Seven seasons have came and went since the end of an era and the Texas Longhorns’ last 10-win campaign, yet the insatiable thirst for success remains. It’s the reason Charlie Strong’s tenure ended after only three seasons and the reason Tom Herman was named the new Texas head coach just hours after Strong was ousted.
Once his hire was official, president Greg Fenves said of Herman, "Tom was the hottest young head coach in the country the past two seasons, and I am thrilled we are able to get him back to UT to lead Texas football."
Whether it was Texas, LSU, Oregon, or any other national brand in the market for its next head coach, Herman was the first — and in the case of Texas — the only option.
This was no coincidence, nor would it have been had Herman been snatched off the market last offseason.
Though he's only 41 — a young age for any Power Five coach, especially at a college football blue-blood — Herman has found success at virtually every brief stop en route to his “dream job” at Texas.
Tom’s Training Days
Let's go back to where it all began: Texas Lutheran University in the quaint, San Antonio suburb of Seguin.
His wage was a mere $5,000 and a meal card, but the experience would prove invaluable in what’s become a rapidly rising coaching career. While serving as the wide receivers coach, Herman thrived in his role despite TLU's 4-7 record.
”As the season went on, he started to have more and more influence over the plays being run because he was so good," said Mike Walters, one of TLU’s leading receivers, per ESPN. “He was basically our age, but he was so far ahead of what we knew, what we could see," running back, David Lyons added.
During his lone season in Seguin, seven receivers caught at least 10 passes, with Brandon Parrott and Walters leading the way with 28 and 27, respectively.
With just 11 games of coaching experience, Herman’s eyes shifted towards the biggest fish in the biggest pond in the country.
"When he went to Texas after the 1998 season, I think the team was really devastated, because he was clearly our biggest source of energy," said TLU’s equipment manager, Kevin Richardson.
Tom Herman and Mack Brown pic.twitter.com/cCWdZ7OrXG— Sarah Merrifield (@SCMerrifield) November 27, 2016
Herman’s embrace with legendary Longhorns head coach Mack Brown during his introductory press conference told of the affection the two feel for each other. The relationship began during Herman’s first stint on the Forty Acres, in which he served as a graduate assistant from 1999-2000.
Though his time was brief — and unpaid — Herman was a fresh sponge absorbing all the football knowledge his Mensa-level mind could muster under Brown and then-offensive coordinator, Greg Davis.
Courtesy of Brown pouring the fundamentals of people management into one ear and Davis filling the other with what Herman considers the basis of his football wisdom, the 26-year-old's foundation for success was laid.
After two seasons in Austin, Herman again packed his bags — his added wisdom, love for the Power-I, and Masters degree included — and headed East for Huntsville, Texas.
Herman climbed the coaching ladder two steps at a time
Once again coaching wide receivers in a small Texas town — this time at Sam Houston State — Herman was introduced to another building block towards the offensive foundation he now employs.
"There, I had some experience with a shotgun spread offense,” Herman told SB Nation. ‘That changed everything. You've gotta run the football. Have to, have to, have to. We're just going to do it from the shotgun, from spread formations. We're basically a two-back run team that just happens to run from the shotgun. We gain an extra advantage with the QB."
It was everything Herman fell in love with in Austin paired with the schematic twist that he’s orchestrated to near perfection from that point forward.
While guiding his receiving corps and special teams unit throughout his full-time coaching debut, Sam Houston State excelled in 2001 en route to its first 10-win season (10-3) since 1956.
The next two seasons didn’t prove as fruitful in the win column, but following SHSU’s 11-win 2004 campaign, Herman had helped produce an all-conference receiver in each of his four seasons and three FCS All-Americans, along with trips to the FCS quarterfinals and semifinals in 2001 and 2004, respectively.
His significant role in bolstering the FCS’s second-ranked passing attack (385.5 yards per game) earned Herman a promotion back in the heart of the state.
By 2005, David Bailiff — who had never called plays or coached quarterbacks himself — called upon Herman’s offensive chops to take over as Texas State’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, despite the fact Herman had never done either.
Bailiff took a risk on the young coach and it paid off. More importantly, it marked Herman’s first opportunity to showcase his evolving offensive philosophy.
"Once we got to TSU, and I inherited [Barrick] Nealy in 2005, we jumped all in with the shotgun spread,” Herman said.
His success was immediate, yet again.
Nealy blossomed under Herman and his 2,875 passing yards, 1,057 rushing yards, and 34 total touchdowns were the byproduct of Texas State’s best season in school history — 11 wins and its first-ever appearance in the Division 1-AA playoffs.
