HOUSTON — Hurricane Harvey sent the University of Houston’s football team rushing off to Austin for sanctuary under the same roof as the coach who left the program just 10 months earlier.
It could have been — and maybe even should have been — an uncomfortable reunion with Tom Herman, the ex who spurned the Cougars for the state’s flagship program after two seasons, 22 wins and many promises he wouldn’t leave. That potential for discomfort wasn’t lost on those who coordinated their plans to seek shelter from the storm, choosing the University of Texas from among at least four other in-state options.
“That was a little bit in the back of my mind,” Houston athletic director Hunter Yurachek said. “There were some hurt feelings when Tom left. But I think everyone handled it very well.”
At least in their public comments, players and representatives of Houston have attempted to avoid lamenting the loss of Herman since his departure. But one of the few who went off-script was? Ed Oliver, the homegrown star defensive tackle, who tweeted — and then immediately deleted — “Why you lie to us, coach?” shortly after word emerged that Herman had accepted the Longhorns job in December. He followed up with a less-than-subliminal shot in March, telling the Houston Chronicle that practices now had “a lot less yelling, and a lot more coaching.”
If Oliver took Herman’s absence more personally than most, it’s because he’ll be among those held most responsible for keeping Houston’s fans on the bandwagon. Only a 19-year-old sophomore, Oliver is already the anchor of a rebuilding program in a rebuilding city.
His family counts itself among the fortunate ones in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey: Its only real challenge, his mother said, was when the power went out for a couple days, leaving her and their stepfather alone in the house with their 4-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.
“But they kept checking on me,” Dana Baker said of her older sons, Ed and 21-year-old Marcus. “They were never too far from home.”
Only minutes away, dozens of residents had their homes and lives ruined by floodwater and wind damage, like tens of thousands of others across the Houston area. The difference between a blessing and bad luck was often only a few blocks.
“It was tough to see my city like that,” Oliver told reporters while unloading trucks as part of a collection drive in Houston a couple of weeks ago.
“But we respond. … I do it for Houston, and I’ve always done it…