Texas head coach Tom Herman questions a call against his team during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Iowa State, Saturday, Nov. 16, 2019, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 23-21. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Football

Whys of Texas: Tom Herman isn’t going anywhere, but big decisions loom about 2020

Irate Longhorns fans who ‘have every right to be’ angry go wild after 23-21 loss to Iowa State

Posted November 20th, 2019

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Judging from the vociferous tone of the communications received after last week’s Iowa State loss, it’s clear that many Texas fans blame the team’s 6-4 record solely on head coach Tom Herman.

Herman won’t be offended. Them’s the breaks.

The fans are angry. He knows it.

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“They have every right to be, if they are true supporters,” Herman said Monday. “We have not played to the level of our expectations.”

But let’s answer one question up front that’s starting to be a recurring theme in the messages clogging my inbox and mentions.

Tom Herman is going to be the Texas coach in 2020.

No, the school is not hiring Urban Meyer. Full stop.

Texas head coach Tom Herman takes the field against TCU before their Oct. 26 game in Fort Worth. The Horned Frogs won,  37-27. (Stephen Spillman/For Statesman)

Now, will Herman change coordinators? Maybe. Will he overhaul the position coaches? Possibly. This offseason, he has to look at every single person in Moncrief and think to himself, “Is this person truly helping Texas win championships?”

Herman wanted to keep staff continuity because he knew that constant changeover doomed his predecessor, Charlie Strong. But if he doesn’t make any changes at this point, he risks looking like a coach who is content with mediocrity. Hiring or keeping your friends is the fastest way to get beat in this profession.

As for Herman himself, the university just handed out a two-year contract extension for the Sugar Bowl win — bidding against itself, I might add — and will not eat a buyout worth more than $20 million at the moment.

What was the harm in waiting until after the coach’s third year of a five-year deal to give him a raise or extension? Oh well. What’s done is done. Herman is now signed through 2023.

“The message we want to send to our head coach, to the players on the team, to the recruits and Longhorn Nation is that we’re committed to Tom Herman as the head coach of Longhorn football,” UT President Gregory L. Fenves told the Statesman in May. As in, six months ago.

Are there some critical issues that Herman must address, namely the lackluster and sometimes predictable offense? Absolutely. Should there be some deep thinking about the defensive philosophy? No doubt.

Should more emphasis be placed on basic fundamentals in special teams? I’m guessing you know the answer yourself.

But Herman will be the head coach to work on those issues and figure it all out going forward.

On to this week’s mailbag. Some of you are just stone-cold ruthless.

Q. I must apologize because I am really not reading any more articles. Why? I no longer care.  This was the first weekend where I didn’t read every article I could find on the Horns. This is nothing personal as I truly enjoy your articles. 

I was teased by McWilliams in 1990 only to see the Horns get destroyed by Miami. I was teased by a Mackovic team that beat Nebraska and took a team to the Sugar Bowl, where we met Ron McKelvey. And now I was teased by Sam (Ehlinger) declaring “We’re Back” after beating Georgia.

This is where things change. Will there be changes in the coaching staff after the season? Probably. Recruits are bailing. Strong also changed coordinators. Texas was back again after the Notre Dame game, remember? Another tease. Herman is too stubborn to admit he was wrong (i.e. your question about being out-coached on Saturday). I will save my gas money and miss my kolaches, but I’ve cancelled my trip to Waco this week. — Mark

First off, I do love a good kolache in West. Since I’m on the southern side of Waco, I stop at the Buc-ee’s in Temple for my fix.

As for what happened Saturday in the post-game press conference in Ames, Herman started by saying it was a “really, really poor performance” by the offense. “We’ve got to really examine our game plan in the run game and our execution,” he said. “To not be able to run the ball the way that we thought we were going to be able to, that was the biggest difference.”

Texas running back Keaontay Ingram (26) loses his footing as Iowa State linebacker O’Rien Vance (34) defends during last Saturday’s 23-21 loss to the Cyclones in Ames, Iowa. (Nick Wagner/American-Statesman)

Hearing this, I asked Herman if, given those thoughts about the run game, was he out-coached? “I’d never say we got out-coached,” he said. “I think we continued to make adjustments. They had a couple of wrinkles that we adjusted to, and I felt like we were putting our guys in a good position.”

