We conclude our look at the coaches of the American Athletic Conference with the new head coaches of the West Division: Tom Herman, Chad Morris, and Philip Montgomery. All three new hires have proven track records of success on offense and have energized their respective fan bases.
Parts one through three of this series are here, here, and here.
Tom Herman (Houston)
Scott Stone: Tom Herman is an interesting coach because he comes to a program that has underachieved of late, but is still only a quality coach away from being very, very good. Herman is last year's Broyles Award winner and National Championship winning offensive coordinator.
In 2014, Herman had just two weeks to get J.T. Barrett ready after his Heisman Trophy contending QB1 went down for the season. Then he had one week to get his third string quarterback ready for the Big 10 title game against Wisconsin, and ultimately a National Championship run against Alabama and Oregon. At Houston, Herman will have a quarterback in Greg Ward that is only a tweak or two from being as elite of a QB as we've seen at the University of Houston.
His hiring at Houston has largely been viewed as a coup. Already Herman has made huge strides in recruiting, including with the commitment of five star defensive lineman Ed Oliver. There will be a lot of eyes on him this fall to see whether the Cougars can live up to expectations.
Plus, he chained and locked the locker room and made the team earn its way back in. Pretty cool.
Chas Short: Tom Herman stole the show at West division coaches panel at AAC Media Day. It started when Tulsa's Phillip Montgomery was asked what the first thing Montgomery did as head coach was. He answered, "Kiss my wife." The question went down the line, with Chad Morris and Tom Herman offering their own riffs on this theme. Morris said that he "Kissed his family good bye" because he left them in Clemson.
Tom Herman said, "I kissed Philip's wife."
Chad Morris (SMU)
Chas Short: Make no mistake -- the Mustangs will continue to be terrible this season (though improvement is nearly a given after last year's 1-11 campaign). But with offensive guru Chad Morris at the helm, SMU should at least be interesting to watch.
The former highest-paid assistant coach in college football, Morris and his up-tempo spread attack had tremendous success at Clemson. The Tigers went from 7.3 to 10.5 wins per year with Morris as their offensive coordinator with a "basketball on grass" approach:
The modern elements added by Morris [to the Malzahn school of the spread offense] include spread alignments, the forward pass, motion, and tempo. The brilliance of the triple option is that it's a self-contained concept with built-in answers for any potential problem. Morris doesn't have any single concepts quite that simple or elegant, but in general he emphasizes a similar level of soundness in his offense.
Morris could try to have a million concepts to answer a million problems. But he would rather contain multiple answers within the same concepts. He can still use diversity -- of formations, personnel groupings, or options within a play -- but focuses on fully mastering a few versatile plans of attack.
The description "basketball on grass" is apt, but in a literal sense. It captures how the offense becomes more about getting the ideal matchups and executing options, as in basketball, rather than out-guessing the opponent. The lightning tempo utilized by Malzahn and Morris further allows for this simplicity.
Last year, the Mustangs' offense was a disaster. SMU averaged a paltry 11.08 points per game and was shutout twice. They had less than 300 yards of offense in five games. It of course remains to be seen whether Morris can bring back "Pony Express" levels of excitement to SMU, but he is already re-vitalizing a cratered program (not coincidentally, Bill C's excellent SMU preview is subtitled "Chad Morris and Way More Fun.").
Philip Montgomery (Tulsa)
Chas Short: Philip Montgomery comes to Tulsa from Baylor, where the Bears excelled with Montgomery as their offensive coordinator. Baylor just won back-to-back Big 12 Championships and had at least ten wins in three of the last four seasons. Baylor's explosive offense obviously played a huge role in this success. Baylor led the nation in total offense in 2013 and ranked second in 2012 and 2011. In the 12 games in which Montgomery called plays in 2014, the Bears averaged 581.3 yards and 48.8 points (Montgomery was out the door to Tulsa before last season's Cotton Bowl).
Montgomery steps into a situation at Tulsa where there's a real chance for an exciting leap forward on offense. Last year, Tulsa had a better than conference average 413 yards of total offense per game. Tulsa now returns a remarkable ten offensive starters, including excellent WRs in Keevan Lucas (who led the AAC in receiving touchdowns last year) and Keyarris Garrett.
It will be interesting to see whether QB Dane Evans can step up and find success in Montgomery's system. Fortunately for Tulsa fans, Montgomery has a track record of mentoring great QBs, stretching back from Baylor to his time as an assistant at Houston: Bryce Petty, Robert Griffin III, Nick Florence, Kevin Kolb, and Case Keenum.
As an Art Briles disciple, Montgomery and his offensive schemes meant this was an exciting hire for Tulsa. And given the question marks on defense, especially in the secondary, the Montgomery-led Golden Hurricane might well be the AAC team most likely to find itself in shoot-outs. Win or lose, Tulsa ought to be a fun team to watch this season.