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Forde-Yard Dash: Tom Herman, Jim Harbaugh and the Coaching Carousel

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college football (“Inexplicable Safety Playbook” sold separately in Lafayette, La.):

MORE DASH: ACC, B1G Play Favorites | First-Year Coaches | The Unbeatens

With Urban Meyer reportedly saying no to Texas, the financially prudent thing for the school to do is to embrace Tom Herman (11) as its coach for at least one more year. But that hasn’t happened, at least not yet, which is only adding to the awkwardness of the situation in Austin.

The information blackout from the Texas administration is leaving Herman twisting with just nine days left until the start of the December national letter-of-intent signing period. Herman is trying to hold together the nation’s No. 20 recruiting class, according to SI All-American, with no assurance from his bosses. The longer the silence goes, the more it leads to speculation that Texas is still looking to replace Herman even if it can’t get Meyer.

Understand this: Sources at Texas acknowledged that Herman’s standing is all the more precarious because of the surge by Jimbo Fisher (12) and Texas A&M. “This is a water cooler state,” a source said, referring to the constant ego battles among alums regarding football in the Lone Star State. Fisher has the Aggies (7–1) in the College Football Playoff chase in his third season, while Herman has never had the Longhorns in serious playoff consideration in his four years.

Given the nature of this particular rivalry, with A&M leaving the Big 12 and at least partially attributing it to Texas's being difficult to live with, the Who Survived the Breakup? stakes are particularly high. And some Texas boosters have pointed to A&M’s bold (and expensive) move to get a national championship coach as a plan the Longhorns should follow. But that coach will not be Urban Meyer, it does not appear.

Is there another sure thing out there for Texas to pursue? Probably not. Iowa State coach Matt Campbell (13) is the hot name in the Big 12 and beyond, having taken the Cyclones to their first regular-season conference championship since 1912 (not a typo). Iowa State now will play Oklahoma for the Big 12 title on Dec. 19.

But Campbell is expected to be coveted by the NFL as well. And he might not be alone among college coaches in that regard. There was a report Sunday that the Chicago Bears are interested in Northwestern coach and Chicago native Pat Fitzgerald (14)—and while Fitz has been devoted to his alma mater and current employer for most of his adult life, nobody could blame him if he left for the chance to restore the hometown NFL franchise.

Stanford’s David Shaw (15) has been well-regarded for years at the NFL level. With declining returns in recent seasons and the sheer difficulty of this COVID-19-impacted season at Stanford and in the Pac-12, this might be the best time yet to see if he’s willing to go to the pros.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh

And, of course, there is the Jim Harbaugh (16) vigil at Michigan. John U. Bacon, who has written several books on Michigan football and is well-sourced on campus, tweeted Monday that “you can expect some news soon, one way or other” regarding Harbaugh’s status at the school. (Campbell, mentioned above, would be a prime candidate to replace Harbaugh if that position opens and Campbell doesn't go to the pros.)

With only a year left on his contract and a very poor sixth season just about in the books, there is plenty of chatter about Harbaugh's gauging a return to the NFL. What’s unclear is whether any interest from him is reciprocated by a pro franchise. The only clarity at Michigan Monday was that the COVID-19-complicated Wolverines were going to practice, which is a step toward playing rival Ohio State Saturday in an important game for the 5–0 Buckeyes in terms of eligibility for the Big Ten title. A sixth straight loss by Harbaugh to Ohio State would be both heavily anticipated and poorly received by Michigan fans.

The lone Power 5 job to both open and close thus far this season is South Carolina, which announced the hiring of Shane Beamer (17) on Sunday. Beamer has pedigree (father Frank is a Hall of Famer), people skills and experience at the school as an assistant to Steve Spurrier. What he doesn’t have is any experience at even the coordinator level, much less as a head coach.

Is he ready to take on Georgia, Florida and Clemson? We’ll see. Beamer does have a 10-ton flapping chicken at his disposal, but he may need a little more than that.

