HOUSTON -- Houston coach Dana Holgorsen said Tuesday that his team is not giving up on the season despite the decision by two of his top players to redshirt the remainder of the 2019 campaign and return for 2020.
Holgorsen, senior quarterback D'Eriq King and senior receiver Keith Corbin met with reporters Tuesday to discuss King's and Corbin's unusual decisions to sit out the rest of this season following the Cougars' 1-3 start. Holgorsen said anyone suggesting that the team is tanking the rest of the year is misguided.
"I can assure you that whoever is saying that was not at our practice last night, was not in our meetings on Sunday night, these long coaches meetings that we had preparing for a game," Holgorsen said. "We're full go ahead on playing a game this weekend. So that, to me, is absolute nonsense."
In response to suggestions that the team is throwing in the towel, Houston athletic director Chris Pezman said, "We've got kids that we've recruited to come into the program that we have confidence in that can play at a high level. ... We've got a lot of confidence in our coaching staff and everybody else that's on the team and in the program."
King, who set the American Athletic Conference record last season with 50 touchdowns responsible for, and Corbin, who is a third-year starter, both said they have not considered transferring. King's father, Eric King, told ESPN on Monday that D'Eriq and his family would evaluate all their options at season's end but returning was "absolutely" a possibility.
D'Eriq King was more emphatic on Tuesday, saying he isn't going anywhere and that it never crossed his mind.
"I'm staying here," King said. "If I wanted to leave Houston and go somewhere else, I could have. I think me being here is what I want to do and it's the best opportunity for me. I don't think anybody will reach out to me [to convince me to transfer]. Even if they do, they should know I'm staying here."
The pair said they each met separately with Holgorsen over the weekend following Houston's loss to Tulane on Thursday. Holgorsen said he discussed all available options with both players and has also discussed redshirting with other players. Some may still choose to redshirt, Holgorsen said.
Both players will practice and work out with the team and continue to be in position meetings, Holgorsen said.
Holgorsen expressed a desire to get his roster older, citing a lack of fifth-year seniors on his team. Pezman said the Cougars "mortgaged" themselves with their younger players by not having them redshirt in recent years.
"My experience with this thing is when you get a team that's old and mature and experienced, there's something that happens to those guys who are fifth-year seniors," Holgorsen said. "And we've got way too many guys on this football team right now that are not in position to be fifth-year seniors. And that makes it hard to win championships."
Added Holgorsen: "This is Year 1 for me here at the University of Houston. I've identified some things that I need to pay attention to. And I've identified some things that need to happen for us to be able to be successful and compete for championships, which is the goal here at the University of Houston. We're not currently in a very good spot when it comes to that, and there's a number of reasons why."
King admitted it would be "weird" practicing without getting ready to play Saturday, but he plans to help sophomore Clayton Tune -- who will start for the Cougars in King's place -- as much as he can. King said after spending much of his career being unselfish, citing a freshman year in which he played five different positions and two successive years in which he suffered injuries, that he felt it was worth exploring what was best for him.
"I think it was the decision best for my future and my college experience, so that's the reason I made it," King said.
To those who may believe King and Corbin are abandoning their teammates, Corbin said their attitude and work ethic would not change.
"I'm still going to come out here and practice hard to develop into the best player I can be," Corbin said. "I'm gonna give my young receivers advice ... to come out and finish this season. It's not over. I'm just doing what's best for me, best for the team, best for the future."
Holgorsen noted that it's a unique usage of the NCAA's new redshirt rule, which was instituted in 2018 and allows players to play up to four games without losing a year of eligibility.
"I think the NCAA probably is upset with me right now because this wasn't the intent of the rule," Holgorsen said.
"Four games is four games, and we can use it however we want to use it," he continued. "We need to get older and we need to develop, and redshirting is not a dirty word. That's been my stance since the day I got here. I've identified a little bit of a problem that exists here, and I'm going to do everything I can here to fix it."
Houston plays North Texas (2-2) at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday.