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Tom Herman’s landing the Texas job. Here’s why he was 2016’s top candidate

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Welcome to the big time, coach.

NCAA Football: Houston at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Texas is hiring Houston head football coach Tom Herman for the same job, replacing the recently fired Charlie Strong, according to SB Nation’s Steven Godfrey and as first reported by ESPN’s Heather Dinich.

The Longhorns later made it official.

If you’ve made a coaching list worth the paper it’s printed on in the last 12 months, Herman has been on it. And he’s probably been at the top of it. Herman is the archetype for an up-and-coming coach in 2016, and now the Longhorns get a massive boost by landing the big-name guy on the coaching carousel.

It sure looks like Herman has it all

Before winning the 2015 Peach Bowl and going 5-0 against Power 5 teams while at Houston, he was a major piece in Ohio State’s 2014 national title run, and that made him the Hot Coordinator At A Major School. (Herman had already accepted the Houston job by the time the Buckeyes beat Oregon to win it all.)

When the Buckeyes struggled last season, our Ohio State blog wrote an open letter asking for his return. Herman was particularly integral in working with QBs, which makes sense because the Buckeyes prospered with three of them on the road to a championship. All worked under Herman’s guidance.

Herman’s career got started at Texas Lutheran in 1998 as a WR coach before a two-year stint at Texas as a graduate assistant coach. In our interviews with him, he’s described how he’s picked up something from everywhere he’s been:

His opportunity took him 1,400 miles southeast, from Thousand Oaks to Seguin, Texas. CLU defensive coordinator Bryan Marmion became Texas Lutheran's head coach and offered to bring him along.

"They hadn't had football there in 12 years. He offered me $5,000 and a cafeteria card for one meal a day, so I packed up my Honda Civic and went, sight unseen."

After a year, Herman landed a bigger gig while getting a master's degree in education.

"I learned football from [then-offensive coordinator] Greg Davis at the University of Texas," he says. "That was back in the I-formation days, and they were handing the ball to Ricky Williams 35 times a game in iso and power. That's what I believed in."

After two years, Herman landed his first full-time gig at age 26: receivers and special teams coach at Sam Houston State. Ron Randleman, while ending a nearly 25-year stretch as SHSU's head coach, introduced a variable into Herman's belief system.

“There, I had some experience with the shotgun spread offense.”

That changed everything.

"You've gotta run the football. Have to, have to, have to. We're just going to do it from the shotgun, from spread formations. We're basically a two-back run team that just happens to run from the shotgun. We gain an extra advantage with the QB."

Herman spent four years at SHSU, with his stay punctuated by an 11-3 season and a trip to the I-AA semifinals. Those Bearkats were pass-heavy -- they averaged over 350 yards through the air -- but Herman was meshing his Ricky Williams beliefs with a shotgun scheme.

In 2005, Texas State head coach David Bailiff brought Herman to San Marcos as coordinator. He found his quarterback template in Houston transfer Barrick Nealy, who threw for 2,875 yards and rushed for 1,057, manufacturing 34 touchdowns and leading the Bobcats to a I-AA semifinal.

"Once we got to TSU, and I inherited Nealy in 2005, we jumped all in with the shotgun spread."

By 2012, Urban Meyer plucked Herman out of Ames, and they worked magic in Columbus.

His staffs can compete with anybody in recruiting

Last cycle, the Cougars landed five-star Houston defensive tackle Ed Oliver, becoming one of only a handful of midmajors to ever land a five-star. Oliver went on to become maybe the country’s best freshman lineman, keying an attack that sacked Lamar Jackson 11 times in UH’s upset of Louisville.

That’s just one example. Herman’s 2016 class ranked No. 36 in the 247Sports Composite, miles ahead of UH’s nonpower peers.

But as the hothead coach, what does he do differently?

As a coach, it’s important to promote buy-in. How do you get 20-year-olds to care?

Well, one way to do so is by simply caring about them in a very genuine way. That’s what Herman does when he kisses each player on his way into the stadium, for example.

This is the guy who got a grill after making a promise to his team.

But it’s more than just the connection to his team that made Herman such an attractive option. Herman shows recruits he’ll be accountable to his players in this little way, and he gets Houston positive and fun publicity.

The buy-in was also on display during the 2016 season

It’s not just that his team beat Oklahoma in the opener. But after their season became relatively meaningless (compared to the very lofty Playoff ceilings) and got derailed by injuries, the Cougars rallied to spank Louisville on a Thursday night. And then Herman hung out with a famous rapper after the game:

And then there’s Herman’s record as an underdog. Yeah, he can get a team to invest pretty well.

2012 Ohio State 17, 2-point favorite Michigan State 16

2012 Ohio State 21, 1-point favorite Wisconsin 14

2014 Ohio State 49, 4-point favorite Michigan State 37

2014 Ohio State 59, 4-point favorite Wisconsin 0

2014 Ohio State 42, 7.5-point favorite Alabama 35

2014 Ohio State 42, 6-point favorite Oregon 20

2015 Houston 34, 13.5-point favorite Louisville 31

2015 Houston 52, 1.5-point favorite Navy 31

2015 Houston 38, 7.5-point favorite Florida State 24

2016 Houston 33, 13-point favorite Oklahoma 23

2016 Houston 36, 17-point favorite Louisville 10

And that's not even the whole story. Herman was Iowa State's offensive coordinator in 2011, when the Cyclones shocked then-No. 2 Oklahoma State, won at then-No. 22 Texas Tech, and took then-No. 15 Kansas State to the final minutes.

Now to do something about the losing-to-SMU-and-Memphis situations the Cougars ran into after those upsets.

But wasn’t Herman a good bet to actually stay at Houston?

It seemed like it, until one thing didn’t end up happening: The Cougars didn’t get into the Big 12.

If the Cougars did get into the Big 12, Herman would have gotten $5 million. He already received an extension last December, and talks in late October had him in line for another on the heels of Big 12 rejection to entice him to stay. The school is in football-mad Texas, and it’s no secret that the Cougars had a commitment to him.

He is another in a line of talented coaches (Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin) who have headed from UH to greener pastures. The administration clearly did about all it could to show it really didn’t want him to leave, and with the talent at Houston’s disposal, Big 12 status would have probably been enough to keep him in H-Town. But it didn’t happen, and he bounced.

Now Herman’s the big guy at a big school, and the sky is the limit

For one thing, Strong leaves UT with a pretty loaded roster, a far better situation than Strong inherited from Mack Brown.

UT’s Shane Buechele is one of the country’s top freshman QBs, the Longhorns have young talent on both sides of the ball, Texas’ 2016 recruiting class ranked in the top 10, and running back D’Onta Foreman (if he returns) will likely finish as the country’s leading total rusher this year, cracking 2,000 yards.