Opinion: Texas hasn't come close to reaching its potential under Tom Herman

Dan Wolken
USA TODAY

Years from now, the only thing we should remember about the Tom Herman era at Texas is the need for humility. Not for Herman himself — a man who advertises Mensa membership as part of his origin story almost certainly isn’t capable of it — but for the rest of us who try to match-make coaches and programs and then grade their pairings when the coaching carousel spins. 

Back in December 2016, you would not find a single person who wrote about or followed college football on a regular basis who thought it was a mistake for Texas to hire Herman. 

Before the Longhorns made the offer, in fact, LSU had tried to get him. Coming off a national championship as offensive coordinator at Ohio State and two seasons at Houston in which his teams spent a lot of time in the top 10, Herman could have done just about whatever he wanted in the profession and it would have been praised as a genius move. 

But now here we are, and the Texas job has pretty much chewed him up and spat him out. There’s no firing yet, and maybe there won’t be due to the tricky finances of the COVID-19 pandemic and his large contract. But with a 30-18 record at Texas, no momentum on any front and recruits bailing, the writing is on the wall. He’s not the guy for the job, and if he was it would be apparent by now. We were wrong. 

By any relevant metric, Herman isn’t coming close to maximizing the power of the Texas brand and the potential of his brand. And Friday’s 23-20 loss to Iowa State only underlines that reality, as Matt Campbell’s 56.8 winning percentage in Big 12 games is far more impressive than Herman’s 61.7 given the disparity in program resources, tradition and recruiting reach. 

There’s a larger discussion to be had about Texas and why, aside from a strong decade under Mack Brown, it has not regularly been one of the nation’s best programs. But even if you think the Texas brand is overrated, the Longhorns under Herman haven't come close to reaching  their potential. 

It would cost Texas roughly $15.4 million to fire him, which is no small amount. But with Herman having established no pathway to prominence in Year 4, it would also be completely justified.

The fact his future is still in question makes Texas No. 1 on the Misery Index, a weekly measurement of knee-jerk reactions based on what each fan base just watched.

Texas coach Tom Herman argues a call with field judge Jason Ledet in the fourth quarter of the Longhorns' loss to Iowa State.

FOUR MORE IN MISERY

Auburn: Gus Malzahn has the distinction of being one of two active coaches alongside Les Miles to beat Nick Saban three times. He also now has the distinction of being the only Auburn coach to lose an Iron Bowl to … Steve Sarkisian? In the game that Auburn fans care about 365 days a year, Malzahn’s 42-13 loss Saturday will not go down as the most lopsided of his tenure (Auburn lost by 31 to Alabama just two years ago) nor the most significant (Auburn’s season has been going nowhere for a while). But in a game that Saban couldn’t coach due to a COVID-19 diagnosis, it was another reminder of the predicament facing Auburn as Malzahn winds down his eighth season. While Malzahn is 3-1 against Alabama at Jordan-Hare Stadium, he’s 0-4 in Tuscaloosa with an average margin of 22 points. Given that Auburn has to play there in even-numbered years, it means the stars have to really align for the Tigers to truly be in the Southeastern Conference championship mix and that it’s only going to happen every other season at best. Underscoring that reality is the inconvenient fact that Malzahn hasn't had a top-10 finish since his first year. It’s no wonder Auburn fans have had Malzahn on and off the hot seat for the last few years. Getting blown out in another Iron Bowl probably isn't enough for Auburn to make a change right now, but Saturday was just lopsided enough to ask the question.

Louisville: Late on Tuesday night, after a report surfaced that coach Scott Satterfield planned to interview with South Carolina, he put out a statement strongly suggesting he wasn’t going to be involved with the Gamecocks’ coaching search. This was largely viewed as a big relief in Louisville, as Satterfield won Atlantic Coast Conference coach of the year honors in 2019. Moreover, no school wants the ego blow of losing a coach to a historically middling program, especially after he’s been in his current job for just two seasons. But the celebration surrounding Satterfield's commitment to Louisville was short-lived, as the Cardinals’ awful season continued with a 34-27 loss to Boston College. Not only did Louisville fall to 3-7 with four losses by one score, it couldn’t beat a Boston College team that lost starting quarterback Phil Jurkovec late in the third quarter to injury and instead allowed backup Dennis Grosel to throw two touchdown passes. The Misery Index isn’t suggesting Louisville would be better off if Satterfield abandoned ship, but for a team that was ranked No. 16 after Week 1 of the season, it’s fair to say this has been an underwhelming performance.

