"But remember the former days, when you endured . . . sufferings." Hebrews 10:32
When Dave Maggard arrived at UH in January of 2002, the football program had just completed its first winless season in its history. Not even the pitiful Kim Helton teams of ‘93 and ‘94 were able to pull off that feat. Attendance averaged 19,000 in ‘02, but that was only because Texas played at Robertson that year. The season before, the team almost managed another 0-fer campaign, but managed to pull out nail-biters against three of the country's weakest teams: Army, Rice, and Memphis. Without UT coming to town, the Cougars averaged a more typical 15,000 and were #100 nationally in average attendance per game.
In basketball‘s first season with Maggard in charge of athletics, the team finished 8-20, and Sagarin listed the Cougars as the 209th best team in college basketball, four spots ahead of Hartford, which I always thought was an insurance company, not a university with a basketball team. The following season wasn't much better as the Coogs were 9-18 and averaged about as many fans as their one hundred and ninety-six ranking in Sagarin.
In essence, the football program at the University of Houston was in some peril, and basketball was on the verge of becoming a permanent afterthought. There was discussion among some affiliated with the school about closing down the football program. Chances are that was mostly talk, but if the team had suffered through another five-plus years of the same ineptitude and empty seats, who knows what may have happened? And if basketball had continued on the same course, same question.
Dave Maggard led both programs from the depths of Cougar fan hell to respectability. In his first year, the football program jumped from zero wins to five. Maggard then fired Dana Dimel, who had been hired by the previous A.D., Chet Gladchuk. Dimel came in with a fat contract and promising instant success. Instead, he left UH with an 8-26 record, though Maggard may have retained him had Dimel managed to win just six games in ‘02. Instead, he found a former UH player and Texas high school coaching legend, who had been an assistant under offensive guru Mike Leach at Texas Tech for three years. Art Briles was instantly successful, winning seven games in his first season (no Cougar team had won more in 13 years) and going to a bowl. Three years later, the Cougars won a conference championship. In the past three seasons, UH has averaged eight and a half wins. What a switch from the the previous 10 years, ‘93-‘02, when UH won 32 games, 3.2 per season. The Coogs have also gone bowling four out of the last five seasons, and they defeated Air Force in the Armed Services Bowl in December.
The Cougars are now respected as one of the top non-BCS programs in the country, and the team's offense is annually considered one of the most potent anywhere. Houston has finished in the top seven nationally in offense each of the last three years, and last season, quarterback Case Keenum led the nation in total offense.
Art Briles, of course, left after (really during) the 2007 season, and Dave Maggard made history, not to mention a brilliant move, when he hired Kevin Sumlin, the first African-American to be the head coach of a Division I-A football program in Texas. In doing so, Maggard continued the proud UH heritage of opening doors that had long been shut in this state for blacks. And Sumlin shows signs of becoming a great one. He's a master of recruiting, he's been able to hire excellent people, and he just seems destined to be one of those coaching names college football fans instantly recognize.
So Dave Maggard fixed the football program and has positioned it to go even further. He hasn't been quite as successful with basketball, but the gap between what Tom Penders has accomplished at UH compared to what has happened on the gridiron is very narrow. As mentioned, the basketball program was as bad as the football team when Maggard arrived, and that means it was terrible. After hiring Penders, UH went from a laughingstock to a team that is a good bet for post-season play. Admittedly, UH has not made the NCAA Tournament, the Holy Grail each hoops team goes in quest of each season. But in Penders' five years, UH has been to both the NIT and the new CBI tournament twice, and the Cougars have averaged 20 wins per season, more than double what they were winning before he came to Cullen Boulevard. And next year should be Penders' best team with four starters returning and a strong recruiting class coming in.
Other sports have had ups and downs, but overall have been quite successful under Maggard. UH track is the class of C-USA. Baseball is a consistent contender. The Coogs have made the NCAA Tournament two out of the last three years, and in ‘06 produced the National Player of the Year in Brad Lincoln. Softball has won two consecutive conference titles, and women's swimming and diving finished #17 at the NCAA Championships this spring.
Maybe the biggest task for Maggard was improving football attendance. He has succeeded. Attendance has jumped some 30% during his tenure, and if the team continues its winning ways, a ticket to a UH football game may actually be a coveted item in the near future.
He was responsive to fans and cultivated relationships with big-money donors and fans in the First and Ten Program. He would circulate at tailgates, and the few times I emailed him, he got right back to me. I could always tell from his responses that he actually read and considered my comments.
Another outstanding achievement, one fans typically don't place anywhere near wins and losses, is the improvement in the graduation rate of UH athletes. The Cougars used to rank near the bottom of the NCAA. Under Maggard, graduation rates have improved a remarkable 27% to an all-time high of 59%, which is substantially higher than the graduation rate of students not involved in athletics.
Dave Maggard was a godsend for the University of Houston. Under his leadership, athletics at UH have become respected for their prowess both on and off the field. And UH isn't Texas or USC. Some Cougar fans are unrealistic about what UH should be able to achieve consistently in athletics. Only three non-BCS schools have been to BCS bowls, and the same number have made it to the Final Four this decade. As Bill Yeoman has so accurately said, "It's tough to be a Cougar." Dave Maggard made it a lot easier.