Make no mistake college football is a business. It brings in money for schools, helping them maintain other sports programs and additions to their campus.
The University of Houston's football program may not be a powerhouse like Alabama or Ohio State, but it's still a vital part of the school's budget. They cannot afford hiccups from newly promoted head coach, Major Applewhite that might cause less attendance at games or worse.
That was made evident after Houston president, Renu Khator's statement yesterday. At her annual holiday party, she told guests that 10-2 was the standard for the Cougars and any coach that went 8-4 or worse would be fired (as Tony Levine was after the 2014 regular season.)
Keep in mind that this was an off the cuff comment so who knows how much weight it actually holds. Applewhite almost certainly won't be fired after a single 8-4 season. However UH has become accustomed to winning and they expect the football program to continue winning and bringing in bowl money for the school.
This shouldn't be a major challenge for Applewhite. Houston is a decent sized Texas school with easy access to talented Texas recruits, many of whom would love to play for the iconic former Longhorns QB. In fact Applewhite may have gotten the job over Alabama OC and former USC head coach, Lane Kiffin for this very reason. Tilman Fertitta, the chairman of UH's board of regents, actually called in to a Houston radio show to explain the decision.
According to Fertitta high school coaches have been contacting the school to lobby for Applewhite, saying that they would prefer their players playing for Applewhite over Kiffin. With that kind of hero status, Applewhite could steal recruits away from regional powers like Baylor and Texas, especially with the coaching issues at those schools right now.
Applewhite also provides continuity for Houston as a current coordinator. Incoming recruits who might be scared off by a change to Kiffin's system will stand by their committal to the system already in place. Applewhite is also a stable choice because he sees Houston as home and would be less likely to seek a buyout and a position elsewhere.
At the end of the day the Cougars are still in the American Athletic Conference, not the Big 12 or the SEC. SMU might be on the rise and Navy had a powerful season, but drawing in Big 12 caliber talent enables UH to dominate the weaker competition in the AAC West. Sure Khator may expect better than 8-4, but that will be an easy mark to beat for any coach worth his salt.
So yes there is pressure on Major Applewhite to perform immediately, but only because he's set up to succeed. Applewhite is familiar with that kind of pressure though - he was the quarterback at UT when that meant something.
So breathe easy, Cougars fans. Applewhite will remain steady, no matter how much pressure is pushed on him.