Threading the Needle: Thoughts on the Herman hire

Mike Perrin and Greg Fenves introduce Tom Herman (Will Gallagher/IT)

Mike Perrin and Greg Fenves introduce Tom Herman (Will Gallagher/IT)

A few thoughts on the Herman hire, the media backdrop and what it means for Texas going forward.

Take a bow, Greg Fenves

If it were done when ’tis done, then ’twere well.
It were done quickly
MacBeth

A neatly conducted fire, search and hire seemed a dream. But it happened. Despite the speculative wailing and gnashing of teeth from some Longhorn faithful (oh no, the Berkeley academic is going to hire Caitlin Jenner and Plonsky will be the new men’s AD) our school president took the reins of the job search firmly, understood that a strong, quick hire was superior to the siren’s call of a lengthy deliberative process (that likely wouldn’t turn up a better candidate and would lose our best options) and Texas threaded the needle with the most seamless transition in school history. Despite a great potential for things to go awry. The speed of the hire also short circuited the national media’s attempts at creating a “Poor Charlie Strong didn’t get a chance” narrative. Nothing replaces old news like new news. Uncertainty is a breeding ground for mischief. Fenves didn’t allow uncertainty and mischief has to take root elsewhere. Like College Station.

With Herman hired literally hours after Charlie Strong’s last football game, Texas can recruit meaningfully before the dead period and Herman has a legitimate opportunity to pitch the state’s best, cherry pick his own U of H recruiting class, get a sense of the current roster and make arrangements to fill glaring depth needs.

Did Texas talk to anyone else? Sure. Texas spoke to other candidates though alumni intermediaries (and I hope they made their calls on Cricket wireless burner phones) – largely as back-ups and to gauge interest on some dream hires – but Herman was always the guy. An open Texas job in any sport gets other established coaches raises and it takes a smart, disciplined executive to understand the real market versus the theoretical dream market.

Nick Saban isn’t in play. Jim Harbaugh isn’t in play. Urban Meyer isn’t in play. Chris Petersen isn’t in play. Dabo Swinney was in play, but at what cost, what timeline and what happens when Alabama comes calling in 2020 or so? Fenves read the market correctly and acted. That takes a level of discipline and street smarts rarely attributed to university administrators. I was optimistic about our school president based on some chats I had with Big Cigars and he vastly exceeded my expectations.

Bravo.

The Reality-Based Timeline

Fenves made the decision to can Strong after the Kansas game. When I wrote that after the Kansas game, it wasn’t just logical inference. Fenves was even weighing the impact of whether an in-season canning had more positive than negative value as far back as West Virginia. He knew what needed to be done. He also made the right call in allowing Strong to complete the season, even if it made us all nervous.

While hucksters and the eternally gullible floated rumors that Herman wasn’t in the running, or that Strong could earn back his job with an emotional player-supported press conference or a TCU victory, we already knew that Texas had identified their No. 1 target and had put plans in place to meet with Herman immediately after the TCU game. They met even sooner than we thought possible. We all know now that Perrin and Fenves met with Herman late Friday evening and they talked well into Saturday morning. Anyone who thinks Strong could have saved his job with that meeting on the books needs to come to San Francisco to see the bridge I’m willing to sell them. When Strong told some players after Kansas he was gone, he was gone. What he told the national media is irrelevant.

That interview was important. Herman had the opportunity to talk his way out of a job. He didn’t. He impressed them with his passion, attention to detail and his rigorous approach to player discipline and academics. If Greg Fenves had any nagging concerns about the fruits of the mercenary Urban Meyer coaching tree – and not without some cause given what Meyer left in his wake at Florida – they were dispelled.

Herman has influences, but he’s his own man. He has private thoughts and critiques for all of his previous bosses. He saw the good and bad in all of the regimes in which he flourished.

The Agent Game

While predictable, watching media get played by agents is one of my favorite past times during coaching searches. They feed off of the media’s desire to create stories and narratives where none exist, the thirst for page views and subscriptions, and reporter’s general gullibility (they pretend they’re weary cynics, but they’re newborn lambs) and their lack of general business acumen. The idea that Tom Herman’s agent would agree to the LSU job without first hearing from Texas is ludicrous on its face. A fireable offense. This is so basic that I feel almost insulted to have to write it. As you are to read it. But somehow, people actually reported this with a straight face and we were expected to respond to it.

