In what was arguably the biggest transfer portal shock the University of Houston has experienced so far, late Monday night it was confirmed that star running back Alton McCaskill IV would be transferring out of the program. What followed was shock and disbelief by fans turning into Jerry Springer-esque confrontations between a former player and current players on Twitter. But the question still remains: who or what is responsible for this surprising decision by Alton?
"I don't know where that came from."
Perhaps the person stunned most by this move is Head Coach Dana Holgorsen. Throughout his freshman year as well as all of last season that he was out, McCaskill was one of the most highly praised players on the roster.
"He had a productive spring," Holgorsen said to Mark Berman of FOX 26 News. "He was happy. He broke the team down several times this spring. Was smiling and then he came in on Monday and he was emotional and said he was leaving. I don't know where that came from."
Twelve minutes after the news broke, Bruce Feldman of The Athletic shared on Twitter that Colorado would be in the mix to land him. This raises the question: how could any school or any coach in the nation be linked to a player that quickly without having knowledge they were getting ready to jump in?
The knee jerk reaction for many was to say that it is all Holgorsen's fault. That point of view is understandable, but isn't it suspicious that a happy player who is going to be the star of his position group would walk in with no warning and announce he is leaving?
A Sinking Ship?
The drama didn't start until Wednesday, when offensive lineman Cam'Ron Johnson tweeted this:
Johnson entered the portal last month. His tweet caused a reaction from multiple current UH players as well as the special teams account:
Obviously, a former player and current players going at each other publicly is not the best of looks. This, in turn, started a conversation over whether or not the program has a culture problem. Programs with no culture would not have players willing to publicly shoot back and detractors in this way. These players have some fire in their bellies and care about the program and those in charge of running things.
Are there problems with the roster? Yes. Have there been questionable coaching decisions both on the field and in recruiting? Yes. Is Holgorsen a little rough around the edges and says things that he shouldn't? Yes. But that is the same for every program in the nation. There is a core of players, good players, on the roster that are loyal to both Holgorsen and UH, and until that goes away, questioning culture doesn't make much sense.
NIL is King
McCaskill's decision to leave is most likely NIL related. Many might say "wait a second, players have to be in the portal before they can be contacted by another program, right?" That is correct. The word tampering comes to mind but let's leave that alone.
Also, as a complete side note, Johnson and offensive lineman Trevonte Sylvester (who entered the portal recently) both have visits with Colorado this upcoming weekend. What a coincidence.
NIL has changed the landscape of college athletics and organizations like Linking Coogs are doing great work to make and keep Houston competitive in this new landscape. As UH's brand continues to grow, both on and off the field, they will have the ability to be in a better position to win some of the battles down the road.
So, is the ship sinking? Time will tell. But Holgorsen and company should use that phrase behind closed doors for the rest of the year. If used correctly, Johnson might have just inadvertently given the staff a fantastic motivator for the season ahead. Just imagine in December, a Houston team standing on a bowl victory stage and Holgorsen wryly smiling and saying, "our ship feels solid to me!"