- Sep 27, 2015
Of course we weren’t going to get out of 2020 without significant coaching intrigue. Silly me for thinking otherwise. To better understand where we’re going, let’s take a look at the immediate landscape. After I present the road conditions, I think you’ll understand who the most capable driver is to help the school steer out of the skid. Right now I’m seeing three potential outcomes with varying degrees of likelihood: Tom Herman wins out and saves his job; there is a protracted coaching search; there is a swift, peaceful transition of power.
Let me follow that up with: Herman isn’t winning out; a protracted search, one that extends well into December, has the potential to decimate the roster and recruiting; a peaceful transition of power is ideal for improving the program’s short-term prospects.
Tom Herman: In case you couldn’t tell, Tom Herman is in very hot water. His seat began to warm last year but Chris Del Conte decided to support Herman revitalizing the coaching staff. After a 2-2 start that should be 1-3, Herman has very little chance of saving his tenure. The 25% chance I gave him of keeping his job on Saturday was generous as I worked to find out more. After further discussions I give him much less of a chance. Read between the lines.
It’s hard to find any source of support for Herman at this point. He’s made life tougher for the administration and he’s ticked off the boosters. The problem isn’t so much the record, but also the total lack of team discipline.
I’m going to delete any comments that delve into the political, but to paint a clear picture I have to dance around the third rail a bit. Some of Herman’s quotes over the summer ticked people off. “Who is Tom Herman to lecture me” is a common sentiment. Many blame him for how The Eyes of Texas situation was handled. He was seen as putting the school in a difficult position to deal with it head on. That doesn’t absolve Del Conte, they’re pissed at him too, but Herman entered the season with short leash.
Pride goeth before the fall, and also during the Fall. Herman’s inability to get out of his own way makes football almost worthless to discuss right now. If you were on the fence of whether or not he was meddling too much in the offense, I’m guessing Saturday was clarifying. It’s same old Tom, and same old Tom nearly lost the team in 2017 and again in 2019. This is by far the worst things have been behind the scenes.
Further decimating any leverage Herman might have: his 2021 recruiting class looks transitiony. Given this class is already laboring, do you want this to be the transition class, or the loaded one with the five-star generational quarterback committed? This is easy math.
Chris Del Conte: Where it’s all bad with Herman, it’s a mixed bag with the Athletic Director. Let’s first start with the bad.
The extension to Herman is often cited as his biggest mistake but Del Conte’s inability to foster definitive resolution with player unrest (so much easier said than done) has more people rankled than the extension. Like betting on Herman the first time, the early extension was a calculated bet that didn’t hit. Del Conte had support for it, and it may not have even been his idea in the first place. If it wasn’t, falling on the sword is still his job, but it might restore a little more faith in him. At the time of the extension, it was seen as a long-term money saving play. It’s considered bad business but not an anchor around Del Conte’s neck.
The intertwining of pandemic and politics is terrible timing for Del Conte because it gives boosters much more leverage. Especially when you consider all the ongoing capital projects. Many are demanding he find a solution to The Eyes and general player discord. With a weak figure at head coach that’s incredibly difficult to do. Dare I say, it’s impossible to do.
Del Conte is the one on the hook for fixing this long term. From what I can gather, he still has way more allies than obstacles, and he has the confidence of the president and BOR, but he definitely has a clear fundraising problem. Anecdotes have made their way to the forums here, but it’s even worse than what’s being let on from a financial standpoint at a time where the school took a giant haircut due to the pandemic.
I much prefer to discuss the good of Del Conte. He employs the Frank Windegger approach (old TCU AD) where good football improves the overall college experience on the surface, thus boosting enrollment and all that comes with it. Despite some of you getting into UT, it was even correlated to attracting better students as measured by GPA/SAT. Bad football is bad for the overall brand.
In the end it boils down to improving finances, and we know Texas loves its finances, but in theory this is a good thing for football fans who want to see coaches held accountable to a winning standard.
Del Conte is very proactive in situations like these. I’m sure he has books written on PJ Fleck, Matt Campbell, and a few others, but he’s also the sort to be very aggressive and aim high. If there’s a coach out there with a big enough personality to help the program overcome its current woes, that will help that coach’s case immensely. Del Conte needs help on that front. He needs a coach who can return the transactional nature of big time football to the program. It’s amazing how trivial standing with your teammates for a song after a game seems if you’re winning and developing into a millionaire.
CDC/Hartzell/BOR: It’s certainly a positive sign that I can roll these three actors into the same section. While there’s plenty of volatility in the Texas ecosystem, these three central figures are on the same page, with Del Conte having the support of Jay Hartzell and the Board. If we learned anything from the time Texas had the greatest coach of all time gifted to it (the only gift the school ever turned down) only to have it scuttled internally, it’s important to know the pulse of the president, AD, and Board of Regents.
The RRS is an annual opportunity for the decision makers and key boosters to meet and greet. To use an old and familiar phrase, it’s a good time to ensure the BBs are in the box. The biggest immediate issue for this group is two-fold: 1) decide Herman’s fate, or, rather, allow him to continue to do it himself, and, 2) if Herman is to be removed, find a way to pay for the buyout.
If you’re reading between the lines, barring a major turn of events, #1 is mostly decided, and the only way that can happen is if the decision makers have a good handle on #2. I think they have a good handle on #2. While expectations for the season and Herman were high, this group has not been caught flat-footed and they didn’t just start having real talks in the last couple days.
In years past we’ve mentioned, regardless of sport, to not expect a midseason firing. This year isn’t like years past and that outcome is within the realm of possibility. Recruiting is different now, and the Portal also has to be accounted for.
The Boosters: Given the financial climate, this group has more leverage than I can recall. Their finances are green while the school‘s are red. With the big cigars largely sitting on its collective pocketbook, Del Conte is getting to a point where he can’t afford to not make a move, especially since the boosters would foot the bill for it. Whichever group covers that $20+ million will want a say in the ultimate hire. That’s a good thing, if and only if, Texas makes the most obvious call.
If Herman is removed and a real search takes place, Del Conte will have to mollify this group while seeking out more useful input elsewhere. No offense to that group, but that’s how a sound search derails in a hurry. Depending on how this all shakes out, the boosters will either be heroes or goats, but it isn’t fair to lump them all together. Some well known guys are on the sidelines (the old Nick Saban group) while some lesser known figures have assumed integral roles.
This group is like many of you but with more money. They’re incredibly frustrated and just want to win. Some are saying I’m older than ETex, bring me a winner.
Bring me a winner is a common sentiment. There’s been a sea change within wide swaths of the fan base. Many are finding it more palatable to hire a controversial figure. That feeling extends to the boosters. That feeling extends beyond. If you think boosters have leverage right now, think how much a high level candidate would have given the factors outlined. One thing is for sure: The program is in a precarious position and needs a strong centralizing figure to emerge before the BBs start spilling everywhere.
It’ll cost a lot to get it right, it’ll cost more to get it wrong.