What Texas firing Tom Herman means for Texas Tech football

LUBBOCK, TX - NOVEMBER 10: Head coach Tom Herman of the Texas Longhorns walks the sidelines during the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on November 10, 2018 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. Texas defeated Texas Tech 41-34. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images)
LUBBOCK, TX - NOVEMBER 10: Head coach Tom Herman of the Texas Longhorns walks the sidelines during the game against the Texas Tech Red Raiders on November 10, 2018 at Jones AT&T Stadium in Lubbock, Texas. Texas defeated Texas Tech 41-34. (Photo by John Weast/Getty Images) /

Texas has surprisingly fired coach Tom Herman. What does this mean for Texas Tech?

Roughly three weeks after University of Texas AD Chris Del Conte suggested coach Tom Herman would remain in his job in 2021, the university did an about-face, giving the embattled coach the boot. With the Longhorns being the primary in-state rival for the Red Raiders, this move will of course have implications for Texas Tech football.

Herman went 32-18 in four seasons in Austin, seemingly having the program on the cusp of a breakout on multiple occasions only to see it fail again. He was on the hot seat in December as Texas attempted to charm Urban Meyer into taking over, but they supposedly decided to stick with Herman when those efforts failed.

But this past weekend, after Texas finished the season at 7-3 with a win over Colorado in the Alamo Bowl, the school instead showed Herman the door and will be replacing him with Alabama offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian. This will mark the third different coach for the Longhorns since they parted ways with Mack Brown following the 2013 season. By contrast, Texas Tech has had only two coaches in that span, though with less success of course.

Texas Fight?

In Lubbock, one measure of the success of a season (and the success of a coach) is the ability to defeat the Longhorns. The 2008 win over Texas in Lubbock is considered by many to be the greatest game in school history. Meanwhile, Kliff Kingsbury was able to save his job with a win in Austin to close out the 2017 regular season.

The Longhorns have fallen short of their own lofty expectations for more than a decade now, despite the fact that their athletic department has more money than some countries. Still, Texas Tech hasn’t been able to take advantage. Matt Wells’ team should have defeated them this year, but an epic collapse in the final few minutes derailed that possibility and turned up the heat on Wells’ seat.

Tommy Tuberville couldn’t beat them, and we all know how his tenure went. Even Mike Leach, for all the success he had, only defeated them twice in 10 seasons. Granted, those Texas teams were much better than the ones of the past decade, but the fact is Texas Tech has only two wins in the series since that 2008 game, and both came on the road.

Herman and Charlie Strong both recruited well, as did Brown in his final years, but that never translated to an acceptable number of wins on the field. Regardless, the talent level at Texas is still much better than what the Red Raiders have, and that’s part of why Texas Tech has continued to look like the little brother in this rivalry.

Getting A Leg Up?

Texas will go into 2021 with a new coaching staff and possibly a new starting quarterback as well. There may also be some current players finding their way to the transfer portal in the wake of the coaching change, especially given that it appears Del Conte voiced support for Herman to allow the school to save face with recruits before signing day.

The NCAA’s relaxation of the transfer rules has opened up a brave new world, and Wells is taking advantage. Linebacker Colin Schooler is a great example of that, and further depth has been added to the defense recently with the additions of Florida linebacker Jesiah Pierre, Duke safety Marquis Waters and NC State corner Malik Dunlap. Perhaps Wells can pluck another player or two from Austin.

Texas Tech is fortunate to have several seniors returning in 2021 to take advantage of the additional year of eligibility, so there will be plenty of talent and experience on both sides of the ball. If new offensive coordinator Sonny Cumbie can resurrect the team’s passing attack and Keith Patterson’s defense continues to make improvements, the Red Raiders could be a sneaky good team.

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Sarkisian has presided over a juggernaut offense at Alabama the past two seasons, but it’s easier to do that when you work with NFL-level talent. As a head coach, he was 34-29 at Washington and 12-6 before his unceremonious ouster at USC, so he’s never proven himself to be a coach on the level of Meyer or Nick Saban. The jury is out on whether he can do what Strong and Herman couldn’t — deliver a Big 12 title to Austin.

He won’t have quite the same talent level as he’s had in Tuscaloosa, so expecting the Texas offense to be as prolific would be unreasonable. It’s entirely possible there will be some growing pains with a new staff in place, and depending on how many players depart, it could take Sarkisian a little time to get the program where he wants it, and the folks in Austin haven’t exhibited much patience in that regard.

Can Texas Tech Take Advantage?

The 2021 season will be a great opportunity for Wells to break through and grab a signature win against Texas. The game will be in Austin, unfortunately, but the Red Raiders have won two of the past three games they’ve played there. This will be the most talented roster Texas Tech has had in quite some time, and with a new coach finding his footing, this is Wells’ best chance.

Herman’s ouster could also help Texas Tech in recruiting. The lack of patience in Austin is something Wells’ staff can use in their recruiting battles, and perhaps Wells can snag a transfer or two. Herman may not have been the right coach for Texas, as it turns out, but another coaching change is going to leave Sarkisian with plenty of work to do.

The Red Raiders have been largely unable to take advantage of all the turnover in Austin, though Wells has done better on the recruiting trail than Kingsbury did. We’ll see if that can finally translate into wins. But the bottom line is the 2021 season will be make or break for Wells, and he may have a golden opportunity to finally defeat the Longhorns, which would do wonders for his program.