Welcome back, Coach.
A career that began as a graduate assistant under Mack Brown at Texas has come full circle as Tom Herman returns to Austin as the next coach of the Texas Longhorns:
A very, very, very pro-Tom Herman Texas source told me minutes ago that he is hearing that Tom Herman has accepted the LSU offer.— Geoff Ketchum (@gkketch) November 25, 2016
Whoops! Wrong Herman Tweet! Here we go:
Texas has officially hired Tom Herman. Press conference tomorrow.— Max Olson (@max_olson) November 26, 2016
Tom will be getting to work posthaste and so are we - let’s dive in.
The Hire and The Hiring Process
First off, let’s talk process.
Was it any secret that Herman had been the leader in the clubhouse for quite some time?
Was it surprising that Texas sealed the deal without so much as an official sit-down with the hiring authorities, and without so much as a public review of other candidates?
Did Texas possibly lose out on more of a sure thing by moving, shall we say...expeditiously?
Quite possibly - but I certainly wouldn’t pound the table yea or nay.
When you’re talking about making a “sure thing” hire, you’re really talking about someone’s track record. And you don’t hire someone because their track record and past accomplishments will bring you any tangible benefits - you hire someone because of what their track record and past accomplishments reveal about the skill set and processes they’ll use to deliver results for you. The longer and more directly analogous the track record to your situation, the more data you have to work with when making your decision. But there’s one inescapable fact when it comes to big-time college coaching hires - there are no sure things. Pretty-close-to-sure things exist, but they tend to not seem like sure things unless they’ve got a track record at a big-time program and lateral moves by those pretty-close-to-sure-thing guys are exceedingly rare.
Since Mack brought home the hardware in 2005, the list of National Championship-winning coaches looks like:
Nick Saban (5)
Urban Meyer (3)
Les Miles (1)
Jimbo Fisher (1)
We’ll spare ourselves a recounting of the Saban Saga. Meyer became available for tOSU following a unique departure from Florida precipitated by either (depending on who you listen to) “health concerns,” Sorority Row dalliances or the realization that all he had to do to field the full squad from The Longest Yard was swap out Paul Crewe for Tim Tebow. Jimbo came up from within to succeed Bobby Bowden at FSU and reportedly turned down $6MM per to jump to LSU, and Les Miles...is there for the taking!
If you want to expand the list a bit:
- Jim Harbaugh was a complete blue moon job for the Maize and Blue as an elite and possibly psychopathic guy who managed to friction his way out of a successful NFL setup AND happened to be an alum and former Wolverine letterman
- JOHN Harbaugh wasn’t stepping out on an NFL team in mid-season and would have left you up Shit Creek had he thought better of it after leading you down the primrose path through the end of December
- Dabo Swinney would have you living in constant fear that he’d jump to Sweet Home Alabama when Saban finally hangs ‘em up
- Chris Petersen is another unique dude who seems very happily ensconced in the Pacific Northwest
- Jon Gruden...no, Red. Just, no.
Would I have liked Texas to get deep and detailed insight into how Herman - and other candidates - would answer these questions? Hell, yes I would - I didn’t type the damn things for my health. But, as the expeditiousness of this whole deal should make abundantly clear, the groundwork and vetting on Herman has been worked on for quite some time by some very football-invested power players - which is why those in the know didn’t succumb to panic as the various “red flag”/”McRaven’s meh on Herman”/”he’s about to sign with LSU without fielding a call from Texas first” canards were duly trotted out. TurkeyGate did help spur the ultimate decision-makers to quick action once the long-promised, full-season evaluation of Charlie Strong was concluded, but they weren’t starting from scratch or treading unfamiliar ground once the Charlie fait accompli was accomplished.
So how good is Herman? Those same football-invested power players will, to a man, attest that he could get shaken from a dead sleep at 3AM and give answers to those coaching questions that would make any committee swoon. Probably-good-and-feasibly-attainable candidates like Bryan Harsin, PJ Fleck, Justin Fuente and Jay Macintyre didn’t get the Full Monty in terms of evaluation, but would Korn Ferry and a search committee featuring Arthur Johnson and the Dean of the Architecture School have unearthed some game-changing insights about another candidate? That’s far from certain, and it’s highly unlikely that any of those insights would have outright trumped the unique pair of hole cards that Herman brought to the table.
The first can be simply summed up as the “BB’s Back In The Box” factor. There simply wasn’t another candidate who could have approached the near-unanimous BMD and power-player acclaim that Herman has created - a unity that’s been lacking since (at least) Mack and the boys walked off the field against Alabama in January 2010. Of course, you don’t need lockstep love from the luxury boxes to sign top talent or field a cohesive defense - but when the program faces another round of the never-ending facilities arms race and will likely endure some big-league political maneuvering before its ultimate conference destiny is assured, getting everyone on the same page is nothing to sneeze at.
The second is that Herman’s Texas ties and reputation among players and coaches alike will give him an immediate leg up in recruiting - one that could play a major role in the Longhorns’ near-term fortunes.
