In 2010, the Texas Longhorns lived through a remarkable collapse. After playing the Alabama Crimson Tide for the national championship the previous season, the football program was supposedly on the ascent. The Longhorns stumbled to a 5-7 season instead.
That triggered what could only be described as a program overhaul by head coach Mack Brown. Assistants’ heads rolled on the 40 Acres. Meanwhile, defensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting Will Muschamp accepted the tall task of replacing Urban Meyer at Florida rather than waiting for Brown to relinquish his seat on the burnt orange throne.
All in all, UT turned over five coaches that offseason, including both coordinators. The Horns avoided capsizing, but they never returned to previous heights in the next three angst-filled seasons before Brown “retired.” The Longhorns have wandered the desert for six years since. They capped off the decade with an uninspiring 8-5 campaign that fell well below expectations for a team thought by many to be a dark horse for the College Football Playoff.
Once again, the UT football program underwent a bloodletting. Once again, the Longhorns will have five new assistants on their coaching staff next year. Once again, that group will include two new coordinators.
Given that this is happening 10 years later, the symmetry is almost spooky. However, there’s one big difference between the two purges.
When a program dumps roughly half its coaching staff, you have to wonder why anyone would bother to bring back the person who made all those hires in the first place. Brown had accomplished plenty in his tenure at Texas by 2010 – enough to merit a chance to fix his mess.
Even if you believe the program underachieved on his watch, Brown’s teams still captured a national championship, played for another, brought home Big 12 conference titles and recruited as well as any school in the country. You can at least understand why the shot-callers in Austin would buy into the idea that he could use the school’s ample resources to get things moving back in the right direction. (To be fair, Brown also had allies o’plenty among the well-heeled boosters who pump all that cash into the athletic department.)
The track record of the current head coach, Tom Herman, pales in comparison. Herman came to UT billed as a superior on-field strategist who could also replicate Brown’s golden touch on the recruiting trail. After three seasons, the results haven’t matched the hype: a 25-15 record, one win in four tries versus the Oklahoma Sooners, one appearance in the Big 12 championship game, a Sugar Bowl versus a lightly engaged Georgia team. Brown also had 25 years of experience as a head coach when he had to overhaul the program, a good deal of which he spent in a CEO-like capacity. Herman has five, and he wasn’t hired to be a figurehead.
All things considered, the better question might not be whether Herman deserves an opportunity to right the ship, but rather why it’s a good idea to put him in charge of that kind of project? Is there any reason to think he knows what he’s doing?
The irony of Texas’ current situation is that the Longhorns were hamstrung by outsized expectations in 2019 – it wasn’t hard for some astute observers to see a lackluster season in the making. The Horns now look like they have the foundation of a strong team for 2020. Notably, Bill Connelly’s SP+ preseason projections rank UT as the No. 14 team in the country and second in the Big 12 to OU; ESPN’s FPI puts the Horns seventh overall.
However, Texas now faces an offseason in which the team is adapting to schematic changes on both sides of the ball and new faces all over the sidelines. Perhaps that will give the the Longhorns the jolt they need. It could bring a season of transition, full of misfires and mistakes and personality clashes. The new additions to the staff weren’t exactly coveted in the coaching market.
Of course, we’ll never know if staying the course – or simply applying a tweak – would have been a better option than tearing down the staff down to the studs. That holds especially true for Todd Orlando, who still has a solid portfolio of work as a defensive coordinator.
We do know that things rarely work out for coaches in these kinds of situations. Unless Herman bucks that trend, UT will be in the market for an entirely new staff sooner than later. At some point, it might behoove the Longhorns to consider that all of these restarts are more of a problem than a solution.