Houston coach Tom Herman is without question high on LSU’s list to replace Les Miles to be the team’s next full-time head coach, and for good reason — Herman has been wildly successful both as an offensive coordinator at Ohio State and as a head coach despite a short period of time in the latter role.
LSU could use someone like Herman, so when Jimbo Fisher and Urban Meyer and Nick Saban turn down the Tigers’ job, Herman should move to the top of the Tigers’ list.
There are reasons that Herman would take the LSU job — somewhere between 5 and 6 million of them, on top of the fact that it is one of the true national powerhouses in college football.
But there are reasons to not take the job as well — big reasons:
LSU has an unstable political landscape
Who would be Herman’s boss at LSU? Would it be athletic director Joe Alleva? There is no guarantee that he’s going to be around Baton Rouge much longer — the political pressure on him is so high. You have a Board of Supervisors that is flippant at best, a booster core that is deep pocketed and not-so-slightly removed from reality, and a school president who seems to be along for the ride, all in a state that is facing massive budget issues.
The way Miles’ firing — which started sometime late last year — was handled was no mistake, it was a byproduct of the disjointed political culture at LSU.
Why would Herman sign up for that?
Coaches want money and prestige, yes, and LSU can provide both, but they also want to feel stable and valued in their job, particularly in the first few years. LSU might be able to sell that, but it’s hard to see how they’ll provide it.
Getty ImagesSean Gardner
There’d be no honeymoon period
When no one knows if the Board of Supervisors, president or AD is in charge, a power vacuum is created, and it is almost always filled by boosters.
That’s likely the case at LSU.
The Tigers have a lot of boosters, and they are nothing if not financially supportive of the team — they’re the reason that Herman, should he take the LSU job, would be one of the top-paid coaches in the country.
But boosters are also fickle.
The expectation for the next LSU head coach — no matter who that might be — is that he will return the team to national championship contention immediately.
This notion isn’t entirely unfounded, but the elite-level success the boosters want isn’t so easily brought about Baton Rouge.
Herman has made it look easy at Houston, but to be fair, he inherited a strong roster from Tony Levine (who inherited his from Kevin Sumlin who inherited his from Art Briles). The next LSU coach won’t be getting this year’s team — there’s tremendous roster turnover about to happen — and there are big changes that a coach might want to make to the program’s structure.
Herman won’t inherit the best facilities (far from it) or best roster (though it’ll still be quite good) — he’ll have to do some program building at LSU.
But given the expectations that will be levied on him and the extremely high level of competition around him, will he even have the opportunity to do the things he deems necessary to be successful?
There’s a certain aspect of caretaker to this job — it’s going to be Les Miles’ program for a while.
LSU is a strange cultural fit
Herman has been everywhere, man. He has roots in along the West Coast, the Big Ten, Florida (thanks to Urban Meyer’s recruiting plan) and now Texas. There’s no doubt that he’d thrive in Louisiana — the man is a chameleon. But he’s a calculated guy in an environment where that personalty might ostracize him.
LSU would do well to get a CEO-type like Herman, but they might prefer an eccentric, charismatic populist leader — think of it as Apple CEO Tim Cook vs. Tesla iconoclast Elon Musk. Herman is the former, and he might not be able to fake being the latter.
Success at Houston is more rewarding
Herman could well be doing what Howard Schnellenberger did at Miami in the 1980’s in establishing a national power.
He’s following the same template as those incendiary Miami teams by building through a hyper-local recruiting plan. It’s much harder to do that in 2016, when the recruiting world is flat.
Still, in two years he’s taken a program that looked to be on the downslope and built them into a national power. Yes, the competition is weaker, but if LSU calls and says “You can win national championships at LSU,” Herman can retort “I have a better chance to win one this year than LSU does.”
If Herman were to take the LSU job, and his success level were to remain static, then yes, LSU would win national championships, but would it be as fun as winning it all as an underdog?
Herman has complete control over his football program at Houston. He’s doing it his way in a major metro area and perhaps soon, a major conference (though Big 12 expansion remains questionable).
Houston is going to do right by Herman financially — he’s due a $5 million bonus should Houston get “called up to the big leagues” and the interest he’s garnering this season and the success on the field will surely result in a nice raise at the end of the season. He’ll never max out financially at Houston, but he can run the show as he sees fit, continue having fun while doing it, and still compete for titles.
That’s a pretty great gig.
He doesn’t have to take the first good job that hits the market
Herman has been clear: It’ll take something special for him to leave Houston.
Is LSU that special? It’s a great job, but it’s not a no-brainer, and that’s the standard Herman is surely holding.
The Tigers think they’re holding pocket aces, but really, they have a pair of jacks — queens, at best.
Herman can remain happy and well-paid at Houston and wait for that no-brainer to come around. Maybe that’s Texas. Maybe that’s USC. Maybe it’s a job we don’t see coming yet.
LSU doesn’t quite realize this, but Herman can do better than them.