HOUSTON — Houston celebrating its upcoming move from Conference USA to the Big East on Friday despite speculation that coach Kevin Sumlin could be leaving for another job.
Hundreds of people attended an on-campus event Friday to applaud the move. Sumlin said he's excited about the conference move, but wouldn't address the possibility he could leave to coach somewhere else.
"I'm not talking about it anymore," he said. "It doesn't really matter what I say ... people are going to write what they're going to write."
Sumlin wouldn't say he wasn't considering leaving, but when pressed about whether he could see himself taking the field with the Cougars next season, he offered a response that seems encouraging for Houston.
"I've always seen myself that way," he said. "I don't think that anything I've said or anything I've talked about has been any different."
Athletic director Mack Rhoades said the Cougars are working to keep Sumlin, but that if he leaves "we'll move on and hire the next great coach."
"When you have success people are going to come after your coaches," Rhoades said. "We'll continue to monitor it. We'll continue to make sure that coach Sumlin understands that we want him to stay."
Nelda Blair, chair of the school's board of regents, announced that Houston plans to build a new football stadium and officials hope to break ground within 10 months.
Rhoades said they have about $60 million pledged for the stadium and that they'll need between $80 million and $85 million to build it.
The Cougars currently play in Robertson Stadium, a 32,000 seat stadium which opened in 1942.
They'll demolish that stadium and build the new one on the same site, which could leave the team without a home stadium for as long as a season. Where they would play during construction hasn't been determined, but Rhoades said they've had discussions with officials of Reliant Stadium, home of the NFL's Houston Texans.
They expect the new stadium to be ready for the start of the 2014 season.
Rhoades is looking forward to the increase in revenue that will come from their conference switch. He said the Cougars currently garner about $3 million a year and expect that number to jump to at least $10 million in the Big East.
While Sumlin was reticent to discuss his job status, he had plenty to say about Houston's new conference and plans for the stadium. He's looking forward to joining an automatic qualifying BCS conference, which C-USA is not.
"Anytime as a coach you have the ability to move from a non-AQ conference to an AQ conference that's a big deal," he said. "And any coach in America they say new stadium to, he's going to get excited. All those things add up and they really make a difference in recruiting."
The Cougars had a chance to qualify for a BCS bowl this season after starting 12-0, but a loss to Southern Mississippi in the C-USA title game left them in the TicketCity bowl against Penn State.
Houston and other new members Boise State, San Diego State, SMU and Central Florida will join the conference in 2013. Big East commissioner John Marinatto said on a conference call Friday that Houston was an attractive addition for many reasons.
"The overall brand, quality and competitiveness of its athletic programs, the large media area and recruiting base it represents and the alumni base and fan following were all factors," Marinatto said.
Marinatto believes the addition of the new schools will allow the Big East to get a more lucrative television contract when they begin negotiations next September. .
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