Dana Holgorsen introduced at Houston amid lofty expectations

HOUSTON -- The last time the Houston Cougars completed a coaching search, the school's president made no secret of the school's expectations, noting that 8-4 records will get a coach fired.

When new Houston coach Dana Holgorsen -- who just came off an 8-4 season at West Virginia -- was asked why he was the person to meet UH president Renu Khator's lofty expectations of double-digit-win seasons, Holgorsen turned to Khator and asked jokingly, "You wanna answer that one?"

Holgorsen, who was introduced as the new coach on Thursday after signing a five-year, $20 million contract -- the highest such deal for a Group of 5 conference program -- didn't shy away from Houston's stated standard.

"I don't want to go anywhere that doesn't have expectations like that," Holgorsen said.

Khator and Houston Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, who is the school's board of regents chair, had fun with the comments but didn't back down from them. At a holiday party two years ago -- shortly after previous coach Major Applewhite was hired -- Khator said "winning is defined at the University of Houston as 10-2 ... We'll fire coaches at 8-4," according to a Houston Chronicle account of the event.

On Thursday, Fertitta leaned over to Khator during Holgorsen's introduction and said, "We're not going to say what we demand anymore, because I've read it all over the country in the last two years," as the crowd laughed. "But you can just push repeat."

Added Khator: "Yes, my expectations are we do win games. Now you can define it any way you want to define it, but I'm not backing off," she said to more laughter.

"And I did ask Coach [Holgorsen] that question," Khator continued. "I asked Coach that, 'Are you nervous about that?' and he didn't even blink. So that's a good sign."

Added Fertitta: "We don't want to be 8-4. That's just the way we're made here now at the University of Houston."

Holgorsen, who went 61-41 in eight years with the Mountaineers, made the rare move from a Power 5 conference program to a Group of 5 one for a multitude of reasons, the biggest being his affinity for the city.

In 2008 and 2009, Holgorsen spent two years with the Cougars as their offensive coordinator under then-coach Kevin Sumlin, before accepting the same position at Oklahoma State. He moved on to West Virginia in 2011.

"When I left here 10 years ago, I left here with a frown," Holgorsen said. "Because one, I was going to Oklahoma, but two, I love this city and this university so much. Obviously, things worked out OK, but I always came back. I came back two, three, four, five times a year and enjoyed what this wonderful city has to offer."

Houston made a significant financial commitment to Holgorsen to convince him to make the move, paying him an average salary that's $1.2 million higher than its previous highest-paid coach (Tom Herman made $2.8 million in 2016). His average salary of $4 million places him in the top 25 nationally among FBS coach salaries, according to USA Today's salary database. UH is also devoting $4.5 million to the salary pool for Holgorsen's assistant coaches and support staff, which is by far the highest in the Group of 5. Holgorsen called the salary pool "critical."

"Running a football program is, it's large business," Holgorsen said. "You have to hire a lot of people to be able to build the program the right way. And you've got to have money to be able to do it."

The Cougars, who have had significant turnover at the head-coaching position in the past decade -- Holgorsen is the fifth head coach the school has had since 2011, with two leaving for Power 5 jobs and two being fired -- worked to ensure he'll stay for an extended period. Holgorsen's buyout is significant for the first three years of his contract: $12.9 million if he leaves before Jan. 1, 2020, $9.1 million if he leaves before 2021 and $7.1 million if he leaves before 2022.

After seeing three head coaches since 2007 leave for Power 5 programs (Art Briles to Baylor, Sumlin to Texas A&M and Herman to Texas), Fertitta has been adamant about preventing other schools from poaching Houston's coach.

"We are stuck with him for a few years, and he's stuck with us for a few years," Fertitta said. "Hopefully he's here for the next 20 years and we build a statue of him. But somebody better come with a whole lot of money if you think he's going to leave in the next few years."

Should Houston fire him without cause, it will owe him all of his salary the first three years and 60 percent of his salary for the final two years of the contract. The last two years go up to 100 percent if the school wins a conference championship and earns a New Year's Six bowl bid before firing.

The school also has its eye on potential Power 5 conference membership. Holgorsen will get an unspecified raise if Houston is invited to join a Power 5 conference, and he'll get a $1 million bonus if he's the coach two years after acceptance of such an invitation.

"We do obviously understand that we need to position ourselves to be as attractive as we possibly can," Holgorsen said. "I don't think anybody knows what's going to happen with conference realignment, with how things go with the College Football Playoff, there's going to be all kinds of things happening. And our job is to make it as attractive as we possibly can, not only in our current conference, but for what our future holds as well."

American Athletic Conference commissioner Mike Aresco declined to comment specifically on Houston's future in the AAC, saying only, "We have great cohesion in the conference membership, and our future is extremely bright."

For now, Holgorsen and Houston are focused on winning football games and fulfilling the administration's high expectations. Holgorsen will spend the immediate future filling out his coaching staff and getting a team prepared for a challenging 2019 schedule, which includes  Oklahoma, Washington State and UCF.

"Make no mistake about it," Holgorsen said, "We're here to win championships."

ESPN's Heather Dinich contributed to this report.