Mon. Jan 25th, 2021


In the end, the only way to describe “The Eyes of Texas”? Moist. Players cried. Coaches cried. No. 17 Texas losing to No. 13 Iowa State unleashed those floodgates of emotion.

All that Texas money. All that Texas talent. All that Texas promise. All but down the drain after the Longhorns were on the wrong side of a 23-20 decision to the Cyclones.

“Not a whole lot was said,” quarterback Sam Ehlinger shared when asked to describe the devastated locker room.

There didn’t have to be. Certain inevitabilities are obvious now.

There will be intense scrutiny of coach Tom Herman’s future employment. That started early and often following a loss that came with the finality of Cameron Dicker’s desperation 57-yard field goal attempt sailing wide left as time expired.

That’s what will sit with Orangebloods everywhere as they slog through the remainder of the season with near-zero chance of playing in the Big 12 Championship Game. The team that danced happily out of Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium is now all but certain to play for the Big 12 title.

Maybe it has gotten so far beyond Herman’s future as Texas coach that the answer was clear. The guy on the other sideline should probably be the Longhorns’ next coach. Iowa State’s Matt Campbell is just about the hottest name in the game. Whether Texas power brokers will deem him worthy for eight figures — and whether Texas would be a preferred destination over, say, Michigan or the NFL — is less of a question as to whether Campbell will leave.

The 40-year-old Ohio native was crying, too. Iowa State has defeated Oklahoma and Texas in the same season for the first time in program history. In his fifth season at the helm, Iowa State is off to its best-ever start in conference play (7-1).

Campbell’s departure is far from certain. There’s talk he enjoys Ames, Iowa, and the challenge of coaching up three-star prospects to the point they can beat Oklahoma and Texas.

There are further rumblings that Campbell would only consider Ohio State or Notre Dame. That brings it back around full circle. If you haven’t noticed, Texas isn’t Ohio State or Notre Dame.

The Longhorns just lost to a program with $128 million less annual athletic revenue. On paper, the Cyclones have less talent, too. Maybe that’s what hurt the most, falling to an “inferior” opponent in a make-or-break game.

Or maybe it was inevitable. There has been a lot of losing to such opponents in the last decade at Texas.

The Tom Herman experiment is the latest that hasn’t worked to this point.

But who will?

“I don’t think it’s ever fully on the coach,” Ehlinger said after his last home game. “That’s the million dollar question that everybody has been trying to figure out for the last 10 years.”

It’s actually been 11 years since Texas last won the Big 12 in 2009. Those glory days quickly fizzled with Mack Brown run out of town and Charlie Strong never establishing himself. Now Herman has all but completed his four years on the job without a conference championship. Texas loyalists expected at least that from Herman, once the hottest name in the game himself.

Worse, the ‘Horns look like they’ve regressed since teasing us with a turnaround in 2018. That year, Texas beat Oklahoma to get to the conference championship game, lost the rematch and then throttled Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. Since then, it is a moribund 13-8. Herman is 7-7 in his last 14 conference games. Real progress is debatable.

On Friday, Texas fell into a familiar Iowa State trap. The ‘Horns were dragged down into the mud — figuratively speaking — for a rock fight. The Cyclones prefer those; they typically don’t do shootouts well. Texas scored on it first two possessions to go ahead 10-0 then spent the next 42 ½ minutes allowing the opportunistic Cyclones to catch up. And take the lead.  

The go-ahead score came with 85 seconds left after Iowa State suddenly zipped 69 yards in five plays with the season on the line for both teams.

Ricky Williams didn’t hold back on the Longhorn Network set after the game. The former Heisman Trophy winner at Texas twice said Herman “coach scared.”

“Eighty-five percent of the game, I felt Texas outplayed Iowa State,” Williams said. “The coaching job is to set up the players to win. I felt like today Tom made it hard for the players to win.”

Herman may or may not have upchucked the game, but he will be blamed by many. And when Texas starts throwing blame at coaches, it can get extremely ugly. That’s why the next few days and weeks will be uncomfortable for everyone in Austin.

Four years ago, Texas landed Herman, once Urban Meyer’s right-hand man as Ohio State offensive coordinator. Now the expectation will be that Texas land Meyer himself.

“That’s not for me to decide,” Herman said when asked if he’s the right man for the job. “I feel like where were have the program right now compared to where it was when we took over, the future is very bright.”

It just didn’t feel that way on Friday.

Herman and his staff were building to this point. There was a new defensive coordinator, another Ohio State import in Chris Ash. A year after landing the highest-ranked Group of Five class ever (35th at Houston), Herman referred to his first recruiting class at Texas as transitional.

If that was an insult that day, the seniors from that class bought in and were playing for it all on Friday. Or at least something better than what Texas had been as of late.

“Just seeing the hurt on their faces, I wanted to send them out with a win,” said redshirt junior corner Josh Thompson, who was part of that first class.

Ehlinger was one of those seniors. It’s borderline tragic that he has to go out this way. He grew up burnt orange through and through. He played his high school football 7 miles from where he played his final college game on Friday.

But it was Ehlinger who failed to convert twice in the fourth quarter. His fourth-down scramble came up inches short at the Iowa State 13-yard line with 8 minutes left. Then on third down on the final drie, Ehlinger allowed himself to be sacked at the Iowa State 40 with 3 seconds left.

Dicker’s field-goal attempt, which would have sent the game into overtime, sailed wide as “The Eyes of Texas” began to tear.

“I think, 2020, this game has pretty much summed it up for us,” Ehlinger said.

Now the question is whether Texas is fed up with Tom Herman. 





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