Most folks never land their dream job. Some come close, working in their desired field but not with their preferred organization. Others land with their company of choice but not in the position they want.
The odds seem even longer for coaches who aspire to run the show at specific places. Positioning yourself to be a candidate is difficult enough. But actually beating out other established coaches and/or up-and-coming hotshots is a testament to hard work and good timing.
Tom Herman and Ed Orgeron completed their treks to fulfillment over the weekend, winding up with two of college football’s biggest jobs. Their journeys, like those of every coach who summits the 128-school FBS mountain, make for fascinating life studies in determination and dedication.
Herman, named head coach of Texas, had previous stops with Houston, Ohio State, Iowa State, Rice, Texas State, Sam Houston State and Texas (as a graduate assistant). Hs first job was with Texas Lutheran, in 1998, earning $5,000 and a dining hall meal card.
Orgeron was picked to lead LSU after Jimbo Fisher reportedly wanted too much money to leave Florida State and Herman opted for the Longhorns. At 55, Orgeron is 14 years older than Herman and has a resume that’s 50 percent longer. His prior stints include USC, Tennessee, the New Orleans Saints, Ole Miss, Syracuse, Nicholls State, Miami (Fla.), Arkansas, McNeese State and Northwestern State.
The fact that Orgeron wasn’t the school’s first choice to replace Les Miles on a permanent basis doesn’t make the new coach any less satisfied. Born and raised in Louisiana, he has rooted for the Tigers since birth. Orgeron wouldn’t be a top candidate at any other traditional powerhouse, but no other coach lives and breathes LSU like he does.
“There’s no question — this is bigger than life,” he told reporters at his introductory news conference. “Driving past the stadium, I just wanted to be an assistant here. Every step I took, I was prepared to come back to LSU. I wanted to be the best football coach I could be when I took this job.”
It’s a great story for a guy who was passed over at Southern Cal in 2013 after going 6-2 as the interim head coach. That was markedly better than Orgeron’s previous turn as a head coach, 2005-2007, when he led Ole Miss to a 10-25 record overall. Miles, by comparison, won at least 10 games in seven of his 11 full seasons in Baton Rouge.
But Orgeron says the USC experience made him a better coach, pointing to his 5-2 record as LSU’s interim coach this season. He clearly had the players support while his background made him a sentimental favorite among fans willing to overlook his lack of sizzle.
Herman was the sexy candidate, the one who had his choice between LSU and Texas. Unlike Fisher, Herman didn’t have a lovely Power 5 job at home while he flirted with suitors. He had Houston, where he went 22-4 and turned it into a great Group of 5 gig. But it might as well be on a different planet compared to Texas.
Besides, having worked in the state for 12 of his 18 years as a coach, he has a reverence for the Longhorns that rivals Orgeron’s fondness for the Tigers.
“The University of Texas is a place, a special place, that deservedly holds a seat among college football elite,” Herman told reporters at his introductory news conference. “We will win championships. We will build men of character. We will graduate our players, and we will do it all with integrity and with class.”
They can start by exhibiting more integrity and class than the university showed in dangling Charlie Strong for a week before mercifully firing him on Saturday. Neither the Longhorns nor Herman hid their strong interest in each other, but Texas unnecessarily dragged out Strong’s dismissal. Reports surfaced that a decision was made two weeks ago, after Texas lost to Kansas, but the school insisted Strong would be evaluated at season’s end.
LSU was even more dysfunctional in its handling of Miles, who nearly was fired at the end of last season, only to be terminated on Sept. 25 this year. Texas is notorious for well-heeled, meddlesome boosters who can make life miserable for coaches and administrators. One such alum, billionaire Red McCombs, called Strong’s hiring a “kick in the face” during a 2014 radio interview.
The fan base expects nothing short of what Nick Saban has built at Alabama. That’s fine with Herman.
“I think pressure is that uneasy feeling that you feel when you’re unprepared,” Herman said. “Pressure is self-inflicted. Pressure is self-doubt when you’re unprepared. We’re prepared for this job. We’re prepared for success at this job. We’re prepared for adversity in this job. So I don’t feel any sense of pressure at all.”
Herman and Orgeron won their dream jobs and won their news conferences. They might not win championships.
But they’ll still have gone further toward career satisfaction than most of us.