Why Tom Herman is no sure thing at his next coaching stop
Unless you spent Thanksgiving under a rock — or in a turkey-induced coma — you probably know that while LSU played Texas A&M Thursday in College Station, the real action came off of it. There, the great race to hire Tom Herman took center stage, all while the Tigers and Aggies did battle at Kyle Field.
It was one of those “this could only happen in college football” kind of nights. Rumors surfaced shortly after kickoff that the Tigers’ administration had met with Herman, and were closing in on making him the school’s next head coach. By the end of the night that had changed, with updates indicating that Herman would take the LSU job … but was still open to hearing from Texas first.
Whatever the case, it feels like Herman will end up somewhere other than Houston next year, and if so, then he coached his final game in Cougars’ black and red Friday. There, Houston fell to Memphis, 48-44 in a wild, but somewhat uninspired effort from Herman’s club, in their third loss of the season.
For Herman if this was it, it was a disappointing end to his time in Houston. It also raised another interesting conversation altogether: Is Herman is the high-level, can’t miss coaching prospect everyone has made him out to be? Is it possible he might be a bit overrated?
Let’s make one thing clear: We’re not saying that Herman is a bad coach, or that either Texas or LSU shouldn’t jump at the opportunity to hire him. They should. He’s a good coach, and in a short time at Houston has proven an ability to connect and inspire players, while also doubling as one of the single most dynamic recruiters anywhere in the sport. Clearly, Herman is a good long-term investment, and definitely a safer bet than either Ed Orgeron at LSU or Charlie Strong at Texas.
The problem, though, is with that word I just used above: “Good.” That’s never how Herman has been portrayed. He’s been dubbed as the next “great” college football coach, a guy in the mold of Saban, Meyer or Harbaugh. Unfortunately, the truth is, he isn’t anywhere close to any of those three.
In Herman’s defense, no one is, as those guys are rare, can’t be duplicated, and won’t be found on the market this year or in virtually any other. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at some stats and see how Herman stacks up in year two with those guys.
For example, in year two at Alabama, Nick Saban led Alabama to a 12-0 regular season and the brink of an SEC title. Had the Tide not faced Meyer’s juggernaut at Florida, they might have won the national championship. Speaking of Meyer, he won a national championship in year two at Florida, and started 24-0 in his first two regular seasons at Ohio State. Oh, and this was after taking Utah to a 12-0 season in his second year in Salt Lake City. We’ll see about Harbaugh. But he could be in the playoff in his second year in Ann Arbor.
As for Herman? Well again, the results are good. They’re just not “great.” Overall he is 9-3 this season, but he’s also not going against decent competition in the AAC, as opposed to those guys who did it in the SEC and Big Ten. Not to mention that I don’t remember either of those three losing to SMU in year two. Or giving up 48 points in Memphis.
Herman’s on-the-field coaching acumen is a work in progress. Herman’s defense gave up 555 yards overall and 34 points in the first half Friday, numbers that certainly aren’t going to cut it next year against Nick Saban at Alabama or Bob Stoops at Oklahoma. Nor is some average clock management that could have cost Houston the game. Not using the clock to the Cougars' advantage has been a staple of Herman’s teams all year.
In the end though, none of this matters since Herman will most likely putting the finishing touches on a new deal with a new school within the next few days, if not hours. There he’ll make millions and convince a new fan base that he is the guy to bring it into the national championship picture.
Will he? Well, the possibility is definitely there.
More realistically though, Herman will be just another good coach in a sport filled with them.
Not the next great one.
— Charles Robinson (@CharlesRobinson) November 25, 2016