Houston Cougars coach Major Applewhite said all of his team's family members are safe and accounted for as the team's home city continues to deal with the effects of Hurricane Harvey.
In his first public comments since his team left town to avoid the effects of the storm, which caused catastrophic flooding in Houston over the weekend, Applewhite discussed the impact the storm has had on his team.
"We talked to the guys about the situation, and obviously, football is important to all of us, but the first thing is Houston," Applewhite told reporters following the team's practice Monday in Austin. "It's our city, and we constantly talk to our guys about representing the city of Houston because it's across our chest."
The Cougars were scheduled to practice Sunday and take Monday off, but they changed the schedule when Applewhite noticed the mental state of his team as Houston took in record amounts of rainfall.
"I came down for breakfast [on Sunday], and I could see everybody on their phones. I just knew the minds weren't there, and it wasn't a good day to practice," Applewhite said. "So [we decided to] make our off day [Sunday], and we'll go back to the fields [Monday] when we know what's going on with the storm. That's the thing: Forget football. There's lives, there's families, there's people. That's where our emphasis needed to be yesterday."
Applewhite said Houston athletic director Hunter Yurachek coordinated with Houston police and first responders to check on family members of the Cougars' who were in danger. That helped ease the minds of his players.
"We got our names of our loved ones to the police force and the first responders, and we were able to go out in a matter of six hours and check on those that knew they were in immediate harm," Applewhite said. "We have some players with sick relatives, so our athletic director did an outstanding job, along with the first responders, to get to those people."
The team is using the University of Texas' indoor practice facility for practice and the team's weight room for workouts. Texas coach Tom Herman, who spent the past two years as Houston's head coach, told reporters Monday that it was "really difficult to watch" what was going on in Houston and that Applewhite was handling the situation "as good as possible."
Applewhite called the Cougars a "mature group" that has handled the situation well. They don't have a timetable for when they will return to Houston, and they will continue to stay in Austin for the time being. Before the team left for Austin on Friday, Applewhite told his coaches, "On this trip, our job is to No. 1 be parents and No. 2 to be coach. That's what we have to do. We have to understand the human element in this."
Applewhite said his wife, Julie, and his two children are back in Houston, safe but stuck at home.
"It's hard. It's hard," Applewhite said. "But my wife is strong as all get-out. I know that everything's going to be fine. We've got neighbors in our house right now. Just everybody lend a hand. When the load is heavy, everybody's got to pick it up."