This is the latest in a series examining the 15 most important assistant coaching hires of the 2018 season. Previous installments:
No. 15: Rod Smith, Illinois
No. 14: Matt Canada, Maryland
No. 13: Harlon Barnett, Florida State
No. 12: Jerry Azzinaro, UCLA
No. 11: Bob Shoop, Mississippi State
No. 10: Clark Lea, Notre Dame
No. 9: Bush Hamdan, Washington
Who: Herb Hand, Texas
Title: Co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach
Previous stop: Auburn offensive line coach (2016-17)
Why he’s important: The 2017 season was a disaster offensively for Texas in 2017. Tom Herman often pointed out how his team fielded a true freshman quarterback, a true freshman running back, a true freshman right tackle and a true freshman tight end… and the results showed. The Longhorns finished 110th nationally in yards per carry, 91st in passing efficiency and 104th in yards per play. Their leading rusher began the season as the backup quarterback — and he ran for all of 381 yards.
Despite some exterior nudging that he blow things up, Herman opted to largely stand pat. He brought the entire offensive staff back and used the 10th assistant slot to pull Herb Hand away from Auburn, moving Derek Warehime to tight ends and giving Hand full control of the offensive line.
Clearly, Herman believes fixing the line — 108th in sacks allowed and 113th tackles for loss allowed in 2017 — is the key to fixing the offense.
“We hired Herb Hand to coach the offensive line really, really well, to provide quality ideas that can enhance our offense, to provide great experience and knowledge of the game and game planning during the season, and to recruit his butt off,” Herman said this spring.
Hand has provided great on-the-fly work as a technician, evidenced by the most recent season. Auburn’s 2017 season began with the Tigers allowing 11 sacks in a 14-6 loss at Clemson; two months later, the Tigers churned Georgia for 237 rushing yards and Alabama, the nation’s No. 1 rushing defense, for nearly double their per-game average.
Hand was instrumental in landing Rice graduate transfer Calvin Anderson, who figures to parachute in as the Longhorns’ starting left tackle. He’ll work next to left guard Patrick Vahe, a four-year starter and a three-year starter in center Zach Shackleford. Only right guard remains in flux at this point.
Texas went 7-6 in Herman’s first year. It was… nice. The aforementioned offensive adversity cost Texas a handful of winnable games, but, on the whole, the team demonstrated considerable progress from 2016 to ’17. And yet:
Those are 247’s composite team recruiting rankings for the 2019 class. You’ll notice Texas A&M at No. 2 and Oklahoma at No. 4, with Texas’s chief out-of-state competition at Nos. 1 and 3. The Oklahoma brand has been invigorated with Lincoln Riley’s ascension to head coach, and Texas A&M just hired one of four active coaches with a national championship ring. And this doesn’t touch a pair of programs who don’t recruit at the elite level but have had Texas’s number lately regardless in TCU (four straight wins over Texas) and Oklahoma State (six out of eight).
Simply put, Texas has never found itself in a more competitive environment than it is today.
The time for patient, step-by-step rebuilds was yesterday. Herman wasn’t hired to take ‘Horns to the Texas Bowl. Texas needs to be back in the Big 12 title game and the thick of the CFP race if not this season, then by the end of the decade. If not, this will be the worst decade of Texas football in program history.
That’s a lot to put on the shoulders of one assistant coach, but Herman gambled in January that Hand was the missing piece to his coaching staff — and, thus, the program. He needs to be right.