Herman would spend only one more season in San Marcos, but both of his Bobcat offenses headlined the Southland Conference and his 2005 team ranked eighth nationally in scoring.
Nearly a decade before his head coaching debut, Herman’s first Conference USA stint in the Space City came when he followed Bailiff to Rice from Texas State in 2007. In the same role as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Herman’s offenses put up more than 400 yards and 31 points each time out, but Rice still finished at 3-9 in 2007.
The following season, with Herman’s offense led by an experienced quarterback in Chase Clement and NFL-caliber pass catchers in tight end James Casey and receiver Jarrett Dillard, Rice, too, had one of its most successful seasons ever.
Clement slung the ball for 4,119 yards and 44 scores and added 693 more yards and 12 touchdowns with his feet as the headliner of the nation’s fifth-best passing attack (327.8 yards per game) and a top 10 group in scoring offense (8th) and total offense (10th).
Rice finished the 2008 season with a 10-3 record and its first bowl appearance since 1954 — a 38-14 victory over Western Michigan.
After just two seasons and breaking more than 40 school records at Rice, Herman was gone again — this time entering his first Power Five position as Iowa State’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach.
Big 12, to Big Ten, to Big Time
Unlike his previous pit stops, Herman’s three-year stint in Ames wasn’t headlined by historical winning seasons, but success was present, nonetheless. Iowa State went on to reach a bowl in two of his three seasons, including a six-win 2009 campaign that saw the Cyclones knock off the Ndamukong Suh-led Nebraska Cornhuskers, 9-7.
"We actually won the damn thing," Herman told SB Nation, which he may have also said after Iowa State’s 14-13 bowl victory over Minnesota.
The following season, Iowa State defeated Texas for the first time in school history. Four of the Cyclones’ seven losses in 2010 came at the hands of top-10 competition and five of Iowa State’s seven losses in 2011 were against ranked teams.
In what became Herman’s final effort in Ames, Iowa State would reach a bowl game to conclude a season headlined by victories over No. 20 Texas Tech and No. 2 Oklahoma State, as well as nearly knocking off No. 15 Kansas State.
It marked a program heading in a positive direction following a three-year regression before Herman’s arrival, bottoming out with a 2-10 season in 2008.
Along with the on-field results, Herman’s routine of molding and sculpting quarterbacks was present, yet again. Austen Arnaud concluded his career under Herman as Iowa State’s second all-time leading passer with 6,677 yards and 42 scores, while Herman’s emphasis in the run game aided in Alexander Robinson finishing as the Cyclones' fourth all-time leading rusher with 3,309 yards.
Herman had done enough, though — a national power now sought his services.
Following a season away from the game, two-time national championship head coach, Urban Myer, put a call in to Herman as he sought to assemble his new coaching staff for his next stop at Ohio State.
Herman admitted he was shocked and even hesitant to believe it was Meyer on the other end of the phone when he first got the call — the two had never met — but the former Florida coach knew exactly what he wanted and found that in the then-37-year-old Herman.
"I wanted to have a guy that's going to not have an ego, has a good understanding of our offense and be extremely intelligent to learn what we do and adapt it to what he does," Meyer said, per SB Nation.
Similar to his stops at Sam Houston State and Texas State, wins came early and often.
With Herman in the driver’s seat of Ohio State’s offense, the bowl-ineligible Buckeyes cruised to a perfect 12-0 record behind one of the nation’s premier units — one that led the Big Ten in scoring and ranked 10th nationally with 37.2 points per game.
In typical Herman fashion, Ohio State’s offense began percolating at an even higher level in 2013. Along with ranking third nationally in scoring (45.5 PPG) and fifth in rushing yards per game (308.6), Herman’s offense broke 12 single-season school records, including most touchdown passes (38), rushing yards in a season (4,321) — also a Big Ten Conference record — most total touchdowns (82), total offensive yards (7,167), yards per play (7.1) and yards per game (511.9).
Ohio State capped it’s 2013 campaign with a 12-2 record, but Herman’s best coordinating performance was yet to come
Prior to the 2014 season, Heisman candidate quarterback, Braxton Miller, was lost for the year due to a shoulder injury. Insert backup dual-threat gunslinger, J.T. Barrett, who was recruited by Herman out of Wichita Falls, Texas. Under Herman’s guidance, the freshman Barrett would lead the Buckeyes to an 11-1 mark before he, too, was sidelined the remainder of the season with an injury. Suddenly, Herman was tasked with leading Ohio State to a Big Ten Championship behind the arm of his third-string quarterback.
