University of Miami

Major Applewhite emerges as strong contender to become Hurricanes offensive coordinator

Houston head coach Major Applewhite watches as his team warms up before they play Army in the of Armed Forces Bowl NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, in Fort Worth, Texas.
Houston head coach Major Applewhite watches as his team warms up before they play Army in the of Armed Forces Bowl NCAA college football game Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018, in Fort Worth, Texas. AP

If they aren’t already, Apples could become the new favorite fruit of the Miami Hurricanes’ offensive players.

New Miami Hurricanes head football coach Manny Diaz has strong interest — barring something unforeseen — in hiring former Houston head coach Major Applewhite to serve as the team’s offensive coordinator, according to multiple sources, including a UM staffer who said expectations are that Applewhite will be hired., citing unnamed sources, reported Thursday that Applewhite has been hired. wrote that “Major is a candidate; but no decision or offer has been made.”

UM has not confirmed any hire.

Applewhite, 40, runs an up-tempo, spread offense and has a dozen years of coaching experience under his belt, including nine years as either an offensive coordinator or head coach. With all that talent and speed among UM’s pass-catchers, including young receivers such as Mike Harley and Mark Pope and Brian Hightower and Marquez Ezzard, a spread offense could mean more points for the Canes.

As for UM quarterbacks, freshman Jarren Williams would be pleased, as he was recruited by Applewhite.

UM ranked 104th in total offense (358.8 yards a game) this past season, 112th in passing offense (167.3 yards per game) and 65th in scoring (28.8 points).

The Cougars fielded one of the top offenses in the country this past season under Applewhite, ranking fifth nationally in points per game (43.9), seventh in total offense (512.5 yards per game), and 12th in yards per play (6.60), 16th in passing offense (295.5 yards per game) and 24th in rushing offense (217.1).

That wasn’t enough for him to keep his job, though. He was fired on Dec. 30 following a 70-14 loss to Army in the Armed Forces Bowl, Houston’s fourth loss in five games to close out the season. Applewhite went 15-11 record over two-plus years as head coach (Applewhite was promoted to head coach ahead of the 2016 Las Vegas Bowl) and lost all three bowl games his team played. Applewhite spent four years at Houston overall, with his first two as the team’s offensive coordinator.

Applewhite was a record-setting quarterback for the Texas Longhorns in the late 1990s and early 2000s and led Texas to four consecutive bowl games and a 22-8 record as a starter. He ended his career by throwing for a UT-record 473 yards and a Longhorn-bowl-game best four touchdowns, earning offensive MVP honors over No. 20 Washington in the 2001 Holiday Bowl. The 1999 co-Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, he set then-UT records for career (8,353) and season (3,357/1999) passing yards, as well as career touchdown passes (60). He threw for 2,453 yards and 18 TDs, UT freshman records at the time, in claiming Big 12 Freshman of the Year honors in 1998.

Diaz, who was hired on Sunday to take over the Hurricanes, was asked Wednesday during his introductory news conference if there was a possibility of him switching from former coach Mark Richt’s pro-style offense to a spread.

“The thing that always pops into my mind is the word ‘spread’ has been dragged around to the point where it’s so spread out that I don’t even know as a defensive coordinator what the word ‘spread’ means anymore because there’s so many different styles of spread offense,’’ Diaz replied. “But what I will tell you is the word I want to be is cutting-edge. The word I want to be is modern. The word I want to be or the idea that I want to be is an offense that creates problems for the defense, that puts the defense in conflict, that presents issues before the snap, during the snap, that forces mistakes.

“A big part of why we are what we are on defense is because we are structurally designed to make the offense make a mistake. That’s why we create the negative plays that we make. Now we need to be sound enough to not give up the big plays, but to think that you can ask your kids to be right all the time and be perfect, that’s very unrealistic. So I think part of our job as coaches is to demand great execution so we can out-execute someone but at the same time work schematically to make those other guys mess up.”

According to the Houston Chronicle this week, Applewhite was making $1.5 million per season before he was fired. Newly hired Houston coach Dana Holgorsen reportedly has received a five-year contract worth $20 million.

Before his time at Houston, Applewhite spent six years at Texas (offensive coordinator from 2011-2013; running backs coach and assistant head coach from 2008-2010) and a year each at Alabama (offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2007), Rice (offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 2006) and Syracuse (quarterbacks coach in 2005).

Diaz initially had strong interest in former North Carolina coach Larry Fedora, but he is believed to instead be exploring other opportunities, including the head coaching job at Temple.

Miami Herald sports writer Susan Miller Degnan has been the Miami Hurricanes football beat writer since 2000, the season before the Canes won it all. She has won several APSE national writing awards and has covered everything from Canes baseball to the College Football Playoff to major marathons to the Olympics.