Fast forward to Monday’s regular news conference. Herman wanted to “clarify something. Been eating at me for two days.” He walked back the comment about being out-coached, no doubt because it probably didn’t go over well in coaching circles nor in Matt Campbell’s office.

“Any time you lose a game, you’re out-coached,” Herman said. “From player execution, that’s our job to get them executed well. To play calls. To tendencies, you name it. All of it is on us.”

Now, Herman should move on, not give it a second thought and focus solely on getting ready for Baylor.

Q. Don’t you get tired of Tom Herman always saying “really, really”. Really really seems to be his favorite phrase in describing almost anything including but not limited to his opponent and his own team.

This fan is really, really tired of seeing Tom Herman’s team being out coached week after week.  I’m really, really tired of babbling nonsense of why he and his coaching staff can’t coach up good talent. It’s getting really, really old hearing that “Everything Matters” except on Saturday. 

Don’t you know that the fans and administration in Baton Rouge are really, really happy that Texas won the Tom Herman sweepstakes. — Bill

These are really, really interesting thoughts. Every coach leans on verbal crutches at times, and as a beat reporter, you eventually tune it out. With Mack Brown, every opponent always “scares you to death.” With Charlie Strong, the Horns “just need to execute better.” My only real issue with Herman’s press conference verbiage is this idea he “doesn’t know who we play next.”

Really? The Texas football CEO should at least acknowledge who’s on the schedule. But this is the same coach who refused to call a Ray Guy Award winner by his name — punter Michael Dickson. It was just “the punter,” same as Cameron Dicker is just “our kicker.” To each their own, I suppose.

Q. In season 3, this is not residual Charlie Strong. Baylor is likely to kill this lot and Tech may close these guys out at 6-6. Before the season started I thought this team was a BMW. After Oklahoma, I was thinking a Chevy. After Kansas, a decent, low mileage used truck. At TCU, the truck broke down. We got it started for Kansas St and traded it in for used Lada for the drive to Ames. Off season will be interesting to watch. I expect the pressure to change assistant coaching staff will be intense. We went to volleyball last night. What a great scene. The fan base is great and the team executes as expected. Amazing athletes. Go Horns. — Ed

Not going to lie. Lada was unknown to me.  According to Google, “Lada is a brand of cars manufactured by AvtoVAZ, a Russian company owned by the French Groupe Renault.”

The next two games suddenly make up the biggest two-game season imaginable. Granted, I know all the games are important. But if Herman cannot get his troops fired up to play hard in Waco against Baylor, that will say more about this program than anything that happened in Ames. Same goes for the regular-season finale at home against Texas Tech.

Think the fans are mad now at 6-4? Go 6-6 and then possibly finish with a losing record by losing a bowl game. Then, you will see mad.

Texas fans cheer on players as they walk down Bevo Boulevard before an NCAA college football game against USC in Austin, Texas, on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2018. NICK WAGNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Q. At the beginning of the season my husband said we were just not a good football team but I refuse to put the blame on someone else’s children. Before he was overpaid, Herman was an offensive coordinator. His play calling stinks.

Texas’ downward spiral after Mack’s firing slowed at end of last season but has picked up speed again and all the hoop-te-do at Bevo Boulevard isn’t a substitute for performance on the field. — Frances

There’s always a fine line reporters must walk when covering college athletes. They are not professionals, at least not yet. They are amateurs. So I would tread very lightly on bashing any specific player outright for poor performance. Of course, some roles cannot escape criticism, like the quarterback. But generally speaking, you want to limit criticism to position groups or the team as a whole.

Now, when it comes to the coach or assistants, have at it. They have always been fair game. Think about this: Texas paid Strong $25 million to coach here for three years and then two more at South Florida. He’s going to be just fine. So yes, the coaches should take the heat. Does that mean you should be unfair? Of course not. Sharply critical? Yes.

