If you're looking for a barometer on a college head coach's regime, an indication which way the wind is blowing, it's widely believed that a coach's third season provides the most insight.
At a lot of places, consecutive winning seasons and bowl games in years two and three would be enough for a coach to hold onto his job for at least one more year. However, despite those finishes the last two seasons, there were just enough chinks in Tony Levine's armor (some glaring) and just enough risk of the conference realignment ground shifting underneath them again for the University of Houston to realize that 7-5 just isn't good enough.
Losing to UTSA in the game where you open a new $120 million stadium isn't good enough. Four offensive coordinators in three years isn't good enough. Tony Levine, a good man but in a little too deep as a head coach, just isn't good enough.
And thus, on Tuesday afternoon, it was announced that Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman would take over as the head coach of the U of H football program, set to begin his job once Ohio State is eliminated from the College Football Playoff.
Herman, the 2014 Broyles Award winner as the nation's top assistant coach, will become the highest paid coach in the history of the Coogs' program, signing for a reported $6.75 million over five years, about $350,000 more annually than Levine was slated to make under the terms of the extension he signed last year.
While there were splashier names mentioned along the way during the one-week search process (Will Muschamp interviewed for the job, and Mike Leach and Lane Kiffin were both mentioned as possibilities), the school probably was able to proverbially "check off more boxes" with the hire of Herman than with any of the other realistic candidates.
Consider the following:
1. Herman has deep ties to the state of Texas, having started his coaching career as a graduate assistant on Mack Brown's staff at Texas in the late '90s before moving on to Sam Houston State as wide receivers coach from 2001 through 2004. From there, he was the architect of prolific offenses at Texas State (conference scoring leaders in 2005 and 2006) and Rice (broke 40 school records in two seasons, 2007 and 2008), before heading north to Iowa State (2009-2011) and Ohio State (2012-2014). Herman's experience in Texas, along with his offensive style, should pay immediate dividends on the recruiting trial.
2. As outlined in the previous paragraph, Herman's calling card everywhere he has coordinated has been wildly prolific offenses. For a Houston fan base that was re-energized in the early 2000s by Art Briles's offenses and then from 2008 through 2011 with Kevin Sumlin's system, the Levine Era was comparatively one big sad face emoji offensively, plagued by a revolving door at offensive coordinator (as mentioned, four in three years). For a school that just invested nine figures in a new venue, a more watchable brand of offensive football is practically a necessity for survival attendance-wise. Herman's offensive pelts on the wall are impressive, capped off by a 59-0 win in the Big Ten title game with Ohio State's third-string quarterback Cardale Jones starting.
3. A more watchable, winning product coached by one of the hottest head coaching prospects in the country should be much more marketable to the Big 12 if indeed the conference chooses to expand to 12 teams anytime soon. The conference that Houston resides in now (the American Athletic Conference) is in perpetual danger of disintegrating and will always be a target to be raided by the big boys. Houston's primary goal, above anything else, needs to be ensuring that it's a target of a raid, not a victim of the fallout. Ultimately, a U of H move to the Big 12 may just not be in the cards, but hiring Herman is undoubtedly a plus in this effort.
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Honestly, the only negative with Herman is probably his lack of head coaching experience, which likely won't manifest itself in x's and o's or decision-making (According to Wikipedia, Herman is actually a member of MENSA.), but it could when it comes time to assemble a staff. Hiring is an instinctual thing that normally requires a head coach to make a few mistakes before the good ones get totally proficient in that area. (This is true in every walk of life, by the way. Hiring is the hardest and most important part of managing.)
You just hope Herman's hiring mistakes, if there are any, are further down the food chain than those of Levine, who infamously fired his first offensive coordinator hire (Mike Nesbitt) after the first game of his coaching regime in 2012. So in theory, if Herman is able to beat Tennessee Tech in the season opener next fall while retaining his OC, he will already be a leg up on his predecessor.
So after two uninspired hires for the basketball and football programs (James Dickey and Levine), leadership at the University of Houston has given the school a fighting chance to survive the next shift in the landscape with their replacements, Kelvin Sampson and Herman. Jobs, legacies, and millions and millions of dollars are riding on it.