Bowl Coaching Case Studies: Tom Herman

A total of 80 men coached teams in the 40 bowl games which have just run their course.

No man coached a better game than Tom Herman of Houston. The commander of the Cougars had his team ready to compete, hit, and perform at a desired tempo against Florida State in the Peach Bowl.

Houston was motivated without being overager; energetic without being too reckless; prudent, but not to the point of being scared or cautious. The Cougars answered every challenge thrown their way in the fourth quarter. They delivered many big plays on both offense and defense. They took the fight to Florida State on a physical level, but they also showcased their speed and agility against a formidable opponent.

Herman had his team prepared tactically and psychologically. Houston respected Florida State, but did not stand in awe of its opponent. Being able to strike that kind of balance marks the maturation of a team which, a year ago, was adrift and in need of every form of guidance.

One could see in 2014 how talented Greg Ward was, and how potent he could potentially be… if only he had a quarterback whisperer to unlock his many and conspicuous gifts. Yes, Tom Herman was able to turn J.T. Barrett and Cardale Jones into successful quarterbacks at Ohio State during the Buckeyes’ national championship season, but engineering a turnaround at a Group of Five program represented another challenge altogether. Herman had to enter a situation without Urban Meyer to organize the whole operation. Herman had to be the person who established an organizational subculture. He didn’t have Ohio State’s resources or brand name to call upon.

Becoming a head coach was either going to unmask Herman as “not ready for prime time,” or it was going to show that this man really was (and is) the quarterback whisperer to top all the others.

Clearly, after Ward enjoyed a highly productive Peach Bowl — and backup Kyle Postma (the author of the win over Memphis which enabled Houston to have this New Year’s Six bowl opportunity) once again succeeded in a relief role following an injury to Ward, there can be no doubt: Herman is teaching quarterbacks as effectively as any single person in the college game right now.

That might be enough to indicate that Herman was the best coach of all 80 in the bowl games.

There’s actually another reason which cements the argument.


Michigan State’s offensive staff includes a former Ohio State offensive coordinator: Jim Bollman. “The Walrus” was toothless in the College Football Playoff semifinals against Alabama last Thursday. Michigan State didn’t score 42 points. It didn’t score 14 points in both the second and third quarters against the Tide and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart in the final four.

No, the Spartans didn’t score a point.

It was Herman whose offense scored 42 points, and 14 in both the second and third quarters, against Alabama, Smart, and Nick Saban in a playoff semifinal. The difference between Michigan State and Ohio State in terms of adjustments and deft play selection was conspicuous. MSU’s failure only added to Herman’s performance a year earlier against the Tide.

The more one considers Tom Herman’s abilities, his resume, and his foremost achievements, the more one is convinced that this is college football’s next great superstar coach, following in the footsteps of Meyer, Saban, Jim Harbaugh… and the coach he defeated on New Year’s Eve in Atlanta, Jimbo Fisher.

Tom Herman is college football’s most ascendant young coach. He’s also the owner of the best coaching performance from the just-concluded bowl season.

About Matt Zemek

Matt Zemek is the managing editor of The Student Section, covering college football and basketball with associate editors Terry Johnson and Bart Doan. Mr. Zemek is the editor of Crossover Chronicles, covering the NBA. He is also Bloguin's lead tennis writer, covering the major tournaments. He contributes to other Bloguin sites, such as The AP Party.