FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) – Houston and Pittsburgh are in the Armed Forces Bowl without the head coaches that led them during the regular season.
With one coach fired and the other returning home for a job, both sidelines Friday will have interim coaches who are unlikely to stay after the bowl.
“You put all the circumstances behind you and you’re a football coach, and it is what it is and you do your job,” said Houston interim coach David Gibbs, the team’s defensive coordinator. “The kids, they look for leadership. They want to be coached.”
Pitt interim coach Joe Rudolph, the Panthers’ offensive coordinator, said the job for the interims is “to make sure it’s all about the players.”
The Panthers (6-6) had to win their last two games to get bowl eligible, then got Army’s conditional spot in the Armed Forces Bowl after the Black Knights failed to win six games.
Paul Chryst, a Madison native and former Wisconsin offensive coordinator, left Pitt after three seasons to become head coach of the Badgers. He is being replaced by Pat Narduzzi, who will be at the bowl after his finale Thursday as Michigan State’s defensive coordinator in the Cotton Bowl about 20 miles away.
Tony Levine was fired after 21-17 record over three seasons, including Houston’s 7-5 mark this season. The Cougars have since hired Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman, who is finishing the season with the playoff Buckeyes.
The players don’t change, and Pitt is led by several standout sophomores. Tailback James Conner was the ACC offensive player of the year after rushing for 1,675 yards with a league-record 24 touchdowns, and receiver Tyler Boyd (69 catches for 1,149 yards and eight TDs) is the first ACC player with 1,000 yards receiver in both his freshman and sophomore season.
“I’m scared to death,” Gibbs said about trying to stop those guys while dealing with Pitt’s massive offensive line.
Here are a few things to know about the Armed Forces Bowl, which will be played on the TCU campus:
YOUNG PANTHERS: The Panthers have only 11 seniors playing their final game and expect have 17 returning starters next season. Pitt has an FBS-high 81 underclassmen (53 freshmen and 28 sophomores).
COUGAS DEFENSE: The Houston defense led by Gibbs ranks 11th nationally allowing only 19.5 points a game and is 19th giving up 335 total yards per game. After leading the nation with 43 takeaways in 2013, the Cougars are fifth this year by forcing 30 turnovers and 19 interceptions.
PREPARED FOR RAIN: With the expectation of rain Friday, bowl officials ordered 20,000 ponchos to distribute at the game. “I kind of look at it in the fact that, you know, it’s only three or four hours and we have got men and women in uniform serving our country around the world that are in a lot worse conditions than that,” bowl executive director Brant Ringler said. “I think we can handle being in any kind of weather.”
BEEN HERE BEFORE: Houston is in its fourth Armed Forces Bowl, which is being played for the 12th time. The only other team with four appearances in the game that started as the Fort Worth Bowl in 2003 is Air Force. Houston and Air Force had consecutive appearances against each other, splitting in 2008 and 2009. Houston lost to Kansas in the 2005 game.
TD VISITS: Pittsburgh’s only Heisman Trophy winner and the school’s career rushing leader stopped by practice this week to talk to the team. Running back Tony Dorsett, who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, played 11 seasons for the Cowboys and is a retired businessman in the Dallas area.