If you follow college football with any regularity, you likely know that Charlie Strong is a dead man walking at Texas after losing to what was previously the worst Power Five team in the country in the Kansas Jayhawks.
He may not be fired on Monday per UT’s interim athletic director, but make no mistake: Strong is 24 (or is it 21?) flavors of toast regardless.
First, let’s establish some assumptions: Outside of one very obvious G5 candidate, the Longhorns will believe they are entitled to any P5 coach they want, because they believe money can indeed buy anything.
Take it from someone who lives among them: You can never underestimate a Texas fan’s ability to retrench and yell “WE’RE TEXAS!” as a blanket reason to reject someone they think they’re above hiring, even after the Kansas Jayhawks just made them the biggest laughingstock in all of college football.
So realistically, there’s only two or three people in the Group of Five ranks that they’d even consider giving the time of day.
But let’s pretend that a bunch of Power Five head coaches see the job in Austin as one with behemoth expectations, a power vacuum at athletic director, and a cacophony of overly powerful rich donors that give off a strong impression of inmates running the asylum. Perhaps those P5 coaches decide to stay at their less stressful and nonetheless cushy gigs.
In fact, that’s exactly what happened with Texas baseball, when legendary head coach Augie Garrido was unceremoniously pushed out and the Longhorns had to give Tulane’s David Pierce the call up after their loftier aspirations were rammed into the cold wall of reality.
One more assumption: Just about every G5 coach would likely accept a Texas offer immediately, except for one candidate whose acceptance might not be 100 percent cut and dry. That lucky
bachelor candidate is:
Tom Herman, Houston
Why they’d consider him: Duh. His renaissance of Cougar football is one of the most impressive coaching jobs in all of college football, even if Houston always had the resources ready for a competent coach to make use of them.
Texas boosters have openly salivated over him since, oh, last year, despite Charlie Strong still being gainfully employed as head coach. UH’s recent dismantling of Lamar Jackson and top 5 Louisville will turn the dull buzz of Herman-to-Texas rumors into a howling roar.
Why it might not happen: It’s possible that some influential donors may be given pause by Herman only having had one head coaching job thus far. They’d be stupid to let that hold them back from pursuing him, but calm and rational thinking hasn’t exactly been in ready supply around Austin as of late.
Additionally, Herman has a cushy setup at a school that loves him and he may decide he prefers stability over the political maelstroms in Austin or Baton Rouge. It’s not likely, but he wouldn’t be the first coaching legend who values loyalty over money.
Likelihood of Herman being considered: I’m not saying you should bet your life savings on Herman going to Texas, because he could just as easily spurn the ‘Horns if he wants to coach in the endlessly hyped SEC and have an equally potent recruiting base at LSU.
But Houston likely lost any chance at keeping him after the Big 12 passed them up, and Texas’s open lust for Herman means they’ll pull out every stop to get him. He’s the most likely candidate of any P5 or G5 school to end up on the Forty Acres.
Bryan Harsin, Boise State
Why they’d consider him: At minimum, Harsin has kept the blue and orange machine chugging along in potato country, which is usually a plus unless your name is Dan Hawkins. He also has prior experience as co-offensive coordinator at Texas for two seasons, so he knows the landscape.
In addition to Boise being Top 25 in total offense all three years of his tenure, he’s fielded a Top 50 defense every year at Boise, and last year’s unit was downright nasty. He also already has two conference titles and a Fiesta Bowl to his name. Texas could do much, much worse.
Why it might not happen: Harsin’s offenses at Texas in 2011 and 2012 were ranked 54th and 40th respectively, which won’t impress a rabid fanbase that expects Top 25 offenses every year.
Additionally, Boise State is his alma mater, and his recruiting chops are likely more suited for the Pacific Northwest than a return to the Lone Star State.
Likelihood of Harsin being considered: UT likely wouldn’t call him unless they struck out on both Herman and any of their potential P5 targets, but if it came to that AD Mike Perrin would be foolish to not drop him a line.
PJ Fleck, Western Michigan
Why they’d consider him: Outside of Tom Herman, Fleck is THE name in Group of Five college football coaching right now.
He’s young, he’s turned a moribund Western Michigan program into a football and recruiting powerhouse (by G5 standards at least), and his almost psychotic levels of energy would likely mean that he would view the political landscape of Texas football as yet another fun challenge to embrace rather than an unholy mess to stay away from.
Why it might not happen: Texas fans are nothing if not extremely traditional, and Fleck’s almost diametric opposition to the status quo could potentially ruffle some feathers among the UT elite.
His recruiting chops in Texas are fairly non-existent, although Californian Tom Herman showed that this drawback can be overrated if you have enough energy and people skills, as well as the right assistant coaches.
And there’s also that risk of taking the next up and coming MAC coach and falling straight into mediocrity (Hello, NC State) or, worse, being an unqualified disaster (Hi, Purdue). His lack of head coaching experience outside of WMU might spook Texas boosters too.
Likelihood of Fleck being considered: It’s much easier to see Fleck being hired at a low tier P5 job like Purdue or low-to-mid tier job like Kansas State rather than him being offered one of the biggest jobs in college football right out of the gate.
If he succeeds in a place like Manhattan, Kansas or West Lafayette, you can bet that Texas will be banging down his door if (when?) their next coaching hire doesn’t work out.
Chad Morris, SMU
Why they’d consider him: You mean aside from the fact that he beat Tom Herman?
He has SMU one win away from a bowl bid just two seasons after June Jones nuked the Mustangs almost all the way back to the days immediately following their death penalty, and his track record as OC at Clemson was stellar.
And even though his recruiting at SMU hasn’t been amazing, he’s certainly shown palpable improvements with the players he’s brought in.
Why it might not happen: Being successful at a small private school in Dallas is far, far from the same thing as handling the myriad responsibilities of the Texas job.
To go the tortured analogy route, fixing up a Range Rover and making it road-worthy is far from the same thing as being handed the keys to a McLaren F1 that could easily send you flying into a wall at 200 mph with one slight miscalculation. Also, getting outrecruited by UTSA doesn’t look great.
Likelihood of Morris being considered: Extremely low. Even though Morris is another very hot name in coaching who will likely end up at a huge Power Five job if he keeps his rebuilding of SMU going strong, Texas boosters will–fair or not–likely view him as the RC Cola knockoff version of Tom Herman.
Craig Bohl, Wyoming
Why they’d consider him: This one’s admittedly a bit out of left field. Texas would have to be so radioactive that even Chad Morris turned them down, which seems incredibly unlikely.
But Bohl has experience as a coordinator at P5 schools (Wisconsin, Duke, and Nebraska) and 5 years at Rice as DC (albeit ages ago) likely provide a modicum of experience recruiting Texas.
Not to mention he wrecked the FCS (and many FBS teams) with North Dakota State and now has Wyoming on the verge of a Mountain West title game berth. Wyoming! Do you know how friggin’ hard it is to get recruits to spend four winters in Laramie? The man can coach his brains out.
Why it might not happen: Aside from the lack of hype that would surround his hire, there’s absolutely no guarantee that he could recruit Texas in this day and age, and his age (58) could turn off many younger boosters who are willing to move heaven and earth for someone like Tom Herman.
Bohl also has already had his fill of one occasionally unrealistic fanbase at his alma mater Nebraska, and it’s not out of the question that he could take one look at the Texas job and do his best Roger Murtagh impression.
Likelihood of Bohl being considered: Aside from Texas likely turning up their noses at him unless almost everybody else on their list has rejected them first, Bohl just doesn’t seem quite like a great fit in Austin. And we already know how the last “bad fit” turned out.