The manager addressed his squad at their training base in St Andrews, informing them that his decision to part ways with the club had been brought forward; thanks for all your efforts, I'll look out for your scores on teletext.
The farewells were modest, the United players offering a handshake while lacing up their boots and heading out for training. The departure of a manager can sometimes affect a player personally but sentiment will often be punctured by the sharp end of a league match, and the Tannadice squad had a trip to face Motherwell tonight to prepare for. Paul Hegarty, Houston's erstwhile assistant, and youth coach Steve Campbell took the session and both will form an interim management team at Fir Park this evening.
Their work may well be watched from the stand by the man to be appointed as Houston's successor. Or Steven Pressley, as he has become known. The Falkirk manager is expected to be placed in charge of United later this week and it is has become de rigueur for an incoming coach to be pictured in a stand watching quietly as his new players do their best to kid on they don't know he is there.
Given that Houston previously served as assistant to Craig Levein before taking charge, the younger members of this United side may feel the change more acutely than others; the likes of Stuart Armstrong and Keith Watson having spent their entire senior careers in close attendance to the 54-year-old. They could be forgiven, then, were they to take a little longer to find their feet on the new landscape at their club, but the immediate challenge of the trip to Motherwell will quell any concerns for now.
"It was a surprise the manager went so soon," said Jon Daly, the United captain. "It has happened quicker than we all thought it would. We knew he was leaving in the summer but he came in and told all the lads that he was on his way. Things have obviously been happening behind the scenes recently.
"But we are a professional group of players and we have a huge game against Motherwell so everyone is focused 100% on that. The manager came in, basically told the boys what was happening, and said his goodbyes. That was it."
It was a business-like account of events because it had to be. Houston expected to remain in charge until the rest of the campaign as he sought to lead his side back into the Europa League, but the players must now get on with that job without him. "It's probably a good thing we've got the game so quickly because our minds are on that," said Daly.
"These things happen in football. You can't dwell on it and we have a game to look forward to so quickly. Stevie had a chat with the boys. A lot of the senior ones have been in this position before but it's probably new to the younger lads. They haven't experienced this before so it's up to us older ones to make sure their heads are right. I can't see it being a problem for us."
It was that sense of assured leadership which will have prompted Steven Thompson, the United chairman, to contact the striker to keep him in the loop regarding a new appointment. "The chairman texted me to say that he is trying to appoint someone as soon as possible," he said. "We understand that it's a big decision."
The names linked with the post had become scattered – Billy Dodds was interviewed, while former United midfielder Derek McInnes was also sized up – but it is Pressley who would appear to have stood out. His work with a youthful squad at Falkirk holds an allure to a board that is preparing to cut the playing budget again in the summer and Alex Smith does not believe that Pressley will be inhibited by such a frugal environment.
"Steven has great promise," said the Falkirk coach and a former United manager. "He certainly fits the type of footprint they need for the way Dundee United is run. It's a similar structure and philosophy; they develop their own players and they're good at it."