Texas officials abruptly announced Saturday morning that football coach Tom Herman would be fired.
It came almost two weeks after UT athletic director Chris Del Conte announced in a tepid statement that “Tom Herman is our coach.”
Saturday’s statement said Del Conte “has evaluated the UT program’s strengths and weaknesses and where the program is relative to our goals. While we have made measured progress during the past several years under Tom Herman’s leadership, Chris has recommended to the university president, Jay Hartzell, that UT make a coaching change to get us on track to achieving our ambitious goals.”
A person with knowledge of the situation told the American-Statesman that Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian was the front-runner to become the next coach. The person requested anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the situation. Horns247 first reported the school was targeting Sarkisian.
Known as “Sark,” Sarkisian has a 46-35 record in seven years as a head coach, a run that included five years at Washington and two at Southern California.
UT’s statement said that Hartzell and UT System Board of Regents chairman Kevin Eltife agreed with the decision and approved the change. “We thank Coach Herman for his service and dedication to our student-athletes, our program and our university,” the statement said.
Herman had three years remaining on a contract worth $15 million in guaranteed money. His assistants would be owed about $10 million.
Keeping Herman was untenable to some Texas fans. He was 32-18 in four seasons and did not win a Big 12 championship. The Longhorns made only one appearance in the league title game. That came in 2018 during UT’s 10-4 season that ended with a win over No. 6 Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.
But that season became the exception rather than the norm under Herman. He was 9-10 against top-25 opponents and 1-4 against rival Oklahoma. That’s not anywhere close to the success UT officials expected when the school hired Herman away from Houston in November 2016.
Herman also compiled four straight winning seasons and a 4-0 bowl record. Prior to his arrival, the Longhorns had gone through three consecutive losing seasons.
Del Conte is someone who believes stability leads to success, so this move represents a serious change in his thinking. Mack Brown won at least nine games his first three seasons at UT from 1998-2000 before the Horns embarked on a decade of success. Charlie Strong never found traction but a 16-21 record in three years was too much to overcome.
Herman righted the ship with a 7-6 mark in 2017. After the 2018 season, Del Conte gave Herman a two-year contract extension that few argued with at the time. The 2019 campaign was disappointing but ended with a demolition of No. 11 Utah in the Alamo Bowl.
Along the way, Herman irritated fans with his on-field behavior. He mocked the Missouri quarterback at the 2017 Texas Bowl and ran onto the field looking ready to fight Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy in 2018. TV cameras caught Herman head-butting defensive end Malcolm Roach before the Baylor game last season.
The most striking moment came when Herman was caught giving two middle fingers to a Longhorn Network camera mounted inside the coaching staff’s meeting room — on national signing day. Herman later said he was just telling a story about some Oklahoma fan, but few bought that explanation.
In 2020, the pandemic forced Texas to cancel spring workouts, but there were still high hopes. This year’s team featured a senior quarterback who is statistically one of the best in Texas history. The locker room features three straight top-10 recruiting classes. And yet, the Horns were 7-3 overall. Texas is now 0-6 the last two seasons against Oklahoma, Iowa State and TCU.
“I think any answer I give you right now is going to come across as an excuse,” Herman said the Monday after UT’s loss to Iowa State eliminated the team from title contention. “We’ll evaluate the things we did poorly and go back to work to fix those things in the offseason.”
As of now, it’s someone else’s responsibility.