Q. Saturday’s conservative end game play calling by the offense and the inexcusable defensive encroachment on the field goal brings to mind a statement by former football coach Lou Holtz. “Dumb loses more games than smart wins.” This quote should be posted in the locker room for coaches and players alike to see. — John Nugent, Georgetown

Let’s talk about how the left side of the defensive line jumped offside on fourth-and-5 when Iowa State was lining up for a field goal with 2:12 remaining. On the official play-by-play, Joseph Ossai is credited as the offender. But Malcolm Roach was in there, too. Several players were.

Whether the kicker made or missed that field goal, Texas would have gotten the ball back with plenty of time. But when the Horns jumped offside, the Cyclones got a free first down and were able to milk enough clock, kick a shorter field goal and win 23-21 on the final play of the game.

For those who missed it, Roach addressed his mistake with reporters on Tuesday. Fans love to rag on college athletes when they screw up. But you should stand up and salute those when they face the music. It’s part of growing up, and frankly, it’s part of the athletic life at Texas.

“It’s hard because I was just trying to make a play for the team and block the kick,” Roach said. “Yeah, I probably never felt like that after a loss before. I talked to my mom and she said, ‘Life goes on. Just things you’ve got to deal with. It’s a type of thing you signed up for playing a game like this. It comes with the game. Life goes on, ain’t nothing you can do about it. You’ve got to continue to move forward.’”

Texas linebacker Joseph Ossai (46) reacts after Iowa State scored a game-winning field goal to win 23-21 last week. (Nick Wagner/American-Statesman)

Q. Tom Herman appears to constantly deliver “motivational” speeches to the Longhorns (who continue to play uninspired football). Has this team simply tuned him out? — CP

I don’t think that’s the case at all. His first team in 2017 definitely had upperclassmen who wanted nothing to do with his culture change. They either went pro early or left on their own. But the team Texas has now appears to be fully on board. Why wouldn’t they be? This is a program that is less than one year removed from a 10-win season. Ten games in less than a calendar year isn’t going to change that.

Q. As an alum with two degrees, I’m sick of this crap. Get a team psychologist or several to evaluate what the hell is wrong with this bunch. It’s got to be mental and emotional. They have the ability, so why is it not manifesting itself? Team dynamics are as important as the coaching staff, maybe more important. God knows Texas can afford some head doctors! Get some! — Janet

Here’s the stat that’s been floating around this week: Texas has lost at least four games for 10 straight years. When you say it out loud like that … whoa. It’s another problem Herman has that’s really not his fault. He’s the coach who must face a fan base that’s gone through a decade of mediocrity. Yes, the Sugar Bowl year was great, and there were plenty of articles celebrating it as such. But it’s the consistency that Texas fans truly crave — and should rightly demand, actually.

Q. You can’t blame Tom Herman for the defense jumping offsides. They should be well aware in not doing that. — J.D.

No, you can’t blame Herman directly for the mistakes of an 18-to-22-year old athlete. But you can blame him and his coaching staff for not having the Horns prepared for a hard snap count.

“I noticed throughout the game that they were timing our cadence,” Iowa State snapper Steve Wirtel said after the game, according to Randy Peterson of the Des Moines Register. “We gave our cadence, and in my peripheral vision at the time, I saw No. (46) jump. I snapped it at the time. He jumped offside, and I saw our guys engage with him. They were keying on our cadence throughout the game.

“When I saw that color (of uniform) break the plane, I snapped it,” Wirtel added. “I heard the ref say offside, (46) on white. The rest was history.”

Pretty good coaching, I’d say.

