul, it will be the greatest escape of the water bug’s life. With God’s help, it will be done.

Bill Yeoman: His Legacy to UH Was Loyalty.

December 27, 2009

When Bill Yeoman took over as the head football coach at the  University of Houston prior to the 1962 season, the Cougars  had j ust wrapped up sixteen years (1946-61) of poor to  mediocre play  at the least distinguished level of NCAA  competition. It was  hoped that the 34-year old former assistant  at Michigan State  would come down to UH and stay long  enough to finally get the  program on the right track. The TV  money in college sports was  next to nothing back then, and t  there was no BCS, of course, but  the major universities, the big  dog conferences, and four major  bowl games (the Rose, Cotton,  Sugar, and Orange) still decided  who played where in any  contests of post-season consequence.

Yeoman brought an impressive resume with him to UH for a    man so young. He layed his 1945 freshman year at Texas A&M  and then transferred to West Point. He played his three college ball eligibility seasons (1946-48) for  Army as a center under  the legendary Earl Blaik.  That ’46 club finsihed the year at 9-0-1 behind dual Heisman trophy winners and All Americans Doc Blanchard (“Mr. Inside”) and Glen Davis (“Mr. Outside”). Yeoman served as captain of the ’48 team during a season in which he achieved his own acclaim as a second team All American center. During his career at Army, Yeoman’s clubs finished with a total record of 22-2-4. Following graduation, Bill Yeoman served four years as an officer in United States Army (1950-53). After the service, Yeoman went to work as an assistant to  football coach Duffy Suagherty (1954-61) for seven years.

I had only been out of UH a couple of years when Yeoman arrived on the UH campus and I was still pretty tied as a young adult alumnus to whatever was going on at the old frat house of Phi Kappa Theta. We were all surprised when a simple phone call invitation to Bill Yeoman to join us for dinner at the animal house was not only accepted, but kept. The guy was just as down to earth and enthusiastic about UH football as could be. We all sensed that UH was in for a different deal from our young new coach. We simply had no idea how big and broad that echo of Yeoman’s loyalty to UH would carry.

After leading the Cougars to a 7-4 record and a win in the Tangerine Bowl during his first (1962) season, Yeoman became the man who led UH to integrate its athletic programs with the  signing of all-everything-world running back Warren McVea of San Antonio on June 11, 1964. During the 1965 season, Yeoman integrated something else quite powerful, introducing the world of college  football to his own invention, the veer offense. By 1965, the Cougars were also now playing in the new Astrodome – and beating name schools like Kentucky and Mississippi with the Yeoman veer attack. Things would never be the same on on old Cullen Boulevard. The Cougars proeeeded to lead the college football nation in total offense for three consecutive seasons from 1966-1968.

Improved play, victories over nationally big name opponents (like the 37-7 pasting of Michigan State in their own house in 1967) soon elevated UH to higher status, better scheduling, and greater positioning for membership in the Southwest Conference. When UH joined the SWC in 1976, it proceeded to celebrate the occasion by knocking off UT in Austin by 30-0 in Darrell Royal’s last year as coach, capturing the SWC crown, and then drubbing Maryland in the Cotton Bowl for a 4th place finish in the final polls.

Under Yeoman, UH went on to win three SWC championships in their first four years, and four SWC crowns altogether. The Cougars also made it to 11 bowl games during Yeoman’s 25 year reign as coach.  Coach Yeoman finished with a UH record of 160 wins, 108 losses, and 8 ties. He stayed on at UH after his retirement as coach following the 1986 season to help promote the university and  its football and other atheltic programs.

Wikipedia reports Bill Yeoman’s post-coaching awards in this way: He “was inducted into the University of Houston Hall of Honor in 1998. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2001 and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. Also in 2002, Yeoman received the Paul “Bear” Bryant Award Lifetime Achievement Award.Yeoman currently works as a fundraiser and Development Officer in the athletic department of the University of Houston.

Bill Yeoman could have become a wildly rich football man at places like Notre Dame, USC, Alabama, or Texas, but he didn’t go that route. He stayed with the lesser known university that gave him his big break long ago. Those of us who bleed Cougar Red shall be eternally grateful, as we also hope daily that current Cougar mentor Kevin Sumlin proves over time that he is made from the same stuff.

UH Needs To Become a Destination School.

December 7, 2009

Elvin Hayes & Bill McCurdy

Easier said than done.

The University of Houston has served this community well since 1927. For thousands of  students like me, the presence of UH and the opportunity to work our ways through school because of all the job availabilites in Houston were what made college possible. These UH gifts put me in position for an academic  scholarship to Tulane, where I did my master’s degree work, and later, for the chance to do my doctoral work at the University of Texas.

The differences between UH, Tulane, and Texas back then were quite interesting. UH was an “opportunity” school that made college possibile for a lot of us young Houstonians in the post World War II years. Tulane and Texas, on the other hand were both what I would call “destination” schools, academically. You only went to either of those schools if you could afford it, had some kind of scholarship, or, in the case of Tulane, if you could pass the entrance exam.

