Tom Herman’s name has been linked to more than one major opening. The Houston program-builder is a big piece to 2016’s coaching carousel.
College football silly season is sillier than ever thus far in 2016.
It was no coincidence that reports circulated Thanksgiving night during the LSU-Texas A&M matchup in College Station that Tom Herman was close to accepting the LSU head-coaching gig after Jimbo Fisher decided to remain at Florida State.
While Herman was always an intriguing possibility for the Tigers, it was widely assumed that Fisher was the No. 1 priority for the Bayou Bengals. After all, LSU brass tried to woo Fisher last year before deciding to hold onto Les Miles.
All of a sudden, as the Tigers and Aggies were battling in their regular season finale, multiple reports had Herman parlaying his soaring stock into the head gig in Baton Rouge. Meanwhile, rumblings in Austin were that Charlie Strong still had a chance to keep his gig at Texas with a convincing win over TCU on Friday.
All the while, Kevin Sumlin was trying to fend off yet another disappointing November.
Three programs—LSU, Texas and Texas A&M—that most every head coach in America not named Nick Saban would love to run.
This reeked of an agent doing work. Serious work.
As we know, major college football is big business. And the head coaches that cash in when they have a chance to take a big job are in the position to do so because they’re a) very good coaches, and b) able to focus on the task at hand and let their agents worry about the messy stuff, such as dollar figures.
If LSU and Herman are sincerely close to a deal, with one reportedly possibly being in place by Saturday, Tigers AD Joe Alleva certainly doesn’t like that this news leaked. Could Trace Armstrong, who is Herman’s agent, have ensured that this info came out to put pressure on Texas and perhaps even A&M? This felt very much like a strategic leak by Herman’s representation.
Having to deal with its collection of power boosters doesn’t change the fact that Texas is a dream job for Herman. And while LSU would offer him a great opportunity and put a scare into 13 other SEC head coaches, Herman is made for Texas. At the same time, if the status of Strong is still up in the air, how long would Herman be willing to wait it out?
And if the ‘Horns are really losing out on Herman and are now involved in a PR ploy (maintaining that no decision has been made on Strong despite reports to the contrary) just to save face and cover that fact up, what does that say about the state of Texas football?
Then there is the wild card: Texas A&M, which fell to 3-9 in November SEC games under Sumlin since he went 3-0 in the month during his debut season. The Aggies dropped a 54-39 decision on Thanksgiving night to an LSU squad playing without Leonard Fournette, Arden Key, Kendell Beckwith and Travis Dural. Sumlin is 0-5 against LSU and 1-5 against the SEC’s Mississippi schools, as his 2016 Aggies finished 8-4 after starting 7-1.
Sumlin’s buyout is $15 million, which is due in full if the Aggies decide to move on from someone who has never won less than eight games in a season. It seems unfathomable until you consider this is the same school whose donors were able to raise a portion of a $450 million stadium project in just a week’s time. If A&M brass wants to move on from Sumlin and get in the Herman sweepstakes, it will do so.
Then there is the other wild card: Ed Orgeron, whose players chanted “Keep Coach O” in the locker room on Thursday night after the victory over A&M. Would LSU change its mind again one year after passing on Fisher and bringing back Miles?
Certainly, the silliness has just begun, as Houston and Texas are in action on Friday. The Cougars face Memphis while the Longhorns battle TCU. While the Cougars’ performance against Louisville a week ago reportedly helped his stock rise in the eyes of Texas boosters—rather ridiculous that a single game can have such an effect—what would happen if the 7-4 Tigers pull an upset? Could it influence Texas donors and decision-makers, and could a big win complete with Strong being carried off of the field prompt Texas’ leadership and donor base to keep the current head coach? It seems very much as if Texas is split on what to do despite Strong’s 16-20 mark in Austin.
One thing is certain: if Herman leaves the state of Texas—or lands in College Station and not Austin—the spotlight on Strong will be even more intense, if that is even possible.
Herman, who is 22-3 with wins over Louisville (twice), Florida State and Oklahoma in his two seasons at Houston, is the hottest “free agent” on the market, so it’s no wonder that LSU would be very interested in making him its next head coach. But there’s a reason why this time of year has been billed as “silly season.” The speculation, many times fueled by strategic news leaks, runs rampant and often leads to nights like Thursday.
By the end of Friday, don’t be surprised if Herman is linked to LSU, Texas and Texas A&M. After all, this is major college football, a landscape in which strategic leaks by representation of head coaches is as prevalent as tailgates and fight songs.