Not good enough.
So has Tom Herman had long enough?
That has been the overriding story of the Texas coach and his football program over the course of his four uneven seasons, the latest example a stake-to-the-heart, soul-crushing 23-20 loss to Iowa State Friday that effectively eliminated the Longhorns from the Big 12 championship race. His is a murky future.
While Longhorn Nation mulls over their left-over turkey and dressing just how big a contract Urban Meyer will receive from Texas, athletics director Chris Del Conte is faced with one of the most agonizing decisions in his three years on the job.
That’s because Herman is owed $15 million for the final three years of his deal in the middle of university layoffs and furloughs caused by the pandemic and because the pool of available candidates as replacements is thinner than, well, Herman’s Texas résumé. Get past Meyer, and Texas might have to settle for a Plan B choice. If Texas can get Meyer, it should try.
This will not be a cut-and-dried decision although the guess here is the administration will lean heavily toward making a change because Herman has lost big-time support from an unbelieving fan base, is losing ground in recruiting by the hour, and nothing about this year’s 5-3 record and 4-3 league mark makes it obvious he should remain on the job.
Asked which direction Texas will take, one Texas power broker on Friday evening said, “I wish I knew.”
Word from people inside the administration is that Meyer is non-committal about returning to coaching and specifically about being interested in the Texas job.
Beyond that obvious choice, there is no other logical frontrunner, save maybe a Luke Fickell or a Del Conte favorite like James Franklin or the guy Herman faced across the field Friday, Matt Campbell.
Asked if he should remain Texas’ coach after being knocked out of the race in a down year for the Big 12, Herman didn’t bow up, but said, “That’s not for me to decide. I feel like where we have the program now as opposed to where it was when we took over, the future is very bright. We’ve won a lot of big games, and I feel good about the trajectory of the program and where we’re headed.”
This was to be Herman’s breakout year, one fueled by one of the best quarterbacks in school history along with talented players like defensive end Joseph Ossai and left tackle Samuel Cosmi and receiver Brennan Eagles and three national top-10 recruiting classes.
But now Texas just looks broken.
Friday’s loss played out as an intense, evenly matched game between two similar clubs ranked in the middle teens in this week’s College Football Playoff rankings. Play each other 10 times, here’s betting you’d see a 5-5 split.
On this day, however, the 15th-ranked Cyclones got the better of the 21st-ranked Longhorns for the second year in a row with a solid performance from their quarterback, a pair of dynamic tight ends who combined for 11 catches and 200 yards and an unorthodox defense that frustrated Texas just enough along with Iowa State’s keep-away offense.
As Iowa State’s stud running back Breece Hall said of their program, “It’s five-star culture versus five-star players.”
So now the Longhorns have to search yet again for a way to elevate themselves back into national prominence, whether it’s keeping Herman with a vastly improved Chris Ash defense but a brand new quarterback or checking the want-ads. It’s no dumpster fire as it was during Charlie Strong’s three losing seasons, but Herman hasn’t come close to restoring Texas to relevance, which is why so many want to dump him.
Quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who was sacked on his final play ever at Royal-Memorial Stadium, will leave this place with a ton of glittery records and the fans’ adoration but without a league championship, not to mention even a whiff of a College Football Playoff, and Herman just might as well.
“I think that we still haven’t played a great game where both sides of the ball were playing really well,” Ehlinger said. “That’s frustrating. Confused. We have so much talent but we can’t put it all together. This game pretty much sums it up for us.”
One can point to the befuddling, ill-fated fake punt near midfield that went awry and cost Texas serious momentum or the fourth-and-a foot that came up short because Ehlinger never lines up under center or the mystifying Longhorns’ next-to-last offensive series that milked just 60 seconds off the clock when Ehlinger threw an inexplicable, deep, incompletion, one of two passes on that possession that weren’t on target.
In a way, though, the particulars don’t even matter.
What does is yet another troubling defeat that drops Herman’s record to a pedestrian 30-18 and sets afire the already rampant speculation about his job security.
That this game and the Longhorns’ chances on the final play hinged on a monstrous, desperation 58-yard field goal by Cameron Dicker that had the distance but was wide left says so much about the direction of one of college football’s traditional powerhouses and the slippage in the last decade.
The Longhorns were hanging on for dear life by their fingernails.
Iowa State is an impressive outfit that plays to its potential, but Texas should not be losing at home in Herman’s fourth year with so much on the line.
Oddly enough, the outcome of the game could seal the fates of both coaches. Campbell will become an even hotter commodity and in demand for higher-profile jobs like the NFL or Michigan or Texas. Herman, on the other hand, will have to sweat out these last two regular-season games before he learns his fate. The deliberations begin.
“We just didn’t do enough there at the end to win the game,” Herman said.