As a student, I can tell you now that the academic differences betweeen UH and Tulane/Texas back in the day were more reputational than actual. In all three places, you had to be able to handle the work or you weren’t going to be around very long.

Today it occurs to me that those academic differences between all three of my universities are probably even smaller in 2009. As an adjunct faculty member for several special courses offered in the past through the Department of Continuing Education, it’s been my impression that UH has steadily raised its standards and expectations over the years, while Tulane and UT have certainly maintained theirs, at least.

One thing hasn’t changed reputationally. UT and Tulane are still viewed strongly as “destination” schools, acdemically, and UH still seems to hang under the old “opportunity” school label that it has flown since inception. That’s not bad; it simply isn’t the whole truth. UH is a fine school academically, one that is now old enough and good enough to viewed as a destination school in its own right.

Some obstacles impede the path to new perceptions of UH. First all, young Houstonians may be the last to ever view UH that way because the university rests in the same town where their parents live. A big part of seeking a destination for college involves picking a school that is away from mom and dad in another city. On that level, UT and A&M will undoubtedly remain the top choices for Houstonians, but there’s no unmovable reason that UH couldn’t became more competitive for students from Dallas. San Antonio, and elsewhere in the nation and world.

One thing that needs to be changed is the perception and reality of crime in the surrounding UH campus area. UH and nearby TSU both are aware of the problem and seem to be making some progress. If you haven’t been to the UH campus area in recent years, go take a look some time. The physical and architectural change in the area is everything from pleasant to artistic to beautiful.

The “opportunity/destination” distinction still applies vividly to the UH NCAA atheltic program. UH is still an opportunity school, sort of performing with all the respect once attributed in baseball to clubs like the old St. Louis Browns and Kansas City Athletics. Those clubs didn’t sign many good players and, when they did, they soon enough lost them to “destination” teams like the New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals.

At UH, the danger is in losing good coaches like current football mentor Kevin Sumlin to a destination school like Notre Dame, or even to a lesser destination site like Kansas or Louisville. Heck! Two years ago, UH couldn’t even hold onto one of its own, losing former Cougar Art Briles to the football program at Baylor, of all places. The good news there was that “we” got a better coach in Kevin Sumlin as his replacement in the process. The bad news is that, as long as we continue to play and pay as a lesser respected “opportunity” school, it’s just a matter of time before we lose Sumlin to one of the bigger fish in the sea.

I talked at length the other night with former UH great Elvin Hayes about our university’s need to become a “destination” school and he totally agrees.

The problem is always the same. UH has to go out there and gather all the power and money it can muster and round up and get it behind the goal of becoming an academic and athletic “destination school,” or else, stop complaining about losses that emanate from a basic lack of respect. I just think we, as a UH community, first need to do a better job of defining the goal for those whose help we seek. Donors need to understand that we aren’t trying to simply become a richer “opportunity” school. We are out to become a well-endowed “destination” school with some very clear academic and athletic goals in mind.

UH doesn’t have to give up all of the “opportunity” it historically has provided to local students, however, it most definitely will need to toughen admissions standards in some agreed-upon, most fair way. Change, even essential change, rarely comes easy, but you don’t become a desirable “destination” school by wishing yourself there. You have to do some things to make yourself desirable as such. That always involves breaking the strings on some old ways of doing things.

Will UH have the will to take on this challenge? As always, time will tell.

TECH WIN MOVES UH UP TO #12 IN AP POLL!

September 27, 2009

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By now you have read or heard that the University of Houston Cougars came storming back across the pages of a Hollywood scripted comeback victory over the Texas Tech Red Raiders at Robertson Stadium on the UH campus last night. With exactly 49 seconds left in the game, junior quarterback Case Keenum slithered four yards up the middle on a keeper play, hurling himself into the end zone for what proved to be the winning score of 29-28. A two-point try then failed for UH, but the Cougar  kids managed to hold off the longest near-minute on record, one that could have, but didn’t, put Tech in position for a game-winning field goal.  Red Raider hopes died on the wings of a Hail Mary pass down the field from “Yosemite Sam” Potts to anybody running down field in a white jersey. The ball got batted away by the UH defenders on about the 12-yard line and the game was done
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This was an important game for UH, we fans and alumni, and the City of Houston. The record sellout crowd of 32,000 plus may have seemed like nothing by comparison to the crowds that jam Memorial Stadium in Austin, for best nearby example, but the figure was big relative to the plan for building support at UH for a new, much larger venue for football. Such a facility is vital to UH plans for building its way back into national contention as a first tier level athletic program.

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When UH first entered the Southwest Conference back in 1976, the Cougars did something that initially made, but eventually broke their highway to NCAA Football Heaven. The Cougars tied for the conference football championship that year and subsequently won or tied for three of four championships in football over the course of their first four years in the SWC. The highlight on UH’s successful mistake was going to Austin on a beautiful Saturday afternoon in 1976 and promptly whacking Darrell Royal’s last UT Longhorn squad by a score of 30-0. To make matters worse, the UH student body also brought a large banner that they unfolded early on in the stands at Austin. It simply read: HOUSTON IS THE UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS!”

