College football fans woke up this morning to reports that Charlie Strong is officially out as Texas Longhorns coach and Tom Herman is on his way to Austin.
Back in October, we were wondering where Tom Herman might end up coaching next. Two days after Thanksgiving, the answer seems to be Austin. The Texas Longhorns have reportedly terminated Charlie Strong’s contract and are in the process of finalizing a contract with Herman.
The contributions that Strong made to the Texas program were not enough to keep him from being terminated. The final straw for the Longhorns was a 31-6 loss to TCU on Black Friday that brought Strong’s cumulative record to 16-21 in three seasons. Seven-loss seasons have been rare in Austin, with Mack Brown losing that many games just once in his 16-year tenure with the Longhorns. A seven-loss season is what got John Mackovic fired and brought Brown to town in the first place. Strong managed the feat three straight seasons.
And so, after a week where it looked like Tom Herman might be headed to Baton Rouge, he instead looks to be preparing to take over for Strong. This won’t be the first time that Herman has worked in Austin, as he was a graduate assistant during Mack Brown’s early years with the Longhorns.
This is certainly no sure thing for the Longhorns. Remember that they hired Strong after two big seasons at Louisville, so Herman’s record at Houston in no way guarantees continued success a few hours west-by-northwest up the 290. But after watching the way injuries took their toll on the Cougars this season, killing Houston’s hopes of playing in the Cotton Bowl or even challenging for a College Football Playoff spot, Herman was forced to come to grips with the fact that there will always be a ceiling at Group of Five programs.
The questions already started swirling once Houston suffered their first loss of the season against Navy. The loss to SMU only intensified the shift in the conversation from a matter of if Herman would leave Houston to one where the big questions were when and where Herman would head. Beating Louisville last week seemed to offer the Cougars some hope of retaining their rising star, but once Houston fell to Memphis the writing was on the wall.
In Austin, Herman will receive the sort of institutional support he enjoyed as an offensive coordinator at Ohio State under Urban Meyer. He will also reportedly receive somewhere between six and eight million dollars per season for his services.
Herman’s first duty becomes to figure out how to use the personnel that is already on scholarship at Texas. Under Strong, Texas has been a top-ten recruiter the past few seasons. But among all of their recruiting hauls, only one player — outside linebacker Malik Jefferson — has been a five-star recruit. That is as many five-star players as Herman was able to lure to Houston, after he managed to keep defensive tackle Ed Oliver in his home city. The key will be getting more out of a cupboard stacked with four-star recruits than Strong and his staff managed over the past three seasons.
Texas is a sleeping giant waiting to reemerge as a powerhouse, and is nestled in a conference that provides ample opportunity for a team to dominate year after year. That could be one reason why Herman decided to turn down LSU in favor of the Texas gig, given that his main rivals will now be Oklahoma and West Virginia and TCU instead of Alabama and Auburn and Texas A&M.
Whether or not Herman is the man to turn around the Longhorns program remains to be seen, but all indications point to him getting the next chance to become a hero in Austin.