COLLEGE STATION, Texas — On the field, LSU battled Texas A&M on Thursday night in its regular-season finale.
Off it, the Tigers tussled with Texas in what appears to be a high-stakes game for Houston coach Tom Herman.
Multiple reports surfaced Thursday night linking Herman to the job at LSU, some even citing that a deal was final. The reports, according to FootballScoop.com, sparked Texas officials to meet with the coach's agent late Thursday, and ESPN.com reported that Herman "hasn't ruled out an offer from Texas."
COLLEGE STATION, Texas — They played a football game here Thursday night.
Two sources told The Advocate that there was "no done deal" with Herman, and LSU said as much in a late-night statement Thursday, revealing that no decision on a coach had been made.
Meanwhile, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva declined comment to The Advocate on the initial report from HornsDigest.com, the Scout.com site covering the University of Texas. It surfaced at 6:17 p.m., just 15 minutes before 25th-ranked LSU kicked off against No. 22 Texas A&M.
"I decline comment on that and any other report that's out there," Alleva told The Advocate from the A&M press box minutes before kickoff.
The Advocate reported Sunday that university leaders met over the weekend to devise multiple plans that were expected to be executed this coming weekend, and that the list of candidates included Herman, Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher and interim coach Ed Orgeron.
LSU was expected to make a push at its leading candidate, Fisher, the 51-year-old former Tigers offensive coordinator. ESPN.com reported Thursday night that Fisher elected to remain at Florida State, prompting the Tigers to shift their focus to Herman.
Texas could affect LSU's plans to hire Herman. The Longhorns are expected to fire coach Charlie Strong after Saturday’s season finale against TCU, according to multiple outlets. It adds a desperate and wealthy player to the field of those searching for new coaches.
Herman served as a graduate assistant at Texas in 1999-2000, and many reports have tied his future to the job in Austin, Texas.
How Texas changes LSU’s plans is not clear, but the university won’t “miss out on anything for a certain amount of money,” a source said, “but we will not be lunatics.”
Herman, a 41-year-old in his second year with the Cougars, is considered the ideal man LSU leaders are seeking — an up-and-coming offensive-minded, sitting head coach.
Herman is the highest-earning coach among programs outside the Power Five conferences, making $3 million annually. The Houston Chronicle reported Thursday night that the Cougars are offering Herman an extension and a seven-figure increase in total compensation.
His Houston team is 9-2 heading into a season finale at 11 a.m. Friday at Memphis, and the Cougars went 13-1 and won the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl in his first season in 2015.
On Thursday night, Houston president of athletics Hunter Yurachek told SBNation that he's heard nothing from Herman or Herman's agent, Trace Armstrong, that he has accepted any job.
“I have not been informed by Tom or his agent that he has accepted a position at LSU,” Yuracheck said. “We are in Memphis together, preparing for a game.”
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Herman has a reported $2.25 million buyout clause in his contract. Fisher signed a new contract in January 2015 running through the 2022 season and paying him $5.2 million this year, with a $5 million buyout. LSU paid Miles $4.3 million per year and is responsible for a $9.6 million buyout the university will pay over six years. It will be mitigated if he lands another job.
Orgeron’s viability as a candidate likely hinged on the result of LSU’s Thanksgiving night game against Texas A&M. As The Advocate reported Sunday, Orgeron and Alleva are scheduled to meet Friday, when the coach is expected to lay out a long-term plan that likely includes hiring an offensive coordinator with a proven and successful track record.
It’s a sticking point with university leaders: hiring a guru to run the offense. Leaders feel confident LSU will keep defensive coordinator Dave Aranda with the hiring of Orgeron. They will make every effort to keep the 40-year-old Aranda no matter whom they name as a permanent head coach, and he has reciprocated that desire to remain at the school.
Aranda and Herman played college football together at Cal Lutheran.
The university spent the past eight weeks using backchannel methods to gauge the interest of multiple college head coaches and vet them, while also evaluating Orgeron’s job with regards to his serious candidacy for the full-time position. It was the first step in a process that took a turn last weekend, when two-touchdown favorite LSU lost to Florida 16-10 in the home finale at Tiger Stadium.
The loss opened the door to a pool of candidates and ended a potential plan to quickly name the 55-year-old Orgeron as the school’s new leader. Orgeron, 10-4 in interim roles at USC and LSU before Thursday's game, was considered the favorite if LSU had won its final two regular-season games, almost assuredly resulting in a Sugar Bowl berth.