After serving as a graduate assistant for the Texas Longhorns from 1999-2000 under Mack Brown, Houston Cougars head coach Tom Herman is returning to Austin to replace Charlie Strong, who was fired on Saturday after going 16-21 over three seasons.
The news of the hire broke hours after informing Strong of his termination with widespread media reports circulating through the late morning and early afternoon.
The Chairman of the Houston Board of Regents, Tilman Fertitta, acknowledged the news prior to the official announcement from Texas, which should come after Herman informs Houston players of his decision at an afternoon meeting:
The contract for Herman will reportedly be for six years and could be in the range of $5.5 to $6 million with built-in escalators, though it’s still a bit too early to gain a full consensus about details. Buying out Herman’s contract with Houston will cost the school $2.25 million.
The move hardly came about on Saturday — in October, a former colleague told 247Sports that Herman has wanted to return to Austin for some time.
“Texas is his dream job. He’d crush it there. That’d be the best thing ever for the University, for Austin. He loved his time as a GA there. I’m getting excited for him just thinking about it.”
Last weekend, a report from ESPN indicated that prominent boosters were putting “extreme pressure” on the administration to hire Herman. Strong blamed the subsequent loss to Kansas in part on his players becoming distracted after seeing the report before the game.
In fact, there was a great deal of consensus about the decision.
Source who's been at UT a long time said he'd never seen donors more aligned on a potential hire. For Fenves and Perrin, this was easy.— Mike Finger (@mikefinger) November 26, 2016
On Saturday, those boosters got their way.
In the past, Herman credited his time under Brown and offensive coordinator Greg Davis as helping him develop tremendously as a coach.
From Davis, he developed an appreciation for a power running game as a result of watching the I-formation attack that heavily featured Ricky Williams. From Brown, he learned how to “manage people and manage organizations.”
In the 16 years since Herman left Austin, he’s put those lessons to good use.
Herman coached Houston for only two seasons, leading the Cougars to a 22-4 record, including a Peach Bowl win over Florida State last season and a monumental upset of No. 5-ranked Louisville this season. In all, Herman went 5-0 against Power 5 teams during his brief tenure in the Space City.
There are some concerns about winning games as a heavy favorite, as Houston dropped games to Memphis, Navy, and SMU in 2015. However, that wasn’t enough to keep him from being one of the hottest names on the coaching market.
And a larger talent advantage at Texas should help negate some of those issues.
The first big break for Herman in the FBS came when he followed David Bailiff from Texas State to Rice, where his offenses broke 40 school records. Led by quarterback Chase Clement, the Conference USA MVP, and tight end James Casey, the Owls won 10 games in 2008, a massive accomplishment for a long-struggling program.
The explosive offense produced 48 touchdown passes and had 31 scoring drives of two minutes or less, with 30 scoring drives requiring five plays or less.
Herman truly made his name at Iowa State, helping develop quarterback Austen Arnaud into the second-leading passer in school history and orchestrating the program’s first win against Texas in 2010. In Austin, no less.
In 2011, the Cyclones toppled the No. 2-ranked Cowboys, along with the No. 22-ranked Red Raiders.
Buoyed by his success in Ames, Herman joined the Ohio State coaching staff in 2012 when Urban Meyer took over the Buckeyes.
"Tom Herman has one of the bright young minds in college football," Meyer said at the time. "His philosophies are very similar to those of my own. I spoke to numerous colleagues about Tom and all had great things to say about him. I enjoyed our time together during the interview process and I am excited to have him on the staff."
Ohio State promptly led the Big Ten in scoring while going undefeated as Herman worked with quarterback Braxton Miller to make him one of the most dangerous run/pass threats in college football.
In 2013, the Buckeyes set 12 single-season records offensively, with Miller leading the conference in passing efficiency.
Herman’s best coaching job came in 2014 after Miller went down with a preseason shoulder injury. Redshirt freshman quarterback JT Barrett, Herman’s hand-picked recruit who was notably passed over by Texas in favor of Tyrone Swoopes, stepped in and set a Big Ten record with 45 touchdowns.
Then Barrett went down with an injury in the regular season finale, leaving Herman with third-string quarterback Cardale Jones, who promptly led the Buckeyes to a Big Ten championship. Ohio State upset No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Oregon in the inaugural College Football Playoffs to claim the national title.
As a result, Herman was the recipient of the Frank Broyles award as the top assistant in college football.
Herman quickly made an impact off the field, too, earning Big 10 Recruiter of the Year honors from Rivals in 2013 and placing his name among the 25 best recruiters in college football. During Herman’s time in Columbus, he helped land star Texas prospects like Barrett, running back Dontre Wilson, and linebacker Mike Mitchell.
So the Cincinnati native who played his college football at Division II Cal Lutheran has deep ties to the state of Texas that should help him in recruiting and understanding the unique culture of the Lone Star State — he arrived in 1998 as the wide receivers coach at Texas Lutheran, then moved on to Sam Houston State (2001-04), Texas State (2005-06), and Rice (2007-08) before running the offenses at Iowa State and Ohio State.
Those recruiting ties helped pay off in his two years at Houston, as Herman landed the No. 36 class nationally and the top class in the AAC in 2016, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
The headliner was local product Ed Oliver, the only consensus five-star prospect ever signed by the Cougars. To land the star defensive tackle, Herman made the shrewd move of hiring his high school coach, Corby Meekins.
The group also included former Texas commit and Baylor signee Tren’Davian Dickson, the record-setting wide receiver from Navasota, though he didn’t make it through September with the program.
The other two four-star prospects in the class were Houston Bellaire’s Courtney Lark, a wide receiver, and offensive tackle Na’Ty Rodgers, a junior college prospect ranked No. 4 nationally at his position.
It’s hard to say with absolute confidence that Herman will succeed in Austin, but he’s been successful in every one of his coaching stops since taking the offensive coordinator job at Texas State in 2005 under Bailiff.
Much like Strong, he builds meaningful relationships with his players and recruits at an extremely high level.
Unlike Strong, he’ll have the benefit of all the talent Strong brought to Texas over the last two recruiting cycles and should have a chance to close out the 2017 class by landing some of the top recruits the former head coach was unlikely to land because of his poor results on the field.
While it’s a tremendously sad day for Strong and his family, the Longhorns made the easy decision and landed the best fit for the job — that’s something worth getting excited about.
Viva Tom Herman.