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Volume 72, Issue 68, Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Sports

Briles finally delivers on potential

Silent Assassin 

Ronnie Turner

Patience is a virtue, but try telling that to college football fans.

College football fans rarely ever have patience when it comes to their favorite teams. They'd much rather see better results now than be forced to wait a few years for the "promised land."

College coaches usually spend a good amount of time preaching for fans to have patience, but these situations vary from school to school. Fans of storied programs such as those at Miami, Alabama or Ohio State aren't as willing to remain patient with their coaches if those individuals don't produce the desired results within a short amount of time. Fans at lesser programs on the rebound will usually provide more leeway, but even they have their limits.

When Art Briles took over the head coaching position at UH in December 2002, fans were willing to be patient. They knew it wasn't going to be an easy task for Briles to turn around a program that had won only eight games in the previous three seasons.

Indeed, it was a pleasant surprise when Briles lead the Cougars to a 7-6 record and a bowl appearance in his rookie season as a head coach. But after watching the team flutter to 3-8 and 6-6 records in the next two seasons, it became tough for fans to not become impatient.

Fans became tired of seeing the team come so close to putting it all together only to wind up faltering down the stretch. The lackluster showings against average teams, the disappointing bowl losses and the mediocre records began to take their toll. Fans no longer wanted promises; they wanted results.

This season, Briles has delivered the goods. He has the Cougars on the verge of their third bowl appearance in the last four seasons, a possible double digit-win season and top 25 ranking, and a conference title. Houston could certainly realize all four achievements with a victory against Southern Miss in Friday's Conference USA championship game at Robertson Stadium. 

It has been a rollercoaster ride for Briles during his tenure at Houston, but through it all, he has remained steadfast in his belief that he could lead the Cougars back to glory. However, there were times during this season when that belief appeared to be futile.

It was hard not to question the team's direction under Briles after watching the Cougars drop three consecutive games in the middle of the season after a 4-0 start, including a despairing loss to lowly Louisiana-Lafayette after leading by 21. At that point the team stood at 4-3 and appeared to be headed toward another mediocre finish.

Yet there was Briles standing at the press conference podium the following week, talking about the team's coming game against Texas-El Paso, showing no signs that his confidence had waned.

"Does it destroy us if we don't win? No," Briles said. "Do we still have high hopes for the season if we don't pull out a victory? Yes. Can we still get bowl eligible and win a bowl game? Yes. Could we still possibly win the (C-USA West)? Yes."

These statements may have sounded hollow to some who saw games against Central Florida, UTEP and Tulsa remaining on the schedule that posed possible threats to the Cougars' chances, but the players took no notice. The Cougars swept all three opponents en route to finishing the regular season on a five-game winning streak, the longest of Briles' tenure at UH.

Should Houston come out victorious in Friday's game, Briles will have accomplished a few of the goals he set out to achieve upon his arrival. On the other hand, should the Cougars fail to capture the C-USA title, the program still would have made considerable progress.

After this season, Houston will lose the valuable services of seniors such as quarterback Kevin Kolb, wide receiver Vincent Marshall and linebacker Wade Koehl. Briles will have to fill the voids left by these players as well as several others in order for the team to repeat its magical 2006 run. It could be another rebuilding season in 2007.

For fans, this could provide another opportunity to exercise their patience.

Send comments to dcsports@mail.uh.edu

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