Michigan: It is a rare event for two blue-blood programs to play a game in which neither fan base cares enough to really celebrate a win. But being the winner of Saturday’s so-called "Toilet Bowl" between Michigan and Penn State was far better than being the loser, and despite both team’s worst efforts, somebody had to win and somebody had to lose. And the loser in this case was Michigan, which never led previously winless Penn State in a 27-17 loss. But rather than offer any real introspection or offer his fans any insights into the big-picture failures of his flailing 2-4 program, Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh boiled the game down to key moments where the Wolverines came up just short. "The effort is high and in critical situations we weren’t able to get the stop or sustain the drive today," he said. Yeah, that’s the problem, Jim. Go ahead and roll with that.

Vanderbilt: It’s not often that Vanderbilt football can command the attention of the larger sports universe. But because of the decision to suit up kicker Sarah Fuller as a placekicker, making her the first woman to play in a Power Five game, the Commodores had an unusual amount of eyeballs on them against Missouri. In fact, any time they even crossed the 50-yard line it was worth tuning in just to see if they might give Fuller the chance to make even more history by kicking a field goal or an extra point. So what does Vanderbilt do with that national stage? It completely faceplants, never getting close enough to the end zone to even send Fuller out for a field goal attempt, much less an extra point. Yes, it was notable that she kicked off to begin the second half. But by failing to advance the ball past the Missouri 32-yard line in a 41-0 blowout loss, Vanderbilt didn’t exactly maximize the opportunity for Fuller to get on the field and add to one of the season’s most interesting story lines.

TRENDING TOWARD MISERY

California: There are any number of reasons why this has been a nightmare season for the Bears, who’ve had to deal with severe COVID-19-related restrictions in their community that made their offseason and practice schedule almost impossible. But even if we just keep the focus on the field, Friday’s 24-23 loss to Stanford was one of the most inexcusable in the history of The Big Game. Despite outgaining Stanford 392-300, Cal needed either an extra point to tie or a two-point conversion to win after scoring a touchdown with 58 seconds left. Instead, the Bears got neither as Dario Longhetto’s kick was blocked, prompting coach Justin Wilcox to admit it was "obviously the wrong decision" to play for overtime.

Syracuse: When you root for a historically bad program, you tend to think you’ve seen every possible way to lose a game. But even Syracuse fans had to admit that Saturday’s 36-29 loss to North Carolina State was a new one in terms of folly and cruelty in the final moments. The Orange have had a horrible season on every level, but with the ball at the 7-yard line and less than a minute left, there was a real chance to tie or beat the Wolfpack and have something to build on at the end of the year. Instead, after quarterback Rex Culpepper was sacked with about 20 seconds left and no timeouts, he hurried to the line of scrimmage and spiked the ball to stop the clock. The only problem? It was already fourth down, meaning the game was over. Even in a 1-9 year, some losses are more memorable than others.

UNLV: With a new coach and a move to a sparkling new NFL stadium right off the Las Vegas Strip, this is the year UNLV football was supposed to leave its reputation as one of college football’s biggest underachievers behind. Instead, the Rebels are still looking for their first win under Marcus Arroyo, falling to 0-5 after a 45-14 loss to Wyoming. With the excitement of a new era already dissipating, UNLV fans are going to have to strap in for the reality of another long rebuild with no guarantee of success.

TOTALLY REAL AND IRRATIONAL MESSAGE BOARD THREADS

"Could be worse, could be Michigan" — orangebloods.com (Texas)

"Jim is really, really lucky there are no fans allowed this year" — The Wolverine

"If Gus isn’t fired tomorrow, AU is a loser institution" — AUfamily.com

"Satts needs to quit ‘loving up this team' " — Cardinal Authority (Louisville)

"The entire offensive coaching staff should donate their paychecks to charity this week" — syracusefan.com

Follow Dan Wolken on Twitter @DanWolken.