On Thanksgiving afternoon, as LSU and Texas A&M prepared to play a turkey of a football game in College Station, a report surfaced on the internet that Houston’s Tom Herman was close to being named the head coach of the Tigers.
The story spread like a swamp fire, prompting LSU athletic director Joe Alleva to issue a statement in the middle of his team’s Thursday night game, calling the report “unsubstantiated rumors.”
Mark May of ESPN, the network that erroneously brought you Les Miles to be named the new coach at Michigan on the morning of the 2007 SEC title game, went on a scathing halftime tirade against Alleva for “leaking” the Herman story while LSU’s interim coach, Ed Orgeron, was still trying to coach a game.
It was another clown move by what’s become an increasingly clown network. Had May just glanced at the source of the Herman report, he would have seen it didn’t come from LSU or Baton Rouge sources, but rather from Chip Brown of HornsDigest.com, who covers the Texas Longhorns.
It wasn’t Alleva who leaked the story but rather, sources close to the LSU situation suspected, Herman’s own agent, Trace Armstrong.
Armstrong, LSU feared, was trying to kick the posteriors of Texas officials (and un-officials, because this is, ya know, Texas) who were dragging their feet on the Charlie Strong situation.
The kick clearly worked. TCU’s 31-9 spanking of the Longhorns on Friday afternoon simply added the final nail to Strong’s coffin.
Around lunchtime Saturday, Orgeron, born, raised and fed in South Louisiana, was named LSU’s head coach.
And Strong was notified of his firing Saturday morning, clearing the way for Texas to name Herman as its new coach.
For nearly three months, and in some cases longer, Herman’s name had been linked to Strong’s job. Herman, a former graduate assistant at Texas, had opened his second season at Houston with a 33-23 upset of Oklahoma.
Herman’s rising star skyrocketed, sputtering only briefly when the Cougars suffered puzzling losses to Navy and SMU. A final defeat Friday in Memphis likely ousted Houston from the Top 25.
But no Top 25, no matter, apparently. Texas fired up the money train Friday night and made sure it got its man. According to Ross Dellenger of The Advocate, LSU officials worked through the night on a possible deal, but Herman informed them at 5 a.m. Saturday that he intended to join the Longhorns.
In a Big 12 Conference where quarterbacks shamelessly will throw 60 or more times a game, Herman should be a seamless fit. His Cougars teams averaged 38 points and threw more than 40 times per game.
Herman knows the state of Texas. He has recruited in Texas. And he is wise to realize that in the kingdom of college football, there is no sleeping giant quite like the University of Texas.
The organizational chaos that engulfed Strong, particularly since a loss at Kansas last weekend, apparently did not dim Herman’s interest in accepting the UT job.
But think about it. There isn’t a coach in America who doesn’t think he could win at resources-rich Texas, even after the Strong years.
It is likely that Armstrong’s alleged stunt Thursday helped to drive up Herman’s contract price, but money doesn’t appear to be the driving factor that steered Herman to the Forty Acres. Even LSU officials seemed to realize that Texas was always Herman’s No. 1 choice.
Once Herman called him early Saturday morning, LSU AD Alleva moved swiftly on officially naming Orgeron.
As Alleva’s search for a replacement for fired Les Miles went on throughout the season, a fuzzy list of possible candidates emerged. Alleva’s cursory vetting included TCU’s Gary Patterson.
But when the notoriously manipulative Jimmy Sexton, the agent for Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher, demanded a reported $50-million contract to return to Baton Rouge (where Fisher had been an assistant), LSU’s talks with him abruptly ended.
Sources Friday indicated that LSU’s choice would be either Herman or Orgeron. Texas finally knew it had to move quickly.
For LSU, meanwhile, Orgeron will be a popular consolation choice. Critics, mostly national writers, will point to his failed three seasons (2005-2007) in charge of Ole Miss, but Orgeron, 55, showed this season that he has grown and knows how to be a head coach.
He was 5-2 as LSU’s interim coach. In the only blemishes, the Tigers held No. 1 Alabama scoreless for more than 50 minutes before losing 10-0, and a goal line stand by Florida in the final seconds enabled the Gators to prevail 16-10. Orgeron and LSU defeated the Aggies 54-39 Thursday night.
As Dellenger reported in The Advocate, Orgeron “blew away” LSU decision-makers in a meeting Friday, sources said. He brought with him a massive binder detailing long-term plans, which included the hiring of a proven and successful offensive coordinator. He’s expected to go after Alabama coordinator Lane Kiffin, a good friend and Orgeron's boss at Southern Cal and Tennessee.”
In the end, Alleva decided that his more prominent other candidates — North Carolina’s Larry Fedora, Virginia Tech’s Justin Fuente and Oklahoma State’s Mike Gundy, among them — weren’t as attractive as giving Orgeron a chance.
After all, some assistant coaches do blossom into successful head coaches. Dabo Swinney was once the interim head coach at Clemson.
TCU, likewise, also took a chance 16 years ago on promoting an assistant to head coach. That guy, Patterson, beat Texas’ guy 31-9 on Friday.