Houston Cougar head coach Tom Herman yesterday sought to set aside the rumors that he’s been considering leaving the University of Houston. Addressing the media in advance of Saturday’s American Athletic Conference title game, Herman stated that he and the school have agreed in principle to terms for a new contract.
“We have agreed in principle,” Herman said. “That is probably the best way to put it. We are working out the details of a contract, I don’t want to speak on any specifics, because those aren’t worked out yet, but we are moving in the right direction and have agreed in principle on the generalities of what is next."
“I’m here right now,” Herman continued. “And again, these things take twists and turns along the way as they sometimes do, but I don’t anticipate that happening. That is about all I am going to say about it.”
This should comfort the fears of some Houston fans afraid of a repeat of the 2011 Conference USA title game in which an undefeated and heavily favored UH football team was defeated in humiliating fashion 49-28 by Southern Miss. The week leading up to that game had seen the program swamped with rumors that head coach Kevin Sumlin was in negotiations to become head coach of Texas A&M. The rumors, which turned out to be true, were denied by Sumlin before and after the game, but the team appeared lost and unprepared for that title game, falling behind quickly and never recovering.
Rumors linking Herman to bigger, more highly prized jobs have seemingly swirled around the first-year head coach for most of the season, going into overdrive when the Southern California job opened up. Herman has said multiple times that he wouldn’t address any jobs or his contract until the season was over. But several weeks ago, fearing that Herman could be poised to jump to another school, the university’s Board of Regents voted to open up negotiations on his contract, promising a raise to at least $3 million per season.
So while Herman’s statement should quiet things down for this week, there are a few points that should be noted. As Herman states, there is no actual new contract. Nothing’s been signed, and there are still specifics to be ironed out. One of those specifics is sure to be the dollar amount required for a buy-out of the contract, because as any sports observer can state, the key to holding onto a coach is not the salary but the amount of money it takes to buy out the contract.
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Further, as anybody associated with Rice football can attest, not even a signed contract extension means that the coach is sticking around — remember that extension that first-year Rice head coach Todd Graham signed after the 2007 season, which he broke not long after to become head coach at Tulsa? To be fair, there’s nothing to indicate that Herman would ever pull anything the way Graham did, but then again, Rice officials never thought Graham was going to bolt after signing a contract extension in which every one of Graham’s demands was met.
The Cougars are safe for this week. Herman has clearly stated that he’s staying but that he’s still waiting for all the details to be ironed out. And with the Georgia job recently opening, it’s more than likely that Herman’s agent will be using that as even more incentive to get his guy the best renegotiated contract that a first-year, Group of Five head coach has ever seen. After all, as Herman says, he’s “here right now” but “these things take twists and turns along the way.”
So unlike 2011, the Cougars and all about the University of Houston can put the sole focus on Saturday’s conference title game opponent Temple. And that focus needs to be on Temple because Temple’s a good football team. It’s a ranked team with just two losses, including a close loss to Notre Dame that Temple could easily have won. And as good as the Cougars are — and the team is good — the staff and the players have to be focused on just one thing, and one thing only: playing Temple.
But come this time next week, UH administrators and Herman’s agent will likely be seated around a table, ironing out the wrinkles, making sure the talks don’t take twists and turns along the way, and guaranteeing that Herman will be around for next year, and the year thereafter — at least until another high-profile job opens up somewhere and ESPN or Sports Illustrated or Bleacher Report or some online blog in Georgia links Herman to that job.