Tom Herman is the new head football coach at the University of Texas. For most people, this is a match made in heaven. Campus Pressbox’s own Chase Holik is one of those people who is showering Texas with unapologetic praise for the hire.
I’m here to tell Chase and the rest of the Tom Herman fan club to slow down.
In hiring Herman, I feel like we’ve witnessed this kind of enthusiasm about a previous Texas head coaching hire. Remember when Charlie Strong was hired in 2014? I do. And Strong was the hot, unproven coaching commodity in 2014 just as Herman is now. Even though the perception is that Herman and Strong are nothing like, let’s compare the two at comparable points in their careers.
Prior to accepting the Texas job, Strong boasted an impressive resume. He spent time as an assistant coach at high profile schools like Florida and Notre Dame. He was a position coach for Lou Holtz at Notre Dame and was the defensive coordinator for Florida’s 2006 and 2008 national championship teams. He turned his success as an assistant coach into a head coaching opportunity at Louisville.
In 2010, Strong took over a Louisville program that had gone 15-21 under Steve Kragthorpe. Strong took that struggling program and, through recruiting players like Teddy Bridgewater, went 37-15. In his four seasons at Louisville, Strong turned the Cardinals back into winners. His tenure was highlighted by a Sugar Bowl victory over Florida. His reward for rebuilding Louisville was being tapped to do the same at Texas. Texas was coming off of an 8-5 season under Mack Brown. Times were tough in Austin when Strong took over.
The state of the Longhorn program is important to remember when assessing Strong’s record at Texas. He was having to rebuild the program both inside and out.
Herman and Strong’s rise to coaching prominence is similar. Herman’s claim to fame was the success Ohio State had during his time as offensive coordinator. He is credited with being the architect of the Buckeye offense that won the 2014 national championship. Herman used this accomplishment to gain his first head coaching job at Houston.
Herman then took over a Houston program that had fallen on hard times under head coach Tony Levine. Levine went 21-17 at Houston prior to Herman taking over. Like Strong did at Louisville, Herman brought Houston back to national prominence. Herman went 22-4 at Houston and the highlight was beating Florida State in the 2015 Peach Bowl.
The similarities between Herman and Strong not only include impressive resumes as assistant coaches but also includes success as mid-major head coaches. But the decision made by the Texas administration to hire Herman is based on the idea that Herman is completely different than Strong. Texas is wrong. Herman and Strong are more similar on the field than anyone at Texas cares to admit.
Herman knows football. There’s no question about that. When it comes right down to it, so does Strong. But there’s more to succeeding at Texas than just knowing football. Coaching at Texas also means living inside a vast political machine that includes overbearing boosters and a savage Austin sports media cabal. And that is what I doubt Herman is prepared to manage. Strong was over his head and my best guess is that Herman will also be in over his head.
Texas would have been better off hiring an experienced head coach. Sorry, but Herman’s two years at Houston just doesn’t cut it. Herman couldn’t handle a bit of friction with Nick Wright and John Lopez. Keep in mind that this happened while Herman was winning at Houston. What will he do if he falls on hard times at Texas and the Austin media rip into him? Wright and Lopez aren’t Kirk Bohls and Chip Brown. I’ll wish Herman good luck right now if he rubs either of those Austin sports media legends the wrong way.
Being the head coach at Louisville was different than being in charge of the Longhorns. And being in charge at Houston is different than being the head coach at Texas. It’s not so much about football knowledge as it is the ability to maneuver through a 24-hour labyrinth of media and booster scrutiny.
There will be no honeymoon period for Herman just as there wasn’t for Strong. Herman may have had the head coaching pedigree to handle a job as big as Texas down the road, but I don’t believe that day is today.
E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.
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