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Has Tom Herman Established Himself as an Elite Head Coach?

With Texas’ return to contending for the conference, we ask, is coach Tom Herman an elite head coach in the country?

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Head coach Tom Herman of the Texas Longhorns watches players warm up - Getty Images - Tim Warner
Getty Images - Tim Warner

Tom Herman is no slouch of a head football coach, but has he proven himself to be one of the nation’s elite head coaches? Let’s look at the evidence.

Exhibit A: Sam Ehlinger

A lot could be said about Tom’s ability to develop quarterbacks as he has had a hand in coaching some of the game’s best. At Ohio State, he coached JT Barrett and Braxton Miller. At Houston, he helped develop Greg Ward. And now, he’s led Sam Ehlinger to a preseason All-Big 12 nomination.

In Herman’s first season at Texas, he had two quarterbacks in the mix; Shane Buechele and a young Sam Ehlinger. Many thought that neither had the talent to be the future of the program. They each played in 9 games during the 2017 season, with Buechele playing more in the beginning of the season, and Ehlinger finishing the season out. At that point, Tom knew he had found his guy.

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There was no question who the starting quarterback was going to be for the 2018 season. Ehlinger improved across the board from passing yards, completion percentage, touchdowns and passer rating in 2018 as he finished the season with 275 completions for 3,292 yards 25 touchdowns through the air.

Herman has taken Ehlinger from a kid with some promise, to a hard-nosed gunslinger on several preseason award watch lists.

Exhibit B: Elite Recruiting

Herman didn’t exactly inherit a bare cupboard when he came into Austin. Former coach Charlie Strong had brought in a couple of top 10 classes, but it is hard to argue that recruiting has not his a whole new level under coach Strong.

One of the first things he did upon taking over the program was to flip Caden Sterns from LSU to Texas, and the Longhorn’s 2018 class was the top class in the Big 12 and was third in the country. And in 2019, Herman repeated the performance. The 2020 class is a little ways away from being finalized, but it’s already shaping up nicely with 5-star recruit Bijan Robinson and another 14 4-stars already committed.

Beyond the class rankings though, Herman is also doing something his predecessor failed to do, and that’s win the state of Texas. In 2018, the Longhorns landed 11 of the top 14 recruits in the state. Now, Oklahoma, Alabama and Georgia continue to raid the state’s top talent, along with Texas A&M competing in the state, but as long as Texas keeps winning, there are going to win more and more of those battles.

Exhibit C: Big Game Wins

Texas went to the Sugar Bowl last season to face a Georgia Bulldogs team most didn’t see them winning against. And when the Longhorns came out on the right side of a 28-21 game, the naysayers claimed that Georgia didn’t want to be there.

The premise is that Georgia didn’t care about the Sugar Bowl, a New Year’s Six bowl (think about that), because they didn’t make the playoff. Well, Georgia sure seemed to want to win leading up to the game with all the trash talk, and what better way to show the country that you were snubbed than with an emphatic win in one of the biggest bowls in the country? So forgive me if I don’t buy into the whole “they didn’t want to be there” thing.

Herman has a history of winning big games. While at Houston, the Cougars went 4-0 over top 25 teams in 2015, including over 9th-ranked Florida State in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, and in 2016 they beat 3rd-ranked Oklahoma and 5th-ranked Louisville. At Texas, it took a bit to restore the program’s confidence, but last year was a turning point with wins over 22nd-ranked USC, 17th-ranked TCU, 7th-ranked Oklahoma and of course, the win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl.

Exhibit D: His Record

In just two years at Houston, Herman led the Cougars to a 22-4 overall record. Which is one of many reasons Texas hired him three years ago. Since being on the 40 acres, he has taken what was a 5-win team to an overall record of 17-10.

While is winning percentage is not what is was in Houston (at least not yet), the Big 12 is a whole different animal with the round-robin schedule. Texas also took a big leap from 2017 to 2018 by going from 7-6 to 10-4.

The evidence speaks for itself, but what do you think? The Longhorns have much more to accomplish in the upcoming season, but Herman has shown a lot over his first two years. So, has he proven himself to be one of the elite college coaches in the nation?

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  • Head coach Tom Herman of the Texas Longhorns watches players warm up - Getty Images - Tim Warner

    AUSTIN, TX - NOVEMBER 03: Head coach Tom Herman of the Texas Longhorns watches players warm up before the game against the West Virginia Mountaineers at Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on November 3, 2018 in Austin, Texas. (Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images)

  • Head coach Tom Herman of the Texas Longhorns watches players warm up - Getty Images - Tim Warner
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