What South Carolina is hoping for in Beamer is the next Dabo Swinney—the guy who has beaten the brakes off the in-state rival Gamecocks in recent seasons. Swinney had never been an offensive or defensive coordinator when he was hired at Clemson, but his record shouts for itself at this point.

If Beamer can’t reach the heights Dabo has, South Carolina might settle for having the next Sam Pittman. Arkansas grabbed Pittman off Kirby Smart’s staff at Georgia last winter, despite his lack of coordinator experience, and he’s immediately upgraded the product. The Razorbacks are just 3–6, but that’s far better than last year’s 2–10 debacle that extended the program’s Southeastern Conference losing streak to an embarrassing 21 games. Pittman ended that in October. Three of Arkansas’s six losses have been by three points or fewer.

Another question worth asking in the aftermath of the Beamer hire is whether he was the candidate South Carolina most wanted. Signs point to no. That could well have been Louisville coach Scott Satterfield (18), whose on-and-off-and-on-and-off dalliance with the Gamecocks has turned into a bitter melodrama.

On Nov. 24, a report from The Athletic said the second-year coach of the Cardinals would interview with South Carolina. That led to an eruption from the Louisville fan base, which is still suffering from serial football coach desertions—from John L. Smith to Bobby Petrino to Charlie Strong. It also led athletic director Vince Tyra to immediately force the issue with Satterfield, putting out his own statement that night saying Satterfield was staying and asking the same of his coach.

Satterfield did issue a reassuring statement, and it looked like a dead issue—but it really never was. Last Friday, South Carolina had an in-person meeting with Satterfield (a “conversation,” the coach stressed, avoiding using the word “interview”) in Southern Kentucky. By that night, Satterfield decided he didn’t want the job and communicated as much to the Gamecocks. But word of the meeting got out, and by Saturday morning the Louisville fan base was apoplectic with a coach who has a 3–7 record in his second season persisting in discussions with another school about a job that isn’t demonstrably superior to Louisville.

In his weekly press conference Monday, Satterfield apologized three times for his handling of the South Carolina situation. (“If anything comes up in the future, it will be handled a lot different,” Satterfield promised.) That’s a beginning of the repair job, but not the end. Winning will finish the job—and if he doesn’t win next season, this thing might be permanently broken. Satterfield has gone from an overachieving 8–5 to an underachieving 3–7 that still would have earned a COVID mulligan from the fans—but now, not so much.

(Maybe in the locker room, too. Satterfield offered a clumsy answer when asked about the disconnect between asking for commitment from players and going job shopping. He said coaches have a familial obligation to consider career moves, while players should be “all in.”)

Behind the scenes, there also needs to be a mending of the relationship between Tyra and Satterfield. Tyra got Satterfield (and, significantly, his staff) for a comparative bargain rate coming out of Appalachian State, and there was no public alteration of that in the immediate aftermath of that 8–5 debut season. Then came a pandemic and a losing record, and whatever leverage Satterfield had went out the window. But if you combine that dynamic with the friction over South Carolina, the coach and athletic director have some couples counseling to do.

There is, of course, one cure-all: winning. If Louisville gets back above .500 in 2021, this situation will take care of itself.

The other open Power-5 job is at Vanderbilt (19), and the word there is that the Commodores are taking their time. It’s believed that they will want to talk to coaches whose teams are playing through Dec. 19, which will slow down the process. Among the presumptive candidates: Lance Leipold, 22–9 the past three seasons at Buffalo; and Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea, a Vandy grad.

One other job to keep an eye on: Virginia Tech (20), where fan dissatisfaction with Justin Fuente is running high at the tail end of his fifth season. The Hokies are 4–6, and a last-second loss to Liberty that came down to a botched end-game scenario by Fuente seems to have been the breaking point for many. It's unclear whether Tech will make a move, but it's pretty clear that many of its fans would like the school to do so.

MORE DASH: ACC, B1G Play Favorites | First-Year Coaches | The Unbeatens