He did exactly that.
Cardale Jones went on to throw for 257 yards and three touchdowns as part of a 59-0 route of Wisconsin, leading to a berth in the first-ever College Football Playoff.
Herman’s offense then put up 84 total points in back to back victories over Alabama and Oregon behind nearly 1,100 yards of offense to help earn Ohio State its first National Championship since 2002. The Buckeyes again ranked top five in points per game (44.8) with over 511 yards per game. His backup quarterbacks finish the season ranked second nationally in passing efficiency rating (167.72) and Barrett set a Big Ten record with 45 touchdowns, despite missing the final three games.
Houston had already named Herman its next head coach before the 2014 Broyles Award recipient was able to make it out of Columbus for an offseason vacation. He was headed back to The Lone Star State as the nation’s top assistant following a 38-3 record during his time at Ohio State.
Hey, Herman’s a head coach
“#HTownTakeover” became Houston’s mantra upon Herman’s arrival and it immediately proved true.
With a Herman prototype orchestrating the offense at quarterback in Greg Ward Jr., Houston excelled to a 13-1 record in 2015 capped by a 38-24 victory over No. 9 Florida State in the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl — the first New Years Bowl for the Cougars in 30 years. It was the second 13-win season in school history (2011) as Herman became the fourth head coach in history to win 13 games during his rookie season and the fifth to win his first 10 games. Herman was then named the Football Writers Association of America's First-Year Coach of the Year.
Herman was already among the hottest coaching candidates on the market, but he didn’t depart from Houston just yet.
His return in 2016 didn’t produce quite the same success, but Houston’s 9-3 season equated to Herman’s team reaching 22-4 during his first two seasons — the fourth-best record during that span. Along the way, Houston remained a perfect 6-0 against ranked competition with double-digit victories against its last five ranked foes, including No. 3 Oklahoma (33-23) and No. 5 Louisville (36-10). Houston was also a perfect 14-0 at home under Herman.
Much of the credit is due to Ward, who compiled 6,156 yards and 39 scores through the air, along with 1,626 yards and 30 more scores with his feet in two seasons under Herman.
By the time Ward and the Cougars played their final game under Herman, though — a 48-44 road loss to Memphis — it was fairly clear that Herman’s time with Group of Five programs had run its course.
Texas had its eyes set on Herman and the feeling was mutual.
These are Herman’s ‘Horns Now
Eight 10-win seasons in 16 years as a full-time coach later, which could have been nine had he coached Houston to another bowl victory, the keys to a college football blue-blood are finally in Herman’s hands. In an ever-demanding environment, the shortcomings of his predecessor and another Urban Meyer protégé made for an ideal situation — the cupboard at his “dream job” is abundantly stocked with back-to-back top-10 recruiting classes that now have some on-field experience.
In the pressure cooker overflowing with expectations that is Texas football, Herman feels none.
“I think pressure is that uneasy feeling that you feel when you're unprepared,” Herman said during his introductory press conference. “Pressure is self-inflicted. Pressure is self-doubt when you're unprepared. We're prepared for this job. We're prepared for success at this job. We're prepared for adversity in this job. So I don't feel any sense of pressure at all.”
Considering Herman’s history, his sense of calmness as the face of one of college football’s most-discussed programs is justifiable.
In the heart of the nation’s most fertile recruiting soil, Herman has recruited the state in one way or another in each of his 17 years as a coach, excluding his two seasons as a graduate assistant at Texas. He’s thrived in each role he’s stepped into and the offenses he’s controlled throughout the years have seen significantly heightened levels of success, regardless of the many adaptations he’d had to make at different levels of the sport in different environments.
“I’ve had an unbelievable string of luck,” Herman told SB Nation of his success. “Greg Davis, Ron Randleman, David Bailiff, Paul Rhoades, Urban Meyer. I would be remiss if I didn't mention all of them as influences."
Now at Texas, his meticulous attention to detail and focus on top-to-bottom program alignment will be passed along to one of the nation’s most talented rosters — one that will finally boast the experienced label entering 2017. After producing one elite level quarterback after another, Herman will get underway with the best true freshman passer in school history — statistically speaking — as part of an offense similar to his power spread system with playmakers aplenty.
After 19 seasons as a coach in various capacities, Herman has the makings of an ideal fit at an ideal time in Texas football. The next step is reaching success and if his organic coaching history is of any indication, it won’t be long before Texas is winning far more games than it’s losing, once again.