In this edition of “Conversations with Clayton,” we continue our series of interviews with members of the American Athletic Conference media.
Today, our attention turns to our old friends at the University of Houston athletics-based Scott and Holman Pawdcast. The two men behind this thorough, thoughtful and highly entertaining program are Sam Razz and Dustin Rensink. I had the opportunity to talk with them both about several of Houston’s major athletic programs, Houston’s diverse culinary scene and their respective video game prowess.
Clayton Trutor (CT): How did you get involved in covering Houston athletics?
Sam Razz (SR): About 10 years ago we both started doing fan blogs about UH athletics on the web site of our local paper who I won’t give free publicity for here. This dovetailed into the two of us starting our own UH athletics blog, also named Scott & Holman (referencing an intersection near lots of UH athletic facilities). The two of us actually both met as part of the school’s student spirit organization, so suffice it to say we’ve been fairly crazy for Cougar athletics a while now. The idea behind us doing the podcast was that we already talk UH constantly without a microphone on, how about just adding some recording equipment to what we do already on a regular basis?
Dustin Rensink (DR): Circa 2009, the Houston Chronicle put out an appeal for student bloggers to write about their schools' athletics on the Chronicle's website, and I thought it sounded like fun. When that ran its course, Sam, myself and a mutual friend of ours decided to move to our own site and do a joint blog, the now defunct ScottAndHolman.com. After a while it ended up being just me running that site, and eventually when SBNation started launching all of its city-specific sites, Tom Martin asked me to come on and write about UH, which I did. After a while I got burnt out trying to cover all UH sports goings-on by myself, and stopped doing any UH coverage. And then before the 2015 football season Sam suggested starting a podcast, and it felt like the right time to jump back into creating UH #content.
CT: Three things people don't know about the University of Houston:
- UH was the first large college in the state of Texas to break the football color barrier when they signed Warren McVea of San Antonio in 1964. McVea also caught a 99 yard TD reception against Washington State in 1966, in what was the first college football game played on “Astroturf”.
- Bernard A. Harris Jr was the first African-American to go in space and was a 1978 graduate of the University of Houston.
- Phi Slama Jama is obviously the most famous group of Cougar athletes, but around the same time UH golf was an absurd powerhouse of collegiate golf (a la the UCLA of men’s collegiate golf). Some of the notable UH golf alums: Fred Couples, Steve Elkington, Fuzzy Zoeller, Jim Nantz, Billy Ray Brown and others. Only Yale has more golf titles than UH.
DR: Do people know that UH has an inferiority complex dating back to when the SWC broke up and the Big 12 took Baylor over UH because BU alumna Ann Richards was governor? They do? Well then I'll say that a) UH is consistently ranked as having one of the most diverse student bodies in the country, b) In addition to the well-known basketball history, we've also produced one of the greatest track athletes of all-time (Carl Lewis) one of the greatest volleyball players of all-time (Flo Hyman) and boast 16 national titles in men's golf, and c) a surprising number of successful actors have come through UH, including the Quaid brothers, Jim Parsons, Robert Wuhl and my personal favorite (because I am a huge nerd), Brent Spiner, aka Data from Star Trek.
CT: Three things people don't know about the city of Houston:
- While acknowledging my own biases as someone who grew up in Houston, I don’t believe there’s a better food city in this fair country than Houston. I can find multiple dining options for the following types of food: Mexican, Central American, Tex Mex, Vietnamese, Chinese, Malaysian, Afghan, Indian, Ethiopian, Korean, Cambodian and many more. Houston has many faults I will readily acknowledge, but food is not one of them.
- The Orange Show. This is the multi decade creation of a Houston postman who pieced together this building from found objects which all detailed his belief that hard work and oranges lead to his own longevity. It is cool, weird and uniquely Houston all at once.
- The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo attracted over 2.6 million visitors this year. Neither of us are entirely sure of the appeal of the event, but it is definitely something synonymous with Houston.
- Many people I talk to are surprised by the sheer size of Houston, both in terms of area and population. It's over half the size of Rhode Island (and given Houston traffic, it can take all day to drive from one side of the city to the other), and is on pace to pass Chicago in the near future for the 3rd most populous city in the US.
- Many people think of Austin as the only politically liberal city in Texas, but Houston is pretty moderate and often leans left. Houston became the most populous city to elect an openly-gay mayor when we voted Annise Parker into office in 2010, and Hillary Clinton actually beat Donald Trump 54-41 in Harris County.
- Houston is home to the Texas Medical Center, which is the largest medical center in the world. I work in hospitality, and I am constantly meeting people from all over the country who are coming here for treatment.
CT: How would you assess Houston's hiring of Major Applewhite as football coach?
SR: It was surprising. The two of us had essentially written off the possibility of Major being named the head coach, even though he was a finalist for the job. My belief is that the UH brass hired Applewhite because he gave some level of assurance that he wouldn’t leave UH in 2-3 years for an in state Power 5 school. There was also a strong groundswell of support from Texas high school football coaches for the hiring of Applewhite. I have reservations about hiring a coach largely based on those two criteria, but the early returns for recruiting weren’t bad and I mostly liked the assistant coach hires.
DR: At the time, I was pretty surprised and at least a little bit underwhelmed by the hire. Applewhite wasn't tremendously popular with the UH fan base in his role as offensive coordinator, and given the strides that UH has made in football in recent years, both on the field and in terms of facilities, everybody was hoping for a splashier hire than the one we got. That said, I think he can be successful here. He's tremendously well-respected among high schools coaches in Texas, the players are behind him, and I think he has the temperament and leadership to be a CEO-type coach, if he makes the right coordinator hires. But while Brian Johnson looks like he'll make a good OC, Mark D'Onofrio was definitely a surprising pick at DC, given some of his recent struggles at Miami. So I'm squarely in wait-and-see mode, but UH football has plenty of talent on-hand, and more momentum behind it than it has had since Andre Ware won the Heisman, so I don't think the UH fan base is going to have a lot of patience if the new staff doesn't start off strong.
