Houston coach Major Applewhite and All-American defensive tackle Ed Oliver both said Friday night that they intend to move forward together, a day after the two had a sideline dispute over a jacket during the Cougars' win against Tulane.
During the second quarter of Houston's 48-17 win, Applewhite approached Oliver, who has missed four consecutive games with a knee injury, on the sideline before halftime and removed the lineman's jacket from his shoulder. Later, Oliver could be seen shouting at Applewhite as the team walked toward its locker room at halftime and was restrained by Houston director of sports performance Rod Grace.
Applewhite did not appear to respond and kept walking.
Oliver said Friday that he was caught in an emotional moment.
"Last night is not who I am," Oliver said in a statement released through the school. "I'm very passionate about the game of football and last night there was a misunderstanding. I was caught in an emotional moment. I have the utmost respect for Coach Applewhite and I appreciate the support of Coach Applewhite and my teammates during this time. I love my brothers, my team and my city and I'm looking forward to moving forward with them together. Go Coogs!"
Applewhite said they will learn from the incident.
"Ed is a passionate human being, and that is why he is the best player in the country," Applewhite said in a statement. "Last night was not indicative of his character and it was a passionate moment within our program. We can, and we will, both learn from this situation as we move forward together."
Oliver left the locker room at halftime and did not return to it or the sideline for the remainder of the game. Afterward, Applewhite downplayed the incident, chalking it up to high emotions and adding that he would welcome back Oliver.
The coach explained that, by team rule, the jackets are for active players, and he preferred that even those participating Thursday minimize how much they wore them since it was "only 50 degrees outside." He asked Oliver to remove the jacket in an effort to treat him equally, and Oliver became upset as a result.
Oliver, a junior who declared in March that he would forgo his senior season and enter the 2019 NFL draft, is widely considered a top-10 pick. This season, he has 51 tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss, but he fell from No. 2 overall to No. 7 on ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr.'s Big Board this week after missing a month of action.
He attempted to play against SMU on Nov. 3 but did not feel comfortable on the knee after participating in pregame warm-ups and opted to sit. He suffered the knee injury in Houston's Oct. 20 win over Navy after being hit low by an opposing offensive lineman.
Applewhite said Monday that Oliver would not practice until he felt healthy enough to play but that he would welcome him back when he is ready.
"I want him back. I want him a part of our football team," Applewhite said Thursday. "If he wants to play, I want him to play. ... You're gonna deal with emotions all the time. And that's our job as coaches to help them and help them develop that maturity and move on, and that's my job. If he lets me help him, I absolutely will, any way I can."
Oliver's uncertain status since the injury has been a source of frustration for him, Applewhite said. His elite draft status and impending departure have left some to wonder if he should sit out the remainder of the season to avoid aggravating the injury and protect his draft status.
On Wednesday, Oliver posted a cryptic tweet that read: "I gave all I had so there'd be nuthing to lose." That led to some speculation that he had decided not to play again this season for the Cougars. But Oliver told ESPN's Laura Rutledge on Thursday that wasn't his intention. Instead, he said he wrote it so that in the event he can't return, people would know how much he gave to the team.
Applewhite said Thursday that if Oliver is healthy enough to play against Memphis next Friday, he will.