Tom Herman’s bags are packed. That much is clear.
After all, his Houston Cougars play on the road at Memphis next week.
Sorry if you were expecting a different destination this quickly, but the Taylor Swift of college football hasn’t left his first head coaching job. He hasn’t agreed to come to Texas. Or LSU. Or Texas A&M. Or USC. Or Oregon. Or the Next Big Thing.
Not quite yet anyway.
He might soon, of course, because he’s in demand. And at Texas more than ever after Charlie Strong’s Longhorns inexplicably blew an 11-point lead in the final eight minutes, committed six turnovers and fell to lowly Kansas 24-21 in overtime on Saturday.
It’s inconceivable that Strong could survive this because his team slipped to 5-6 and squandered every bit of the progress it made the previous three months. And Herman waits by the phone.
Even more-so now that he coached the Cougars to their second stunning upset of a Top 5 team when Houston drubbed fifth-ranked Louisville before a sellout crowd and a national-television audience. That resonates, and you wonder if in-the-moment athletic directors and presidents — and two in particular — were so wowed by the electric performance a that they’re rushing to write blank checks for Herman.
Texas president Gregory L. Fenves would have to. Big ones. Like $10.7 million for Strong and $2.5 million for Herman’s buyout and more for assistant coaches’ salaries. Fenves never makes rash decisions and won’t this weekend most likely, but he showed he can make the difficult choice when he fired athletic director Steve Patterson four months into his job as president. Expect nothing officially to happen until after the TCU game.
Fenves’ phone probably rang off the wall on Friday morning. So did that of Trace Armstrong, Herman’s agent.
The 41-year-old Herman is pretty much the only next great head coach in waiting out there right now. Oh, there’s terrific P.J. Fleck at Western Michigan. Or is it Eastern Michigan? May not matter yet because Fleck doesn’t have near the national profile that Herman does. Justin Fuente’s coming on at Virginia Tech after leading Memphis to a 9-4 record, but he’s been there one year. Otherwise, good luck in finding an undiscovered gem out there.
“Right now I think Tom is committed and focused to being the head coach at Houston,” Cougars athletic director Hunter Yurachek told me Friday. “He’s had great success in that role, which I’m sure will create some interest and potential opportunities for him moving forward. I like our odds of Tom Herman being our head coach for the foreseeable future.”
That was pre-Kansas. Remember, Texas fired Mack Brown after an 8-4 regular season and only one losing season in 16 years. Strong may have three straight losing seasons.
Yurachek visited with Armstrong for two hours Wednesday. Houston broke ground on a $20 million indoor practice facility Friday and changing the outdoor field from artificial turf to grass and will upgrade the team meeting rooms.
What Texas must do is ask itself if Strong can win a championship in Austin. No one can answer yes after what they saw in Lawrence, Kan.
But Fenves and athletic director Mike Perrin might not even be asking that question. They may only be considering fairness and backlash among African-Americans and progress and never even ask that bigger question. Yes, Strong had shown progress on both sides of the ball in 2016 despite a mediocre record, but that wasn’t a tall task because he set the bar so low with a 5-7 record last season. And that all came undone Saturday.
The Longhorns may still beat TCU and be ticketed for something like the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl, but some Longhorn faithful are wondering if Texas has become a Motel 6 program. The light may be left on, but it’s only flickering.
It’s a shallow pool of coaching candidates right now. Ed Orgeron probably won’t secure the permanent job at LSU, which will court Herman hard if it can’t pry Jimbo Fisher out of Florida State. Clay Helton has USC playing its best ball of the season in his rookie year. Oregon may open, and Herman would fit nicely there.
But he clearly wants the Longhorn job. Texas could get this done in an hour.
It’s possible Herman stays at Houston and waits a bigger payday after he more than doubled his salary to $3 million after the first year. And Houston should if it wants to stay relevant. There’s nothing to say he can’t win big at Houston. Or even win it all. But if Fenves forfeits a chance to hire him and misses out on the next Bob Stoops or Urban Meyer, Texas bigwigs will never forgive him.
I don’t think Herman will stay long on Cullen Boulevard.
Ohio State would hire him in a minute if wanderlust sent Meyer to the NFL. Herman might consider Alabama if Nick Saban sets down his bucket, but he’d be crazy to follow that legend.
Herman is a meticulous, driven, ambitious, polished coach. He has presence. He has a rep for developing quarterbacks. He has the love and respect of his players. He’s organized. He can be high schoolish as when he had his players trample SMU jerseys on the visiting locker room floor just before SMU trampled Houston on the field and a bit thin-skinned, but so was Mack Brown.
When I asked how he handles the distraction of being mentioned for every job from coast to coast, Herman said Thursday night, “There’s no distraction. I’m open and honest when I communicate with our team. I love ‘em like they’re my sons, and I’m always going to be honest with my sons.”
He seems to be the total package. When I asked if he saw this blowout of Louisville coming, he said he got a text from his wife on Thursday asking if he was nervous. He said he wasn’t, that he had a calm about him that his players would play hard and play well, which they did.
There’s no guarantee he’ll be a huge winner, wherever he goes. Kirby Smart, fresh off his nine-year apprenticeship under Saban, hasn’t walked on water at Georgia yet.
Of course, maybe Houston will offer Herman a lifetime contract.
Said Yurachek, “I think some people in the university would allow me to do that.”
I’m betting he gets the king’s ransom in Austin.