Iowa State head coach Matt Campbell celebrates with defensive lineman/snapper Steve Wirtel (39) after the  23-21 win over Texas. (Charlie Neibergall/The Associated Press)

Q. As always, enjoy your reporting on Longhorns football from Spain. You will get boatloads of fan ire against Herman and his staff’s terrible decisions and ugly product on field. So I won’t go there. Instead how about this. Will Fenves step in and force CDC to force change in football staff for 2020? Maybe 2019 will be 7-5 and Sun Bowl. A total disaster season. Fans want blood. Will there be blood? — Ron, Madrid, Spain

Probably not as much as you might think. Or, maybe there will be a bloodletting. Really, the only person who knows for sure is Herman. One thing about UT athletic director Chris Del Conte, he’s not in the business of telling head coaches who they should hire and fire. He leaves that up to the head coach. Frankly, you should want it that way.

Del Conte’s job is to manage everyone’s contract and help the head coach accomplish all of the program’s goals. Del Conte was smart to switch most of the assistants over to one-year rollover deals last offseason. Previous athletic director Steve Patterson believed in giving out guaranteed multi-year deals to assistants. It was unheard of in previous Texas history. Del Conte called going back to the one-year rollovers a “course correction.”

The only two assistants with multi-year deals are defensive coordinator Todd Orlando (signed through the 2020 season) and offensive line coach Herb Hand (signed through 2020). Orlando got a pay raise and extension after the 2017 season; Hand was given a three-year deal when he arrived in 2018.

Q. I looked at the final scores of all the games during the Herman era. I don’t see a consistent performance level or a developing trend of consistent performance. I see consistent inconsistency. While the team is clearly better than it was under Coach Strong, is it possible that Coach Herman has taken the team as far as he can? I know I am a frustrated fan but that doesn’t mean my observation is invalid. — C. Karr

Let’s look at some basic stats. During Strong’s three seasons from 2014-16, Texas scored an average of 26.4 points per game and allowed 28.4. The average margin of each game was minus-2 points.

Under Herman, since the start of the 2017 season, Texas is averaging 31.8 points and allowing 25.3. The average margin is 6.5 points. So not only are Herman’s teams scoring more points, they’re basically winning on average by two field goals.

Charlie Strong went 16-21 in his three seasons as Texas’ head coach, missing out on bowl games his final two years. (Jay Janner/American-Statesman)

Strong lost 11 games by 18 points or more. Herman has lost only four by double digits, and the biggest margin of defeat was the 17-point loss to TCU in 2017. Herman’s teams are not getting blown out, but they have lost 10 games by seven points or less.

So what does that tell us? I believe it means Herman has clearly lifted Texas from the dregs. The Longhorns are competitive every week. But how can the program turn more close losses into wins? Little things make the difference, like not jumping offside on fourth-and-5 or properly fielding punts or catching wide-open passes on fourth-and-goal in the end zone.

Herman wasn’t on the field for any those mistakes this season. But he’s ultimately responsible for them as the head coach. In the next two games plus the 2020 season, Herman gets to prove why he’s the right man for the long term at UT. If things go off the rails next season, then school officials will have some serious thinking to do.

Q. With all the talent UT has, I put much blame on coaches and lack of using a 2nd QB at times like Nick “the genius” Saban did with great success all the time. Pulling Hurd for Tua. I am almost nauseated by all the hero worship for Sam and childhood photos we are subjected to on TV before each game. Putting him even remotely in category with Vince Young sickens me. — John

I’ve gotten several messages with people wondering about Ehlinger’s regression this season. He’s completed 65.3% of his passes for 2,914 yards with 27 touchdowns and eight interceptions. There’s a ton of Power Five teams that would love that kind of production.

Ehlinger is putting too much pressure on himself at times, it appears to me. His career-high four interceptions at TCU were a major red flag that Ehlinger was trying too hard. Of course, he denied it. Stiff upper lip and all. But he circled back the next Tuesday and somewhat admitted he just needed to read his keys and do what the coaches ask. There’s no such thing as a 10-point touchdown, after all.

Why is Herman still running Ehlinger to the right on fourth down when everybody knows that Herman loves to have Ehlinger roll to his right on fourth down? Beats me. Where’s a pop pass? Where’s a backdoor flip to the running back? Where’s the creativity?