Just…no.

Charlie Strong’s Contributions

The graciousness expressed towards Charlie Strong was both heartfelt and good tactics. Strong took some bullets that any coach would have had to eat in his first two years here. That’s just roster reality. Year Three was his undoing. The wins and losses sealed it for Joe Sixpack, but it was a lack of process and management skills that made the move necessary. The simple fact is that whatever coach took over in 2014 was going to experience tough sledding. And 2015 wasn’t exactly screaming 11-2 either. Strong turned over the roster, brought in some good players, ate two rebuilding seasons that any inheritor would have had to weather and allowed Herman to come in as the Golden Boy who instantly turns Texas into a Big 12 title contender. Would I have preferred that Strong be the right hire? Of course. But he leaves a roster and program infrastructure in considerably better shape than what he inherited. His time here, while ultimately a failure, was not without considerable value. Just not 25 million dollars worth.

Oh, well. I don’t recall getting rebates on my season tickets when Texas has extra money laying around. Do you?

Herman’s lost football games!

Can’t hire him.

If you believe he’s the right guy for Texas, those losses were a gift. Every single one of them. The last thing you want is the Cougars in a major bowl or, God forbid, in the playoff picture. While some are understandably concerned that Herman’s decimated U of H team dropped three games this year, no one has ever hired an undefeated coach and those losses shaved at least a million a year off of his contract. That, in combination with a favorable buyout, made Herman more palatable to Texas. Similarly, meeting with Herman mere hours after a crushing Memphis loss was psychologically valuable. If Texas is a pick-up artist and Herman is the pretty girl, he’d just been negged hard. A one loss Tom Herman could be an insufferable negotiator rightfully looking for a bidding war. A three loss Tom Herman is more tractable, his star shines less bright and he’s reminded of just how quickly things can go wrong at a school like Houston where depth is a very near thing and every successful season is a function of luck as much as skill. He couldn’t bide his time and he couldn’t play games with his dream job.

Take a victory lap, Inside Texas

Forgive me for dislocating my shoulder Lethal Weapon style with pats on the back, but I hope you’ll at least allow me to pat your back and that of my colleagues. I was heartened to see the faith that IT readers had in our information and our collective decision to report reality over speculation, disinformation and hysteria. It wasn’t much of a decision, because it’s based firmly in the site’s culture and our respect for Texas.

How can I put this delicately? We were right. Everyone else was completely, often comically wrong. Actual connections and real content wins. We have the connections on the UT side and in the Herman camp. Apparently, no one else did. We also saw through transparent manipulation by agents, media and various camps. While I understand the fun of riding the disinformation roller coaster, I don’t think those readers and fans fully comprehend the contempt in which they’re held by some of the people they’re indulging.

I’ll leave it at that.

Herman’s Hires

Individual hires are less important than accountability and the larger processes they operate in. Everyone is looking for star assistants – and there’s no question they’re out there – but the more important piece is how the head man manages his reports. Strong failed here. Badly. Herman will not. He will make bad hires. They will be expelled. He will make good hires. They will be rewarded, developed, challenged, elevated and eventually leave the program to create their own legacy. That’s how it works. A staff, like a football team, is either improving or getting worse. There is no stasis. There’s good turnover and bad turnover.

Tom Herman was hired for enforcing good process. Not innovation. Not remaking offensive or defensive football concepts. I’m not advocating blind faith, but we have to get over the idea that new coaches will instantly hire an all-star team of disparate assistants plucked from across the country that the new coach has never worked with or met. Herman has a strong roladex, a strong idea of how he wants things run and clear performance expectations. That’s what matters. Superstar assistants come and go and if you follow some long enough, it’s interesting to see how their stars dim over time while various “nobodies” rise. Assistants, like players, need development. And they can coach beyond their talents surrounded by the right environment.

College football is not an efficient market. So find a head guy that creates his own efficiencies and enforces a staff vitality curve.

2017

Texas is set up well. In recruiting and in the current roster. I’m looking to forward to exploring how and why. Be excited.

It’s darkest before the dawn.

There’s sunlight on the horizon.

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