I was talking to a friend of mine the other day, a UT grad, about his alma mater’s frustrating 2016 football season. I asked how he mustered the strength to watch his 3-4 Longhorns every Saturday, knowing full well their once-lauded head coach, Charlie Strong, is basically a dead man walking. “We’re too busy,” he told me, “coordinating the convoy of cash-filled dump trucks to Tom Herman’s house.”
This offseason, the bidding war for Herman’s services will be gratuitous. UT has made its intentions well known, and scuffling powers LSU and USC will soon follow. So will a handful of NFL franchises. The Southern California native is set to make about $3 million this season at UH, not including bonuses, some of which he funnels into the pockets of his assistants. That's more than any coach earns at a mid-major university, but lags behind the salaries of 34 other D-I coaches from the Power 5 conferences. His current employer is already drawing up a potential extension, bless their hearts, less than a year after they signed him to his first extension. Were the architect of the #HTownTakeover to (sorry) take off after only two seasons, it would gut a university intent on raising its profile, athletically and otherwise.
The case for bolting is fairly straightforward. After two unexpected losses this past month, Herman’s Cougars—talented as they are—have played themselves out of College Football Playoff contention this season. Greg Ward Jr., UH’s star quarterback, will soon graduate. When the Big 12 voted against expansion 10 days ago, it created interrelated problems for UH, too. For one, the school’s margin for error on the gridiron remains extremely tight. (Because of their weak in-conference strength of schedule, an undefeated season is basically the only way the Coogs can secure a playoff spot, something only seven schools have accomplished in the past decade.) And administrators almost certainly can’t afford the payout they’d verbally agreed to provide, a $5 million bonus on top of a significant salary bump, were the Big 12 to extend Houston a lucrative offer.
Herman, for his part, claims the rumors are empty. "I'm done being the media police,” he said before practice on Tuesday. “I'm done putting out statements that refute bogus information." It’s not as if there aren’t a few totally valid reasons to stay. At Houston, he can run his program exactly how he wants, without interference from micromanaging boosters or noodling beat reporters. He can build a legacy from scratch, blasting the right rap songs on the stadium PA system, deepening his already deep ties to the area’s rarely-paralleled football talent. Three million dollars is plenty of money, too.
Since Herman got his start in Austin as a graduate assistant, though, Texas has always been his “dream job.” Like lovable lunatic Jim Harbaugh (Michigan) or diabolical genius Nick Saban (Alabama), the UT faithful will lionize Herman if he can reroute his Houston pipeline and restore dignity to their bruised program, still the third winningest in NCAA history. One report this week suggested a deal is already in place, though the sourcing is thin. Still, it might be a good time to visit TDECU Stadium and soak up Herman’s brotherly energy, while it’s still here.