“If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.” -Tancredi, The Leopard
When Tony Levine was relieved of duties after three underwhelming seasons and replaced by Tom Herman, the only thing I wanted from the new coach was a conference championship victory and nothing more. Herman exceeded those expectations and I’m not upset that he’s left for Austin because he’s left the program better off than when he arrived.
In spite of all of the records shattered during the Case Keenum and Kevin Sumlin era from 2008-11, the Cougars football program had last won a conference title in 2006 under Art Briles before Herman came to town. The Coogs fell short of victory in 2009 and 2011, so my only expectations for Tom Herman were to bring another conference title to Cullen Blvd. Herman built out a very solid staff and was able to help develop Greg Ward Jr.’s raw talent into being one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Herman and company had a few close calls in 2015 but were able to win the American title and upset Florida State in the Peach Bowl. It was Houston’s first conference title in nine seasons and biggest bowl victory in a generation. Since he already exceeded expectations in year one, anything after that I considered an added bonus.
It’s a testament to how excellent 2015 was for the Coogs that 2016 felt like a bit of letdown, but I don’t think there’s a single Coog fan out there who would trade our victories against Oklahoma and Louisville for wins over Navy, SMU, and Memphis. Putting the beatdown on Oklahoma in front of a national tv audience to kickoff the season in a sold out NRG Stadium and the absolute whoppin’ of the Heisman frontrunner Lamar Jackson and Louisville were an incredible validation of the Houston program and proof of how far we’ve come in just a few short seasons. Every recruit and fan across the country has been put on notice to what this program’s potential is.
We all thought that maybe there was a slight chance that Herman was different than all of the others coaches, that he truly wanted to be here for the long haul, but I don’t think anyone is really surprised he left. Coaches want to win a national championship and there’s about 20-25 college football programs that have the ability to compete at a consistent level to win a national title, and the University of Texas is one of those programs. That being said, Herman has helped show how close UH was to potentially crashing the college football playoffs. A few less mistakes against Navy and Memphis, and not having a meltdown against SMU, and the Coogs would’ve secured a playoff spot for 2016. Yes, it would’ve been incredibly hard to do, but a UH or a Boise is still more likely to make the playoffs than a Kansas, Kentucky, or a Purdue. For example: Maybe Purdue could get good enough with the right coach to upset an Ohio State, but to think they could pull off wins over Michigan, Penn State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State all in the same season and win a Big Ten title is far less likely than Houston or Boise running the table and making a cinderella run into the playoffs. Not all Power 5 programs are equal and be proud that Houston, as a G5, is considered by many people to be a better job than about half of the P5. That’s why Dana Holgorsen, Mike Leach, and Sonny Dykes are all rumored to be considering UH. It’s easier to recruit to Houston than to Morgantown or to the Palouse.
There’s going to be a lot of people who urge the Houston administration to find a coach who’s going to be here for the long haul, whatever that means. Those thoughts are well-intentioned but severely misguided. Tony Levine may have wanted to stay at UH for the long-haul and we all saw how well those three seasons went under his leadership. I’ll take fifty Tom Herman’s coming to town and winning conference championships and then leaving UH after two seasons than another Levine era with losses to Texas State and UTSA. All we need to do is win big time football games. A mediocre coach who wants to be here for the long-term is far more damaging for our program than a great coach who wants to win big and leverage us into a better position.
There’s nothing to be upset at UT about. Let their fans talk trash and talk down to UH all they want. It’s a huge validation for our program and our university that the big, rich University of Texas has to come down to lil’ ole U of H to take our head coach. It means they aren’t doing much innovating and growing of homegrown talent over at the 40 acres. The University of Houston is a home of innovation and if UT feels they need some of that UH swagger to improve their subpar football program than more power to them. Herman didn’t leave Houston because there’s something wrong with us, but because we gave him the chance to prove himself, win big, and to make himself a household name in college football. We should be flattered the rest of the state is recognizing our talents because it means we’re better at developing coaches then they are.
I’m still somewhat surprised UT pounced on Herman so quickly without taking the time to do due diligence in interviewing other major candidates, but Herman’s agent certainly got earned his commission by starting a bidding frenzy for his services. Herman is almost exactly the same candidate that Charlie Strong was in 2014: Herman went 22-4 at UH and Strong went 23-3 in his last two years at Louisville. The best coaches in the business (Saban, Harbaugh, and Meyer) all had previous Power 5 experience before their current positions, so I’m a bit surprised UT didn’t throw $6+ million a year at Chris Petersen, Mike MacIntyre, Larry Fedora, or even a Dabo Swinney or David Shaw. All of them are very successful Power 5 coaches who’ve done very well at their non-traditional P5 programs and would do even better with the resources in Austin. But apparently UT is so desperate and the hype around Herman has reached the stratosphere and the UT administration needs to keep their rabid boosters in-line as much as hire the most qualified coach, so they chose the flash-in-the-pan over someone less sexier but with a better resume. Herman has been a head coach all of two seasons and both of those were in the G5. Yes, Charlie Strong just lost to Kansas but Herman couldn’t figure out how not to get blown out by the lowly SMU Mustangs. Oh well, Austin will either show that Herman is the second coming of Meyer or he’ll crumble under the reality of the soap opera of Machiavellian backstabbing and political intrigue and wish he never left the relatively serene confines of the Third Ward. Coog fans should hope he does well for the simple fact that his successes, like those of Briles and Sumlin before him, shows every other coach in college football that Houston is a place where you can win. Better to be a place where the next Tom Herman knows he can come in and win big then for coaches to think this is a dead-end job.
Herman had all of the hype but he didn’t build this program on his own. Herman built upon the foundation laid by, not just the aforementioned Briles and Sumlin before him, but also the legacies of Bill Yeoman, Jack Pardee, and John Jenkins who made the University of Houston known for good, innovative football. Herman was merely a continuation of our legacy of successes. A program can be Power 5 but it doesn’t mean that they have the leadership in place to compete at a high level, which is another reason why Houston is a better job than most people realize and better than half of the major conference programs. President and Chancellor Khator, Chairman Fertitta, and AD Yurachek have all been instrumental as well for laying the foundation here at UH. With all three of them still in power I’m not worried about our future. A new coach can easily come in here and pick up where Herman left off and continue to build on his successes.
And yes, it sucks that the Big 12 turned down UH then one of their school’s took our head coach, but if the Coogs can keep winning and keep selling out TDECU then I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re given a P5 invite during the next round of realignment. I wonder if Texas secretly blocked UH from the Big 12 because they feared what Herman could do if Houston had power conference resources? It would be ironic if the Big 12 is left out of the playoffs this season for the second time in three years, and then they decide to give UH membership after all because Herman is no longer on Cullen and thus UH isn’t perceived as a threat. With the soap operas that are both UT and in the Big 12, nothing would surprise me any more.