Like any new coach, Herman’s first and most important recruiting job will be getting the existing roster won over and rowing in the same direction. He won’t be facing the uphill battle against culture rot that Charlie Strong had to battle when he hit town, and while the players’ love for Charlie is manifest the early returns:
Balls to the wall for Herman just as it was for coach Strong! #LetsRide— kris boyd™ (@kris23db) November 26, 2016
Tell em again kris https://t.co/ocHBBL0QZb— Charles Omenihu (@charless_94) November 26, 2016
would seem to indicate that the vast majority of the locker room is more than willing to be won over. There may be some attrition, but there’s no reason to think that it will be out of line from what any program could expect on the heels of a regime change. Replicating Mack’s big Ricky Williams win with D’Onta Foreman would be a real grand slam, but even if D’Onta departs Herman should have a well-stocked roster that’s eager to win and willing to extol the virtues of the program to 2017 and 2018 recruits.
While you never make a coaching decision based on the whims of one recruit - or even one recruiting cycle - the number of elite, persuadable guys in the 2017 class put a real premium on a swift and inspiring hire. It sounds as though Herman is already up to speed on Texas’ key targets, existing relationships, roster situation and recruiting needs and figures to hit the trail running as well as any candidate could. Five-star studs like Marvin Wilson and Walker Little should be very much in play, and if potential early enrollees like Baron Browning and Anthony Hines can at least be persuaded to put off their announcements a bit then that could represent an early win as well. Herman has existing contact and relationships with a lot of these guys, and his arrival at Texas doesn’t exactly come as a shock to many. And if some of the current staff rumors come to pass, Herman could be loaded for bear (and possibly Bear) when it comes to rounding out in 2017 and balling out in 2018.
Staff and System
Herman’s first order of business will be rounding out his coaching staff. One interesting name on the radar is Tim Brewster, former tight ends coach and recruiting rainmaker under Mack Brown who’s been recruiting Texas hard for Jimbo Fisher and who would bring relationships with guys like Browning, Wilson, Little, Okudah and more if he comes back to Austin. Current tight ends coach and recruiting rainmaker Jeff Traylor could easily slide to running backs or even wide receivers if he’s up for staying on staff - and given Herman’s purported focus on recruiting capability among his assistants, he’s likely to make Traylor an early priority.
At offensive coordinator, it sounds like Major Applewhite is under consideration to join Brewster in another go-round on the 40. Whether his prior indiscretion ends up being a deal-breaker or not remains to be seen, but if The Maje is back he’ll bring familiarity with Herman’s system and some diversity of offensive experience that could prove valuable as they look to tailor the 2017 offense to the talent on hand. The approach that Herman and Urban Meyer co-authored at Ohio State isn’t philosophically dissimilar from what Gilbert and Mattox employed - spread the defense out to enable a power run game and physically punish your opponent. The splits won’t be as wide, nor the playbook as narrow, and the offense should adapt nicely to the throw-first stylings of Shane Buechele while offering some easy opportunities for Sam Ehlinger to get his feet wet with some Power Read looks and downfield shots. If Applewhite goes elsewhere, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Herman could talk to Gilbert and Mattox about sticking around but there’s nothing definite on that front just yet.
The other side of the ball is a little less clear - purported DC candidate Dave Aranda looks to be sticking with Coach O in Baton Rouge, and current Houston DC Todd Orlando will be coaching the Cougars in their bowl game which could indicate that he’s the leader in the clubhouse to succeed Herman in H-town. Herman’s legendary attention to detail should mean that he’ll tab someone with bona fide anti-spread chops - and for my money he could do a lot worse than nabbing Tony Gibson if there’s a shakeup in Morgantown - but for now everyone’s keeping their ears to the ground to see what will shake out defensively. It’s not inconceivable that Brick Haley or Brian Jean-Mary could stick around, but the former’s lukewarm recruiting rep and laughable linebacking from the latter’s charges could mean it’s a clean sweep on the defensive side.
Special teams...probably won’t see us starting at the 17 yard line after kickoffs any more.
The Bottom Line
On a personal note, I bid farewell to Charlie Strong with a heavy heart. He was a hell of a guy who cleared out the worst aspects of a rotten culture, earned plenty of love in the locker room and who fought plenty of uphill battles during his time in Austin. Unfortunately, a few too many of those uphill fights were of his own making. Championing his cause - like watching a lot of his teams’ work over the past couple of seasons - went from a labor of love to simply labor to a grudging obligation. I hope he gets the credit he deserves for building a foundation that can help the Tom Herman Era hit the ground running - but in truth, it’s a relief not to cope with the worry that a quality nine- or ten-win season in 2017 won’t represent the program’s likely ceiling.
What that ceiling will ultimately look like under Tom Herman remains to be seen, but there’s plenty of reason to believe that it could top out at the pinnacle of college football before too long. Being a Longhorn fan could become unreservedly fun again in short order, and we’ll try to make the experience as fun as possible here at The Carnival.
The Coach is dead. Long live The Coach. And Hook ‘Em.