The question came before the home game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders to end the regular season.
“Tom, at 6-5, how shaken are you and why are you still the right man for this job?”
It was the type of question that comes in the type of press conference that results in the head coach admitting that he and his staff haven’t adequately developed their players. Itself the type of admission that defines the state of the program.
So Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman set up for the first time the possibility of significant changes on his coaching staff before saying the only thing that he could say.
“I’m not shaken,” Herman responded. “Obviously in big-time evaluation mode of everything throughout our program. I’m not going to bury my head in the sand. It’s my job to make sure that we play to the level that is expected at the University of Texas.
“Am I the right man to do it? I believe I am, yeah. You’re asking me, I don’t know — did you expect me to say, ‘No, I’m not’ and walk off and drop the mic or something?”
Of course Herman was never going to do that, but a little more than two days after the blowout victory over Texas Tech, Herman made some big changes on his staff, firing defensive coordinator Todd Orlando and wide receivers coach Drew Mehringer, while reassigning offensive coordinator Tim Beck to quarterbacks coach and wide receivers Corby Meekins to an off-field role.
Herman hasn’t hired new coordinators yet — he’ll handle offensive play-calling duties in the bowl game with co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Craig Naivar calling the defense. In fact, following reports that Herman met with USC offensive coordinator and former Rutgers head coach Chris Ash last week, there haven’t been any new developments or new names connected with the search process over the last several days.
In other words, Herman has taken the process underground, with an emphasis on secrecy.
And in some ways, that’s comforting. When Herman took his first head coaching job at Houston, he mostly stuck with familiar faces, largely hiring coaches with whom he’d worked before. The same held true at Texas and through his first four years as the head coach at those two schools, his plan seemed to be working.
This year, it all fell apart, with the results indicating that his comfort hires were a mistake.
Now it’s his responsibility to scour the entire country and truly vet coaches he doesn’t know personally for the first time. He’s lucky enough to have the administration’s support, most crucially athletics director Chris Del Conte, an institutional advantage that Charlie Strong never truly had, for instance, but it’s ultimately going to be on Herman to prove that he can successfully conduct a real nation-wide search.
His future at Texas depends on it.
While the impetus wasn’t there to make tough changes after the Sugar Bowl win last season, the cracks were already starting to show. Herman had taken control of the offense from Beck and the defense struggled under Orlando despite plenty of experience. If Herman had shaken up his staff last season, he could have set the narrative that the Longhorns remained on the right trajectory and were set to further improve based on the upgrades to the staff.
Perhaps that might have even proved true.
Instead, Herman ended up provided the kind of negative recruiting fodder that opposing coaches can mostly only dream about with his lack of development comment following a disappointing season that has hurt his 2020 recruiting class, too. The hits to the recruiting class will necessarily limit the upside of future teams as Herman enters a critical 2020 season that will feature a senior quarterback and a peaking roster, but must now overcome scheme changes on both sides of the ball.
There haven’t been any transfers yet since the coaching news broke, but attrition could be higher than usual this spring if the new coaches don’t quickly connect with their new players.
Suffice it to say that by choosing not to shake up the coaching staff when he had the capital with the fan base and his bosses to do so, Herman put himself in a tough position — having to answer questions about whether he’s the right man for the job while walking the fine line of taking the blame publicly right before essentially scapegoating his assistant coaches by firing or reassigning them.
Now all the goodwill generated by the 10 wins and the Sugar Bowl victory is completely dissipated as Herman hit the emergency staff reset button.
Below that button, the fine print reads, “One-time use only.”