Listen to Austin 360 Radio
SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as $3 for 3 months
SUBSCRIBE NOW
As low as $3 for 3 months

Texas AD: Tom Herman will remain with Longhorns

Athletic director Chris Del Conte, facing a $25-million decision, announces Saturday that Tom Herman will remain the Longhorns’ coach

Tom Herman  is 31-18 in four seasons at Texas and has not won a Big 12 championship. But he has compiled four straight winning seasons and a 3-0 bowl record. Before his arrival, the Longhorns had gone through three straight losing seasons.

Tom Herman is still a Longhorn.

Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte announced Saturday that Herman will remain UT’s coach for 2021 after the failed pursuit of Urban Meyer.

"There has been a lot of speculation about the future of our football coach," Del Conte said in a statement. "My policy is to wait until the end of the season before evaluating and commenting on our program and coaches.

"With the close of the regular season, I want to reiterate that Tom Herman is our coach," Del Conte added. 

Del Conte later confirmed in a phone call with the American-Statesman that his statement means Herman will be UT's coach in 2021. A second UT source confirmed this as well. Herman could not be reached for comment.

Del Conte’s decision is probably based on two major factors — Meyer wasn’t leaving Fox’s TV studio, and there are serious financial ramifications to making any change at all. 

One UT source described Meyer as “a whale.” The three-time national championship winner is the biggest free agent on the market today. However, Meyer, 56, told school officials he is not pursuing any coaching jobs because of his health, another UT source told the American-Statesman last week.

With Meyer unattainable, Del Conte’s decision became much tougher when looking at the coaching landscape. 

Herman, 45, would be owed $15 million to buy out the remaining three years of his guaranteed contract. Texas would owe another $10 million to change out all the assistants, who also have multiyear, guaranteed deals.

So Texas was looking at $25 million in buyout money before even starting the search for a new coach. The athletic department is financially self-sufficient, relying on donations and ticket and television revenue. No taxpayer money is used to fund UT athletics.

Then Del Conte would have to pay millions to another school to buy out any new coach’s contract. For example, Florida’s Dan Mullen has a $12 million buyout, and Oregon’s Mario Cristobal’s buyout is $5.3 million, according to USA Today’s coaching salary database.

The Longhorns, like other schools, have implemented salary reductions and layoffs because of the pandemic. A $30 million to $40 million expenditure for a coach who doesn’t move the needle like Meyer is a hard ask in this financial climate.

“When I look at our football program right now, I see tremendous young men and promising talent,” Del Conte said in his statement. “Our student-athletes are developing, and they play their hearts out. 

“This has been an unprecedented year for all of us, and we’re all disappointed that we didn’t meet our expectations,” he continued. “Like the many fans that follow and support our program, I can’t help but think what could have been in 2020. There’s still more work to be done, but I’m excited to watch our players and program move forward.”

Del Conte’s not off the hook, though. Keeping Herman will be untenable to some Texas fans. 

Herman is 31-18 in four seasons at Texas and has not won any Big 12 championships. The Longhorns have made only one appearance in the title game. That came in 2018 during UT’s 10-4 season that ended with a win over No. 6 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

But that season has become the exception rather than the norm under Herman. He’s 9-10 against Top 25 opponents and 1-4 against rival Oklahoma. That’s not anywhere close to the success UT officials expected when the school hired Herman away from Houston in November 2016.

On the positive side, Herman has compiled four straight winning seasons and a 3-0 bowl record. Before Herman’s arrival, the Longhorns had gone through three straight losing seasons.

Del Conte believes stability will ultimately lead to success. Mack Brown won at least nine games his first three seasons at UT, from 1998 to 2000, before the Horns embarked on a decade of success. Charlie Strong never found any traction, and a 16-21 record in three years was too much to overcome.

Del Conte was in a similar pickle with men's basketball coach Shaka Smart last March. He opted to keep Smart, and now the Longhorns are ranked 13th nationally in Smart's sixth season with a veteran team that has strong Big 12 chances. 

Herman righted the ship with a 7-6 mark in 2017. After the 2018 season, Del Conte gave Herman a two-year contract extension that few argued with at the time. The perception was that Herman's program was off and running. The 2019 campaign was disappointing but ended with a demolition of No. 11 Utah in the Alamo Bowl. 

With seconds left in the fourth quarter, Texas head coach Tom Herman fist-bumps athletic director Chris Del Conte as the Longhorns wrap up a 38-10 victory over the Utah Utes in the Alamo Bowl on Dec. 31 in San Antonio. Del Conte says he is sticking with Herman as UT's coach.

Along the way, Herman irritated fans with his on-field behavior. He mocked the Missouri quarterback at the 2017 Texas Bowl and ran onto the field looking ready to fight Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy in 2018. TV cameras caught Herman head-butting defensive end Malcolm Roach before the Baylor game last season. 

UT administrators are still catching heat about what some donors believe is conduct unbecoming a Texas head coach. 

The most striking moment came when Herman was caught giving two middle fingers to a Longhorn Network camera mounted inside the coaching staff’s meeting room — on national signing day. Herman later said he was just telling a story about some Oklahoma fan, but few bought that explanation. 

In 2020, the pandemic forced Texas to cancel spring workouts. Those practices had been desperately needed with seven new assistant coaches and a new defensive scheme. Spring football was canceled nationwide. Still, Texas had high hopes. 

This year’s team featured a senior quarterback who is statistically one of the best in Texas history. The locker room features three straight top-10 recruiting classes. And yet the Horns were 6-3 overall. Texas is now 0-6 in the past two seasons against Oklahoma, Iowa State and TCU.

OU and Iowa State have advanced to the Big 12 title game, scheduled for Dec. 19.

“I think any answer I give you right now is going to come across as an excuse,” Herman said the Monday after UT’s loss to Iowa State eliminated the team from title contention. “We'll evaluate the things we did poorly and go back to work to fix those things in the offseason.”

The offseason came earlier than expected after the regular-season finale at Kansas was canceled because of COVID-19 protocols. At least nine UT athletes and 13 staff members tested positive, the school announced. An additional 29 people were in quarantine because of contract tracing.

As of now, the Longhorns are still planning to go bowling. However, it’s unclear in which bowl Texas would land. Some teams have already opted out of middle-tier bowls, and some bowls have been outright canceled.

Herman will be guiding the Horns in that game and well into 2021. Early signing day is Wednesday. The Longhorns have a class ranked 17th nationally, according to 247Sports' composite rankings. 

The 2022 class must be rebuilt after Southlake's Quinn Ewers, the nation's No. 1 quarterback prospect, backed out of his commitment. The uncertainty around Herman was a driving factor in Ewers' decision to flip to Ohio State.

Now Herman and his staff must get to work.