Every Texas coach gets one major chance to overhaul the coaching staff when things go south. It’s their one get-out-of-jail free card, so to speak. Tom Herman used his Sunday.
The university announced major changes on the football staff, including the firing of defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and outside receivers coach Drew Mehringer. Herman also demoted offensive coordinator Tim Beck and inside receivers coach Corby Meekins.
All of these changes had to be made before the coaching staff hit the recruiting trail Monday. Word began leaking out Sunday afternoon, and several recruits indicated to the American-Statesman they already knew what was coming.
“After taking time, looking back and evaluating the season in its totality, I am very disappointed in our performance in a number of areas in 2019,” Herman said in a statement. “7-5 will never be our standard at Texas, and I take full responsibility for any and all of our shortcomings and know we need to do a better job coaching across the board.”
Herman had no choice but to make changes after a fall full of disappointment. Texas was ranked 10th in the preseason Associated Press Top 25 poll. The Longhorns stumbled to a 7-5 finish and went 5-4 in Big 12 games. UT trailed at some point in every league game this season.
“We’re going to be OK,” Herman said after the regular-season finale against Texas. “Things are still headed in the right direction.”
Every move Herman makes at this point has recruiting in mind. The Longhorns’ 2020 recruiting class is ranked seventh nationally in 247Sports’ composite team rankings. The last two classes both ranked third nationally, yet that hasn’t translated into winning Big 12 titles.
Four-star defensive end Van Fillinger from Draper, Utah, wasted no time announcing his decision after all the changes. “I will be DECOMMITING from Texas and REOPENING my recruitment,” Fillinger tweeted on Sunday.
Herman announced that UT director of recruiting Bryan Carrington will hit the recruiting trail this week in place of an assistant coach to help hold the fort. Carrington is widely credited with helping the coaches identify, recruit and retain players.
“With that said, I do believe the future is very bright (and) have decided to make some changes to our staff as we head into bowl preparation and look to finish strong in the final weeks of fall recruiting,” Herman said in his statement.
The most shocking dismissal is Orlando. The Pittsburgh native joined Herman at Houston prior to the 2015 season, and together they lifted the Cougars to national prominence.
Orlando followed Herman to Texas that year and became the highest-paid assistant coach in UT history, making just over $1 million annually. That season, the Horns had the second-best defense in the Big 12, allowing just 365.6 yards per game.
The numbers dipped in 2018, but the defense was good enough to help UT finish 10-4 and reach the Sugar Bowl. When the offseason arrived, Orlando was rewarded with an extension and major raise, bringing him to $1.7 million annually on par with others nationally.
Heading into this season, the Longhorns were thought to be loaded in the secondary. In fact, the secondary had so much speed, defensive coaches created an eight-man “Cowboy” package just to get more athletes on the field.
But injuries started piling up to the safeties and cornerbacks, and the unit could not generate a consistent pass rush with its three-man front.
Texas finished the regular season allowing 446.3 yards per game, which is the third-highest total in school history. The Horns finished tied for seventh in the league with just 22 sacks.
“To me, it’s about staying in routine,” Orlando said before the Texas Tech game. “You sit back and you look at your work and your routine, and if your recruiting is elite, then you’ve just got to continue to work away.”
Herman, 44, had never fired any assistant before as a head coach until Sunday. Parting with Orlando, his friend, might’ve been difficult. UT will have to pay Orlando the final year owed on his guaranteed contract. But dumping Mehringer was probably a no-brainer, according to sources.
Mehringer had created divisions with some players in the locker room, sources said. At least two players were thinking about transferring if Mehringer remained on staff, one source said.
Mehringer and Meekins combined to work with all of UT’s receivers. Meekins will remain on staff in an administrative role, Herman said. Meekins’ demotion opens another coaching vacancy.
“These were very difficult decisions and certainly not an indictment of them as coaches,” Herman said. “I just believe we need a fresh set of eyes and infusion of new ideas and energy to help us grow across the board.”
Normally, firing the offensive coordinator would generate massive headlines in Austin. But Herman effectively demoted Beck when he took play-calling duties away early in the 2018 season. Beck was merely an offensive coordinator in title only, compared to UT’s recent history.
However, Beck did work directly with quarterback Sam Ehlinger and will continue at least through the bowl game. Ehlinger will be a senior next season and likely to challenge Colt McCoy for most, if not all of, UT’s passing records.
This opens the door for Herman to hire a new offensive coordinator and chart a new path. LSU passing game coordinator Joe Brady and USC offensive coordinator Graham Harrell are two hot names Herman could chase.
Meanwhile, Texas announced that safeties coach Craig Naivar will become the interim defensive coordinator for the bowl game. The university said a “national search for Orlando’s replacement begins.” Former Rutgers coach Chris Ash, who visited with the Texas staff the week of the Oklahoma game, automatically becomes one to watch.
Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte is not afraid to write big checks. “We’re not losing anyone over money,” Del Conte said after Orlando got his extension.
Orlando and offensive line coach Herb Hand were the only assistants under contract through the 2020 season. Beck was in the final year of his original three-year deal; everyone else is now on one-year rollover contracts.
With all these changes, Herman enters a new phase during his time at Texas. There is a razor-thin margin for error at this point in 2020.
Administrators gave Herman a two-year extension after the Sugar Bowl, pushing his contract out to 2023. Currently, Herman has a buyout worth $20.4 million. If the program keeps slipping, boosters will demand that Del Conte find a way around that roadblock.
Texas will learn its bowl destination next Sunday. The Camping World, Texas and Liberty Bowls are all logical candidates. Still, it’s a far cry from where the Longhorns thought they would be in 2019.
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.