Big mistake! The poor, but inspired cousins from the east should never have insulted their rich and powerful relations in Austin on the same day they chose  to also smite them and all their legends on their home field of battle. (See David v. Goliath for historical precedent. Even David knew when to keep his mouth shut.) As a result, there was little question from early on that the ancient powers of the old SWC were then loaded to the bear with buyer’s regret over the decision to take UH into the fold. It was also no small wonder, years later, that UH was among those schools who were left out of the move to the Big 12, along with Rice, TCU, and SMU after the Southwest Conference folded. At the same time, UT, A&M, Tech, and Baylor were invited to join the new Big 12 Conference.

Why would the Big 12 take three of the established public school powerhouses, but leave out UH in favor of weak-in-football, private school Baylor? It’s too bad that former Governor and Baylor alumna Ann Richards isn’t around to help explain that one. With the help of late Lieutenant Governor Bob Bullock, I’m betting those two wonderful Texas pundits could quickly clear up any questions we might still have on “Baylor in – Houston out” in the Big 12 move.

To their credit, Texas Tech stands out as the only member of the Big 12’s former SWC four schools who will dare to continue scheduling UH in football. The others may prefer to explain their UH scheduling snubs as strictly an economic issue, but we at UH prefer to believe that it’s more about them making sure that they don’t do anything to help UH use those game opportunities as a device for getting back on all four Cougar paws in the facility, recruiting, and program respect roles race.

If UH keeps winning, time will tell what the truth is. In the meanwhile, keep on keeping on: EAT ‘EM UP, COOGS!

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With a record of 3-0 that now includes two wins over respected Big 12 opponents, UH has moved up after this weekend’s results from 17th to 12th in the AP Top 25 Poll. The incredible game played by Cougar Quarterback Case Keenum also deservedly has catapulted the UH junior into the pack of those outstanding candidates for the 2009 Heisman Trophy. Check out the poll for yourself and have a nice week.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/football/ncaa/polls/ap/

WINNING THE BIG ONE: IN COLLEGE FOOTBALL, IT’S THE CALL OF THE WILD!

September 13, 2009

UH 091209 004When my University of Houston Cougars roared back on the road yesterday to defeat the No. 5 ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys, 45-35, in their own house, I wondered how long it would take for us to hear from the wolves of other universities who may be interested now  in hiring away our gifted second year head coach, Kevin Sumlin.

It didn’t take long to find that I’m not the only one close to UH who had the same thought. Call it our “Cougar Insecurity,” or what have you, but two of my alumni buddies also called me independently sfter the game to discuss our shared joy in the victory, but also to express our need to protect our coach as much as possible from the wolves who represent the BCS perennial loser schools. After all, if a school like Baylor could rip away a good coach like Art Briles from our grasp, what are the odds that a school with an even better football pedigree might choose to go after a greater, far more innovative and disciplined coach like Keven Sumlin?

Writer Richard Justice referred to that possibility this morning in his column about UH’s signature “We’re Back!” win over their first Top Ten foe in twenty-five years.” He wrote about how centrally important having the right coach is to reaching that level an accomplishment.

“UH has found one of those special coaches in (Kevin) Sumlin, and now it’s a matter of holding on to him. UH should be aggressive, not reactive.” Justice wrote.  “Sign him. Now. Offer him 1o years or 15 years or whatever he wants.”  Check out Richard Justice’s whole column on UH winning like a champion at the folllowing site:

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/sports/justice/6616109.html

I hope that UH is able to offer Kevn Sumlin an attractive extention to his current contract – and I will hope even more that he turns out to be a man who, like the great Bill Yeoman, just falls in love with the idea of staying at UH as a career, through thick and thin.

My loyalties go way back to 1946, when UH played its first season of college football. We’re talking now about a kid who hung on the radio listening to UH defeat Dayton in the 1951 Salad Bowl that they played briefly over in Arizona back in the day. As far as my joy was concerned in 1951, we may as well have won the Rose Bowl. I was just sorry we never had the chance to turn running back Gene Shannon loose on the field against the likes of Ohio State and USC. I could go on, but I think you get the idea. That early connection was helped by the same fact that helped me bond with Houston Buffs baseball. I grew up fairly near both Buff Stadium and the UH campus. Other thanUH 091209 001 a brief time in high school, when I flirted impractically with the idea of going to Notre Dame, UH was always my school. I was going to have to work to get through college and UH was the one school back then that seemed to cater to students in my circumstance. And it worked for me too.

At any rate, the bond I have with UH is both ancient and unbreakable in all things academic and athletic. I’m sorry that our UH joy from yesterday had to come at the expense of OSU because I have a good friend who went to school there and I also think the 2009 Cowboys do have a really good team. That being said, if feels too dadgum Cougar-partial-good to ignore this rainy Sunday morning after in Houston.

That’s Cougar defender Jamal Robinson (in the above 2nd photo) scoring on a 26-yard interception play in the closing minutes of the game at Stillwater, Oklahoma yesterday. It was the proverbial “daggar to the heart” of Oklahoma State hope for one more comeback.

Next up in two weeks? The Texas Tech Red Raiders at Robertson Stadium in Houston! ~ Eat ‘Em Up, COOGS!