The Texas State Bobcats face Houston on Saturday, and although the visitors from San Marcos can hold the scoreboard over the Cougars' heads for the next few days, there's a sense of unease among some of the maroon and gold faithful about this matchup. Most of it is because Texas State's sporting the third worst defense in all of FBS, even when adjusted for strength of schedule.
But that unease may also be due to the perception that a former Bobcat assistant already appears to be creating a renaissance in Houston, both on the field and through incredible recruiting. If Tom Herman's Houston Cougars run away with a big victory on Saturday, some Bobcat fans may be left in the wake wondering what may have been.
Questions about whether Herman could've been hired on as Texas State's head coach have persisted in some circles this week. However, my talks with individuals close to the Bobcat program made it sound like hiring Herman wouldn't have been as simple as some suggested.
The 2006 Coaching Search
After David Bailiff left Texas State for the Rice Owls following the 2006 season, offensive coordinator Tom Herman went with him. Perhaps he had accepted the position so quickly that Texas State never thought to consider Herman for head coach, or perhaps being an assistant at Rice was a more attractive position than being an FCS head coach. Perhaps it paid more too. But according to Jack Albrecht of Texas State's Rivals.com affiliate, it may have just been that Teis had a gentlemen's agreement with the departing Bailiff.
@THETXSTUniv Bailiff and Teis decided Wright was going to stay as successor, Herman was Rice's 30 year old wunderkind OC— Jack (@JackInFW) September 22, 2015
Texas State hired their running backs coach instead in alumnus Brad Wright. Although his tenure had some bright spots, it ultimately came crashing to the ground after a miserable 4-7 season that got him fired in 2010.
A Fox Sports profile on Herman shortly after he took the Houston job gives an informative look at how a very green and inexperienced Herman started his rise through the collegiate coaching ranks in San Marcos:
"I think I learned a lot from osmosis," he said. "I was at Texas State in 2005. I'd never coached quarterbacks and never called plays a day in my life. David Bailiff hired me and we go 11-3, and Barrick Nealy breaks all kinds of QB records. I grinded. I got my hands on every drill tape I could. I went to clinics. Every brain I could pick, I picked. And I wasn't too proud to ask the kids.
Given Herman's inexperience, it's hard to be too angry at Texas State athletic director Larry Teis for passing on the golden boy at offensive coordinator, although letting someone with that much drive and ambition go in an athletic department culture that has sometimes lacked those qualities might appear questionable to many. However, Teis may not have had a choice.
Tyler Mayforth, former beat writer at the San Marcos Record and our current Tulane writer at Underdog Dynasty, learned through a source closely linked with David Bailiff that Teis was presented with an unenviable choice: Hire Brad Wright or risk blowing up the program. Per Tyler's source:
Bailiff strong armed Wright into the position and Larry (Teis) had no recourse.
Bailiff told Teis in no uncertain terms that Wright will be head coach and if not, he'll take him and the recruits that were pledged to TXST and go to Rice and leave them empty handed. And (then) in turn, (take) all the coaches and leave TXST barren.
Given the choice between keeping the program infrastructure from an 11-3 team in tact or to let Bailiff dismantle the only successful team that had come through San Marcos since the early 1980s, it's easy to see why Teis went with what he likely perceived as the less bad option in Wright.
@THETXSTUniv maddest I've ever been at AD was Wright hire. He stunk at Karnes City and then they were going to just hand this cat the keys?— Jack (@JackInFW) September 22, 2015
This was certainly the sentiment of quite a few fans after Bailiff left. Hiring a coach whose only previous head coaching experience was a mediocre to decent tenure at the high school level in Texas certainly came off as small time to many. But if Mayforth's source was telling the truth, then perhaps Teis got more flack from the fans than he deserved, and perhaps Bailiff should be considered an enemy of all Bobcat Nation.
One interesting wrinkle to this story--Texas State is planning to honor the 2005 team at a home game this season. Will there be any references to Bailiff, or will the architect of The Knee be conveniently left out of the picture?
The 2010 Coaching Search
By 2010, Herman had worked his magic at football graveyards Rice and Iowa State, breaking all sorts of school records and vaulting their respective offenses to units of national repute. Yet his name never came up in public discussions of who would be the next coach to guide Texas State into the FBS.
Observe the list of candidates who were seriously considered for the position in 2010:
- Dennis Franchione (eventually hired)
- Dan Hawkins - Fired from Colorado
- Tim Brewster - Fired from Minnesota
- Rocky Long - Then SDSU's DC, now aged 65
- Shawn Watson - OC washout at both Nebraska and Texas
- Bobby Jack Wright - Co-DC, Oklahoma, now aged 64
- Paul Randolph - Co-DC then at Tulsa, who has quit coaching at Arizona State
That's...a less than inspiring list, and the fact that Hawkins and Brewster were even on it is still embarrassing to this day. But how much was Tom Herman seriously considered by Texas State?
According to an athletic department source, Texas State and Teis put early feelers out to Tom Herman when he was offensive coordinator at Iowa State in 2010, but things got muddy from there.
I was told Herman had some interest initially, but it never progressed. I think the search firm (and Teis) knew he wouldn't accept the job for what we were offering. Perhaps Teis told him flat out, we can't afford you.
There are optimistic and pessimistic lenses through which to interpret this statement.
For the Bobcat optimist, it's difficult to believe that Herman couldn't have been lured under any circumstances. Iowa State only pays their assistants $150,000 in 2015, so Herman could've had his salary doubled (or more) by coming to San Marcos, not to mention the allure of his first head coaching gig with a unique opportunity to say he successfully led an FCS team into the FBS. Texas State had also given him his first real taste of coaching as a coordinator amidst a wildly successful 2005 season.
We also know by now that Teis was fixated on hiring Franchione from the start, so it's worth asking whether Herman got the level of consideration that he would've deserved at the time. Perhaps luring him out of the frozen wastes of Iowa to sunny San Marcos might've been possible, and perhaps Teis didn't try hard enough to lure him.
But there are also reasons to believe that Herman truly was not affordable for Texas State. Perhaps he chose to wait for a bigger gig like Chad Morris did at Clemson. Ohio State certainly paid him more than Texas State could've ever offered. Teis got Franchione for an absolute bargain at $350,000 a year, and Texas State probably would've had to have offered Herman twice that much to get real consideration. After all the facilities upgrades that were in the works for the FBS move, it's difficult to believe that Texas State could've offered that salary without a serious push to a limited donor base.
The Big Picture
We might never know for sure if Tom Herman represents a missed opportunity for Texas State. However, UH will certainly provide a tough test that measures how this mostly veteran coaching staff will fare against one of the brightest young minds in the coaching ranks. Let's hope Texas State made the right decision by going for experience first and foremost.