HOUSTON (AP) The Houston Cougars are picking up the pieces after coach Tom Herman bolted for Texas this weekend. Interim coach Todd Orlando has taken over to prepare them for their bowl game while the administration looks for a new coach to try and build on the progress Herman made in two seasons.
Orlando, who was Houston's defensive coordinator under Herman, thinks the Cougars will be just fine.
''These kids have battled through a whole bunch of things this year and they've always responded,'' he said. ''They've never let us down. They've always gone at it with a great attitude and I don't expect that to change.''
Orlando acknowledged that there was some disappointment among players in the wake of Herman's departure to take over for Charlie Strong, who was fired the same day Herman was hired . He said he spoke to the team all together before they broke into position groups to further discuss the change. The upperclassmen dealt with the move better than many of his freshman and sophomores, who had counted on Herman to be there throughout their time in Houston.
He said those players really bought into Herman's culture and embraced the catchy slogan termed ''H-Town Takeover'' he used to boost the team's profile on social media.
''My concern is for the young guys, the young guys that were part of the H-Town Takeover and them analyzing things and I see it in their face,'' Orlando said. ''But I do feel comfortable that it is better after a couple of days.''
Herman led the Cougars to a 13-1 record last season and a trip to the Peach Bowl before helping them to a 9-3 record this season which included wins over Oklahoma and Louisville, who were both ranked third at the time. He isn't the first coach to propel Houston back into to national spotlight before leaving for a more high-profile job.
Kevin Sumlin coached the Cougars for four seasons before leaving for Texas A&M. He helped them to a 12-1 record in 2011. He made them a national contender for the first time since the 1980s before many lean years after the Southwest Conference disbanded in 1995 and they weren't invited to join the Big 12 or Southeastern Conference.
Tony Levine took over for Sumlin, but was unable to replicate his success. He was fired in 2014 after going 7-5 to clear the way for Herman to take over after serving as offensive coordinator for Ohio State when the team won the national title that year.
Now they have to search for a new coach yet again. Orlando said he and offensive coordinator Major Applewhite will both interview for the job, and athletics director Hunter Yurachek promised a national search to find a coach to ''maintain our program's national prominence.''
For Orlando and his staff preparing for the bowl game comes second to ensuring they don't lose their top recruits following Herman's departure.
''I told the staff: `You're going to see every one of our commitments and I don't care if you have to stay at school for five hours and stay in their house for four hours,''' he said. ''It doesn't matter. There's nobody more important than those committed kids and it's the stability part of it. I want to make sure they understand we're business as usual.''
Orlando has been impressed with some public support many of his players have shown for the team in the last few days, and none meant more than one from defensive tackle Ed Oliver . The freshman, who is Houston's best player and one of the top defensive tackles in the country, first joked on Twitter that he was declaring for the draft even though that isn't possible, before sending a second tweet that ended with ''I ain't going nowhere.''
''He's been great,'' Orlando said. ''There's one thing about that guy and it's that he loves this place. I think he's got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder to say you know what: `I'll carry us a little bit. We're OK. Time to adjust and see what happens.'''
Herman did a variety of things to bond with his players, namely getting a diamond encrusted grill made by Houston rapper Paul Wall after they won the American Athletic Conference title last season. While Orlando is committing to keeping a good relationship with his players, he was quick to point out that his style would be far different than his predecessor.
''I'm not going to wear a grill,'' he said. ''I'm not going to dance around. I'm going to be me.''
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