Whether Tom Herman is Houston’s coach in 2017 might depend on whether the Cougars are a member of the Big 12 by then. Thus, another layer has been added to Houston’s convincing 33-23 win over Oklahoma on Saturday.
The Cougars’ neutral site victory over the preseason Big 12 favorites was another step in the program’s march toward playoff-crasher status, but it was also a statement to the Big 12, which is considering expansion. That Houston could compete with — overpower even — the Big 12’s best is no surprise to anyone who’s followed the program’s trajectory under Herman, but that millions of people tuned in to watch it happen is the more interesting factor.
In a list of so-so expansion candidates — there are 11 remaining that we know of — no program can argue they’re more attractive than Houston at the moment.
All of this leads back to Herman, the hottest coach sitting on a carousel that’s at least three months away from turning. Merited or not, Herman’s name was already associated with Baylor — in July. Just imagine what late November and December will bring.
Whether he stays or goes somewhere else, Herman is on track to be a rich man. Speaking with reporters during the Oklahoma game, Houston athletic director Hunter Yurachek said Herman will receive a $5 million bonus if Houston joins a Power Five conference.
“We want him to be our coach for the very long term,” Yurachek said (via ESPN). “It was a special memo between Coach Herman and myself. It’s not officially in his contract, but I’d be glad to share it with you. It is legally binding. It’s a memo from myself to coach Herman. The university will honor that. It’s got my signature and his signature as employees of the University of Houston.”
On two levels, then, Houston has a lot riding on getting into the Big 12. It would provide a financial boost and keeping Herman would almost ensure that the Cougars remain competitive nationally. The gap between the best-case scenario — competing in the Big 12 with Herman — and the worst-case — not competing in the Big 12 without Herman — is wide.
Herman’s situation is rooted in more leverage. He’s been long-connected to potential openings at Texas and Texas A&M, provided those jobs are available. LSU’s loss to Wisconsin also makes Baton Rouge a possible landing spot (*ahem*) if the Tigers and Les Miles part ways.
But if Houston is voted into the Big 12, Herman will have five million reasons to stay. Last December, he signed a five-year deal worth $2.8 million annually. Based on 2015 numbers from USA Today, that would still place him among the lower-paid Big 12 coaches.
Of course, Herman could still end up in the Big 12 as a coach even if Houston doesn’t as a member. In that way, “avoiding” the Cougars as a competing member — and Herman by association — may be a moot point in the voting process.
There’s a lot of time between now and when the Big 12 formally invites two (or four) members to join the conference. If we know anything about the Big 12, the process could continue to move at a glacier’s pace. This is a group of presidents, after all, continuously held back by indecision.
We also know Texas power brokers have publicly stumped for Houston. Whether the intentions are true or political is hard to say.
For now, Houston’s place in college football is layered. As we’re finding out, a lot of those layers overlap.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Tom Herman has 5 million reasons to get Houston into the Big 12