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The Texas Longhorns and the Tom Herman conundrum

With Charlie Strong's future in Austin increasingly the subject of speculation, the window to land college football's brightest rising star may be limited.

Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

As rumors continue to linger about Texas Longhorns head coach Charlie Strong's interest in the Miami Hurricanes vacancy and a groundswell of belief begins to take hold in certain corners that Strong and Texas are better off parting ways, the success of first-year head coach Tom Herman with the Houston Cougars looms large over the proceedings.

Former Longhorns quarterback Chris Simms accurately captured that sentiment about Strong and the 'Canes last week:

"I think it would be a great fit. I really do. Listen, I love Texas but the way they treated Charlie Strong, I wouldn't be mad if he just stuck up his middle finger to all the Texas people and said to hell with you, I'm going to the U and go dominate South Florida and become a national power.

The rebuild in Austin isn't progressing as fast as Strong or fans would like, with crushing loss after crushing loss slowly undermining support for the Texas head coach among the Longhorns fan base, which is now increasingly casting its longing eyes east.

Just as importantly, Texas fans aren't the only ones lusting after Herman -- with numerous job openings like USC, South Carolina, Missouri, and Maryland, in addition to Miami, rest assured that Herman's agent is a busy man these days.

Having led Houston to a 10-0 record and helped construct a recruiting class that features consensus five-star prospect Ed Oliver to rank No. 32 nationally and No. 1 in the AAC, according to the 247Sports Composite team rankings, Herman's brief tenure with the Cougars has been nothing less than a resounding success.

Hence the incredible level of interest in him from around the country despite his inexperience as a head coach.

Given the competition level in the conference and the fact that Herman is winning with another coach's players at a school that wasn't exactly hard-pressed to fire predecessor Tony Levine based on his on-field results, there are some lingering concerns about whether Herman has the body of work to make his hire by anyone a sure-fire home run.

But when Smart Football's Chris Brown offers something closely resembling a ringing endorsement, it's worth considering:

Notably, Herman has shown a high level of aptitude for hiring the right assistants -- picking up former Texas co-offensive coordinator Major Applewhite has helped the two manage a top-30 offense in S&P+, while aggressive former defensive coordinator Todd Orlando has overseen improvement on that side of the ball, including a huge jump in sacks.

Among the other assistants, the most inspired hire was likely that of tight ends coach Corby Meekins, the former head coach at Houston Westfield High School -- there's no coincidence that the Cougars were able to land Oliver after hiring his old coach. But the ties of Meekins to the Houston area has sparked a major surge in interest there in general.

So far, so good for Herman checking off the necessary boxes. There is a tie to Texas, too, as his second coaching stop was a two-year stint under Mack Brown as a graduate assistant in 1999 and 2000 -- though he's a native of Ohio and attended Cal Lutheran, Herman spent a decade working in the state after his college days. Strong can't boast similar credentials.

While Texas is still arguably the best college football job in the country, Strong's current predicament proves that it isn't easy to win in Austin these days. And it wasn't like the Horns had the ability to land any coach the school wanted after Brown's departure -- if Herman takes a job like the Trojans gig, it's possible that he would no longer consider returning to Austin at that point.

A similar situation presented itself with offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley over the last two offseasons. Had Strong made an aggressive move and taken a risk on the young, rising star, Texas could have landed him before Oklahoma. Now Riley has the Sooners contending for a spot in the College Football Playoffs despite the loss to the Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl.

The same thing could happen with Herman.

There's still no reason to believe that the Texas administration lacks full support for Strong -- the bigger question is whether Strong is unhappy at Texas and sees his brightest future somewhere else. Every bad loss seems to marginally increase that possibility.

Is encouraging Strong to consider other jobs, most specifically the Miami opening, as a way of nudging him out in order to hire Herman the right thing for the program? Is Strong on the right track or is he destined for failure?

Unfortunately, the answer to those questions will only come with hindsight, leading to the current conundrum, which is one that administration may not even truly work through unless there is impetus from Strong and his camp.

A significant portion of the fan base, and possibly some big-money donors, however? Well, Herman's neck may be turning Cougar red from the covetous eyes cast in his direction.