CT: What are Houston's chances to make a run to the College World Series this spring?
SR: Better than they were this time last year. It is very apparent through 31 games that when everything is clicking this Cougar baseball team can beat anyone in the country. That being said, the bats have gone missing at times: in home losses to Rice and Houston Baptist and in losing two of three at UCF to open AAC play. By necessity the Coogs have a lineup with a large percentage of guys who are playing their first year of Division 1 baseball. Becoming a more consistent hitting team will make the Coogs unbeatable in my opinion, as the pitching has been outstanding even with the suspension of ace starter Seth Romero.
DR: Well those chances certainly took a hit when our ace starting pitcher and expected 1st round draft pick Seth Romero was suspended indefinitely this past week, but if he is able to get back in the good graces of the coaching staff by the end of the season, all the pieces are there. Even without Romero, the Coogs have three starting pitchers who have been very effective this year, but he would really give them that depth that you need come regional time. The bullpen has been lights out, and with sluggers like Joe Davis and Corey Julks finally coming around after slow starts, the lineup can do a lot of damage. If everybody stays healthy, this team can play with anybody.
CT: What is the greatest victory in University of Houston athletics that you guys have each witnessed?
SR: There are probably a few good answers I could give to this question, but all roads lead back to the 2015 Peach Bowl win over Florida State. The 38-24 whipping, where the Coogs held the much-ballyhooed Dalvin Cook to just over 1 yard per carry was an exclamation point to an incredible and mostly unexpected season. I actually went to every game that season except road trips to Louisville and UCF, including a brutal loss at UConn. Even though said travels cleaned me out financially, I still scraped together enough nickels and dimes to fly out to Atlanta and witness a once in a lifetime win. The game itself featured trick plays, 5 UH interceptions and Coog fans doing the War Chant as Seminole fans exited the Georgia Dome. It was perfection for a Cougar fan.
DR: The Peach Bowl certainly is way up there, but I'm going to go back a little further, and say it's the Coogs' victory over No. 5 Oklahoma State back in 2009. I drove up for that game mostly just to have the chance to see T. Boone Pickens Stadium, not because I thought the Coogs had any real chance of victory. Up to that point, UH had been doing some nice things on the gridiron, like winning C-USA in 2006, but hadn't really gotten that one win to put itself on the map nationally. I was excited when the Coogs went into the half up 24-7, then watched us go behind 28-24 by the end of the 3rd quarter and figured our luck had run out. Even when the Coogs went back ahead in the 4th, I was sure OSU would still pull it out. I'll never forget the feeling of absolute shock when Jamal Robinson had a pick six on a pass intended for Dez Bryant to seal it. Ever since then, UH has always felt like it can beat anybody on a given day, and subsequent wins against the likes of Florida State, Oklahoma and Louisville have borne that out.
CT: What other teams do you guys follow?
SR: I grew up in Houston, so I would call myself a fan of the Astros, Dynamo (Houston’s MLS team) and Rockets… roughly in that order. One of my happiest recent sports memories was flying to Kansas City for a 2015 MLB divisional round playoff game after enduring a decade long playoff drought. I am not a Texan fan or really a pro football fan period. Finally, I am also a fan of Crystal Palace FC in the English Premier League.
DR: I follow Iowa State because my parents went there, Cal State Fullerton and UC-Irvine because those were the local schools growing up and Air Force because my brother is in the Air Force. I don't follow pro sports nearly as much as I used to, but I still follow the St. Louis Cardinals pretty closely (I'm a third-generation fan), I keep up with the Astros and Rockets as much as possible, and I try to catch the West Ham United games on Saturday mornings.
CT: When you hear "Cincinnati," you think ________ :
SR: Watching Astros vs Reds games at Riverfront Stadium on an 11-12 inch tube TV as a kid.
DR: How much I hate Brandon Phillips.
CT: Describe your greatest victories in a sports video game.
SR: I can say we both were/are huge fans of the now deceased NCAA Football video game series. I think the first one I owned had Joey Harrington on the cover in his Oregon Ducks jersey. At one point (I believe in NCAA Football 2007) in “Dynasty Mode” I was able to build New Mexico State into a national power, so much so that the Big 12 added the Aggies in my game.
DR: That's a tough one. I remember having some pretty dominant teams back when I was playing Tony La Russa Baseball '95 on my computer as a kid, but my greatest accomplishment that I can remember details of comes more recently, when playing Football Manager. I had a season in which I guided AS Monaco to a victory in Champions League, as well as winning Ligue 1 by a wide margin and winning both domestic cups. I felt like I was so good, I had broken the game. Then the next year PSG beat me in Ligue 1 and Arsenal knocked me out early in Champions League, because Football Manager, like actual sports, will humble you right when you think you're too good to fail.
CT: Predictions for Houston football in 2017:
SR: Ed Oliver and the Cougar defense’s front seven will continue to be nasty, disruptive and hard to run against. Unfortunately the offense is enough of an unknown at this point, even with the pedigree of Kyle Allen, that I don’t feel comfortable predicting more than 8 regular season wins at this point.
DR: I think the Cougars will be right in the middle of a tight race in the AAC West. The schedule didn't do us any favors, with roadies to Temple and USF. Ultimately I think the defense will be one of the conference's best, but the offensive line will still be something of an Achilles Heel, and the Coogs will win 8-9 games.
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