Update: According to Mark Berman (30 years as Sports Director at FOX 26 in Houston), Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen has filled their vacant OC role with... no one.
College football source: @UHCougarFB will not add an offensive coordinator. The UH offensive staff is complete, with Dana Holgorsen continuing to be heavily involved with the offense.— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) February 20, 2023
Instead, it seems like his offensive staff will cover the OC duties, including Holgorsen himself. Similar moves have been done by Mike Leach at Washington State (where he was head coach and offensive coordinator) and none other than Jake Spavital at Texas State, where the staff split the OC responsibilities after OC Jacob Peeler—another former Cal coach—left the team.
Looks like we will indeed get to see Spavital run the offense at Memorial Stadium in 2023!
Original: Before he’s even had a chance to prove himself in a game, the newly acquired offensive coordinator Jake Spavital might be leaving the California Golden Bears for the same role with the Houston Cougars.
Dave Campbell’s Texas Football has listed Jake Spavital as a name to watch for Houston’s OC vacancy. The biggest connection is Spav’s extensive history working with now–Houston head coach Dana Holgorsen dating back to 2009 when the former was a grad assistant for offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach Holgorsen at none other than... Houston. After a year there, they continued with those roles for another year at Oklahoma State (2010); when Holgorsen got his first job as a head coach the next year at West Virginia, he chose Spavital as his quarterbacks coach, where the apprentice stayed for two years (2011, 2012) before leaving for a co-OC position. When Spav returned to West Virginia for two years (2017, 2018) after Sonny Dykes’s firing, guess who was still the head coach there?
Since this is now a renegade blog, I don’t have to do the responsible thing of telling you all about Spav’s past accomplishments and why he’s an exciting prospect for the future of California Football. Instead, I’ll just ramble about some of the differences between the two jobs without citing any sources.
California and Houston are pretty diametrically opposed in the modern landscape of college football—beyond all the culture and cost of living stuff. The Bears are cofounders of a dying conference that might be wheezing its last breaths; the Cougars will likely struggle as they transition from a Group of Five school to the Big XII next year, but I’m betting most would feel more comfortable and more stability in the Big XII than the Pac-12 as realignment continues to mine the conferences in the foreseeable future until we get to the Power Four (and ultimately, the Big Ten vs. the SEC).
Our head coaches are also in two radically different places. Justin Wilcox is a defensive-minded coach, which means the offense would presumably be nigh entirely in Spavital’s hands to shape and execute. Dana Holgorsen is one of the pioneers of the Air Raid, so his fingerprints will likely be all over the offense and he might even call plays. (Again, I’m gonna be irresponsible by not researching and throwing out pure conjecture.) On the flip side, this would be a tremendous learning opportunity for Spav to return to his former mentor and an Air Raid genius, but is he at the point in his career where he wants that or does he trust in his own system?
As we turn to head coaches, another factor in stability is their success—a losing coach probably gets fired and most of their staff has to find new jobs. If you’re on this site, then you know that Wilcox is struggling with a 30–36 overall record, but has regressed to 9–15 in the past two years. Holgorsen has more success on the gridiron with an 88–61 record. He was poached by the Cougars from the West Virginia Mountaineers and spent his first two years rebuilding, but went bowling in the past three years—three years in which we’ve been bowl-less—and spent the past two years going 20–7 with two bowl wins and a #17 finish in 2021. And speaking of his time at West Virginia—remember when we talked about Houston’s upcoming transition to Power Five being a struggle? Holgorsen has already lived that life when he helped West Virginia navigate their jump from the Big East to the Big XII.
Houston represents more stability, but it also may better represent home; Spavital spent four years at West Virginia, just one year in Berkeley, and a whopping ten years in Texas and Oklahoma—he was also born in Tulsa, OK! Houston is also a great opportunity to reunite with a former mentor. In true Berkeley form, California Football represents the challenge to stand on one’s own, innovate, and lead.
With Spav’s history of success, he’s certainly an intriguing option to lead our offense. My biggest concern this late in the cycle is whom we could replace him with. Thanks for always staying interesting, California Football.