Culture / Sporting Life

Ed Oliver Deserves Better From Major Applewhite and UH Than Jacket Controversy

National Furor and ESPN’s Sudden Houston Fixation is the Result of a Coach Who Lost His Way

BY // 11.16.18

Football coaches are notorious for their arrogance as a breed. The egos, self importance and paranoia of these self-professed “molders of men” often know no bounds. But if anyone should be above this phenomenon, if anyone should know to check themselves, it is a coach who used to be a big-time college football player himself. A guy like the University of Houston’s Major Applewhite.

But there is Applewhite placing his hands on Ed Oliver — one of the greatest players and ambassadors the University of Houston has ever had, a grown man whose legacy at UH will long outlive anything Applewhite ever does on Cullen Boulevard — and trying to pull a jacket off him as they’re walking off the field at halftime. All in an outright zeal to enforce the type of silly rule that only football coaches obsess over.

Can you imagine Steve Kerr pulling on a warm-up jacket off for one of his players because it’s not the right one? Of course not. Because Kerr treats his players with real respect.

Ed Oliver is a 20-year-old man, a professional football player in wait. He can sign up for the Army, vote in an election and be tried as an adult. Whether Major Applewhite likes it or not, Oliver is a man in full, not some pawn in some football coach’s empire of delusion. What was Applewhite thinking? Why didn’t he approach Oliver in the locker room and have a real conversation rather than getting in his face coming off the field Thursday night?

Why didn’t he treat him like a man?

By creating a confrontation on the field, in view of the TV cameras, Applewhite put one of the best player who will ever wear a Houston uniform, in a horrible position. Oliver reacted angrily to having his jacket tugged on and pulled off his shoulder by his coach — and I’d argue rationally. Oliver is right to be upset about being treated like a piece of meat, someone who is somehow of less value and unworthy of wearing the winter jacket reserved for starters by Applewhite’s rule because he is injured and sitting out games.

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So Oliver screams at his coach and goes right back at him — and now, because of this, he’ll have to endure ridiculous “character” questions from paranoid and self important NFL front office and coaching types. What a great way to treat someone who’s done so much for the entire Houston program.

All because Applewhite is hellbent on enforcing his jacket rule.

And let’s talk about this rule. It’s about time UH president Renu Khator and others charged with looking over college athletics (at least in theory) take a closer look at rules like this. The rule is that only starters can wear the warm full jackets on the Houston sideline during a game.

So if you’re not starting, you’re of lesser value? If you’re not starting or if you’re hurt, you do not deserve to be warm? That’s not dehumanizing? That’s not a little screwed up?

Those who endorse rules like this and then act shocked when something happens like what happened at Maryland this summer — a player collapsing and dying from heatstroke suffered in offseason workouts after signs of him struggling were ignored — are displaying willful blind ignorance. But that’s an issue much bigger than Major Applewhite. That goes right to the still berserk culture of college football.

Still, if anyone could be above that, if anyone should know better, it’s a former player who toiled in that culture. Major Applewhite let Ed Oliver down. The coach got caught up in a silly rule — and didn’t treat his star player like a man.

And you know what, if there are different rules for starters and subs, then there should be different rules for Ed Oliver. You’re already not treating everyone the same.

Ed Oliver’s UH Legacy

Oliver is the only reason University of Houston football has been on the national map at all since Tom Herman left for Texas. Applewhite’s 15-9 record certainly isn’t grabbing headlines — or forcing national columnists to stop in Houston. A consensus Top 5 NFL draft prospect, Oliver rightfully garnered a ton of preseason magazine buzz — and drew outlets such as Sports Illustrated and ESPN Magazine to UH.

Oliver could have left when Herman bolted for UT after the defensive tackle’s freshman season. He could have transferred to a Power 5 conference stalwart. He stayed — and put UH and his older brother Marcus Oliver, who played offensive tackle for the Cougars, first. He put up a monster sophomore season that will go down in UH history. He represented the university with great class on the award circuit.

Ed Oliver made University of Houston football cool.

Maybe, you let that guy wear the full jacket. Or, at the very least, talk to him rationally about it in the locker room or the coach’s office. If Applewhite had another staffer ask Oliver to remove the jacket first and the player refused, he knew there was an issue. Why turn it into a confrontation coming off the field?

This is much bigger than a Houston story now – all the national ESPN talking head shows jumped on UH’s jacketgate, and rightfully so. It is the lead story on ESPN’s First Take.

Major Applewhite, a coach who has never come across as petty before, opens himself up to the charge that he’s upset that Oliver is sitting out games he could potentially play in to protect his NFL future (a perfectly reasonable approach if Oliver chose to take it). The idea being that Applewhite is feeling the pressure of a potential breakout season gone rather ordinary — and is lashing out. I don’t really buy that notion.

Applewwhite seems like just another football coach who got caught up in his own self important rules. This former UT quarterback should know better. Ed Oliver deserves better.

What a shame. What a shame if Oliver’s relationship with the University of Houston becomes forever damaged over a jacket. This is a potential future NFL star, someone with the potential to be an even greater ambassador for UH than Case Keenum. Now… who knows?

Because of a jacket and a nonsensical rule. When will these coaches ever learn?

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