What Went Wrong for Dana Holgorsen at Houston

Dana Holgorsen's tenure as head coach of the Houston Cougars ended quicker than many anticipated. What went wrong between the two, and who is to blame?

Dana Holgorsen was on the right track with the Houston Cougars before it all went wrong. Now that he’s been fired, it’s time to figure out what caused the split. Things didn’t start poorly, but a conference championship game appearance was the peak of the Holgorsen era.

Why didn’t the Cougars live up to expectations?

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What Happened to Dana Holgorsen and Houston?

Here’s the thing: There were a lot of positive things that came from Holgorsen and his first few years with Houston. The bachelor identity and balding mullet, the Red Bull chugging, and the high-flying offense he brought brewed excitement within the program. Even his controversial decisions worked.

His “tanking” strategy in 2019 received plenty of scrutiny, but it made sense to deploy it. After a 1-3 start, Holgorsen had certain players sit out and redshirt, taking advantage of the new redshirt rule. Turns out, that was the right call to turn around the roster.

Holgorsen knew that his roster didn’t have the talent necessary to be a contender in the AAC. Houston needed to fix the roster quickly. The previous regime missed on a lot of recruits, and it was a lot of work for Holgorsen’s staff to just get to Year 3. They brought in “their guys” to compete, and it looked like the strategy was working.

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Holgorsen’s staff even took some of the previous regime’s players and turned them into NFL talent. Former defensive end Payton Turner became a first-round pick. Quarterback Clayton Tune was drafted last year by the Arizona Cardinals. The team was on the right path, and the wins kept stacking up.

Houston made it to the AAC Championship Game in 2021 against a Cincinnati team that made the College Football Playoff. Recruiting saw an uptick thanks to the move to the Big 12, and the Cougars had huge expectations heading into 2022.

At least they should have. That’s where things went south.

Lowered Expectations

If a team returned nearly every major contributor from a team that made the conference championship game the year before, what would the expectations be? The same result if not better, right? Not according to Holgorsen.

Houston went 8-5 in 2022, and fans weren’t pleased with the finish. Their head coach kept saying “the expectations put upon us” were too high for the season. When the Cougars were winning, it didn’t seem like there was anything wrong. The losses piling up is when the lack of accountability started to become more obvious.

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In hindsight, the expectations quote should have been even more alarming than it already was because it reminded everyone of that kid in the group project who just wanted a “B” so that they could get by. Throw in aggressive quotes about his buyout and how Houston wouldn’t dare fire him, and it became obvious that the best years were behind the program.

Sadly, it got worse. Holgorsen constantly threw his players under the bus after losses, and fans never got the impression that he took the struggles seriously. There were plenty of excuses ready and available, and Holgorsen often played the “not sure how to fix this” card like he wasn’t in charge of finding a solution.

Arguably one of the daggers that led to his dismissal was his comments about the upcoming recruiting class. Holgorsen drew criticism after he said that the “ship has sailed” in regard to his 2024 recruiting class. Houston ranked 102nd at the time, the worst in the Power Five. They would have also ranked outside of the top 25 in the Group of Five, too.

The toughest part about this downfall is that Houston was in a good place in 2021. They got beat by a better Cincinnati team, but they had everything in front of them. Maybe Holgorsen thought fans would be happy for a few years with that achievement, but it became clear right away that wasn’t the case.

Now they must find a new leader, one that fans hope raises expectations for the future.

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