Texas quarterback Sam Ehlinger walks off the field after Iowa State’s walk-off field goal in its 23-21 win in Ames last Saturday. (Nick Wagner/American-Statesman)

I had one person say this week, “Well, they ran Sam four times on the goal line against Georgia.” My response was, “Yeah, it was fourth-and-inches.” Against Iowa State, it was fourth-and-2 from the Cyclones’ 21-yard line. There’s not a single Texas receiver that can run a textbook slant pattern? I’d take Devin Duvernay in the open field versus just about anybody.

Q. I’m wondering about shoes. More specifically, cleats. It looked like the Longhorns were having a lot of difficulty on the real grass, while the Cyclones were cutting very easily. Wonder if the Iowa State players have shoes specially for their home field and other shoes for artificial turf. — Kathleen

There was slippage out there, no question. Texas has a pretty extensive equipment department, and the players would’ve had the perceived right shoes for the job. Maybe shoes with slightly longer cleats next time there in 2021?

Q. I think part of UT’s  problem is that they get too many of the top high school products. A lot of these guys get attitudes because they are so talented and don’t give 100% because they are looking ahead to playing pro ball. They may give 80% but a guy that is a walk on or is not a star but has a lot of talent has something to prove. Don’t get me wrong, we need top notch players but maybe when we recruit maybe look at players that play with heart! — Terrell

Texas gets too many good players, huh? Well, that’s an interesting take. I do believe one thing about recruiting. Texas gets every team’s best shot, because a lot of players grow up wanting to play for the big flagship school. Not every single athlete, mind you. But a lot of them. They want to play for Texas or Texas A&M and then when those schools don’t offer a scholarship, they use it as motivation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard over the years a player say something like, “Yeah, Texas didn’t recruit me, so I wanted to beat them.”

Look, the Longhorns have produced back-to-back top-three classes, as judged by 247Sports’ composite rankings. You want to gather as many high-level recruits as possible. You simply cannot have enough.

Q. Maybe the recruiting rankings are bull. Maybe some 16- and 17-year olds have greater potential. Maybe some have more heart. Maybe some can’t be bought with million dollar locker rooms, or maybe the ones who can aren’t the type of kid you want. I love Iowa State for who we are and what we represent. Let the recruiting magazines fleece their readers and subscribers with presumptions and forecasts. I’m fine with that. I’ll take our humble, focused,  dedicated kids and coaches over spoiled, indulged and entitled players any day. Hope some day we aren’t looked down on. Have a great day. — Dan

This was my direct response to Dan’s email: “Fantastic email and thought. Hang on to Matt Campbell as long as you can.”

Q. I have been wondering how we look so bad, even in games we win. You hit the nail on the head about the good recruiting classes. But, how much longer will this last. Strong seemed to have the same problem. Losing will not continue to bring in the better recruits.  

I never even played high school football, but I could not understand why we continued to run on the first two downs during the game. It put us in such a hole, that a pass was inevitable on third down.  I feel that offense play calling really needs to be visited at the end of the season.  Non-stop penalties on both sides of the ball, have been costly all year. We need help soon. — Larry

One thing I know about recruiting is that one game, or two or three games, don’t swing the balance in one team’s favor over another. Recruits and their parents watch for trends. Is this team on an upward trajectory? Is the coach stable? How much playing time could I get? How quickly can I get on the field? Those are the real issues that recruits and their parents are weighing. It’s not, “Oh, Oklahoma beat Texas this year, so I’m going to OU.” Maybe some make a decision based on one game, but I promise you most don’t. Or at least they shouldn’t.

I’ll be fascinated to see what Herman does with the coaching staff after the regular season with the early signing period now a factor in staff changes. Does he make changes before the first signing period on Dec. 18? Or does he wait until after the traditional signing date in early February? That’s assuming he’s going to make any changes at all. Maybe he doesn’t. We’ll have to wait and see.

Q. This coaching staff and this team can either get up … and make a statement with these last two games, or they can wallow in misery and mediocrity and finish 6-6. It’s all on them. — Dan

That’s pretty well said, Dan. On to Waco.

Have a question for the Whys of Texas? Email bdavis@statesman.com or via Twitter (@BDavisAAS).

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