The college football coaching carousel is always profoundly odd, with lame duck coaches playing out the string, up-and-comers ditching their jobs before bowl games and enough blind speculation to fill eight First Take segments.
But even by those standards, this month’s Charlie Strong/Ed Orgeron/Tom Herman/Texas/LSU love pentagon was super weird.
Here’s a timeline of the soap-opera-caliber saga, complete with incorrect reports and inaccurate predictions from just about everyone in college sports.
Nov. 19 — LSU, under interim head coach Ed Orgeron, loses to Florida, 16-10
When LSU fired Les Miles back in September, Ed Orgeron became an interim coach for what felt like the 12th time. Just like in his days as interim headman at USC, Orgeron was widely assumed to have a shot at the full-job but was far from a lock. And when LSU lost to Florida to fall to 6-4 on the season, Fox Sports’ Aaron Torres published a story with the following headline:
Ed Orgeron lost his chance at LSU’s head coaching job with stunning loss to Florida
Near the top of the story, Torres wrote this:
There’s simply no other way to put it: The loss eliminated Orgeron from the possibility of getting the LSU job full-time at the end of the season. Whether it’s Jimbo Fisher, Tom Herman or another name, someone other than Orgeron will be leading the Tigers out of the tunnel on opening weekend next year.
Now, there’s no need to pick on Torres, because he was far from alone. There was Dan Wolken…
In five years, LSU fans will thank Florida for erasing any notion they might have had to give Orgeron this job.
— Dan Wolken (@DanWolken) November 19, 2016
and Clay Travis…
LSU’s the biggest winner here. The next three years with Coach Orgeron as head coach would have been a disaster.
— Clay Travis (@ClayTravis) November 19, 2016
and numerous others.
There was not a lot of conditional language being used here. Orgeron, everyone seemed to believe, was done.
Nov. 19 — Texas loses, TV producer “reports” Charlie Strong’s firing
On the same day LSU’s loss supposedly sealed Orgeron’s fate, Charlie Strong—already under siege from boosters who wanted Texas to hire Houston’s Tom Herman–suffered an embarrassing loss to Kansas, a team that entered the day 1-9 on the season.
Following the defeat, a Twitter-verified sports TV producer named Tom Stokes reported that Strong had been fired.
— Tom Stokes (@SportsPlusShow) November 20, 2016
This was not so much a cold take as it was an incorrect (fake?) report.
Reporters immediately jumped in to say that Strong had, in fact, not been fired.
For the record, I can tell you that anyone saying Charlie Strong has been fired tonight is flat wrong, per UT sources.
— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) November 20, 2016
I'm told report of Charlie Strong already being fired is not accurate. Those conversations have not been had at this point, per source.
— Bruce Feldman (@BruceFeldmanCFB) November 20, 2016
Nov. 20 — Oh actually, Strong will be fired after all
The day after Strong’s firing was reported and then refuted, the Austin-American Statesman reported that Strong was to be fired but not until after the season finale against TCU. SI.com soon confirmed the report.
Players were not happy about the news, and most observers felt that if Texas was going to fire Strong there was no sense waiting an extra week.
Nov. 22 — Meanwhile, LSU is going after Jimbo Fisher
There wouldn’t have been much reason for Jimbo Fisher to leave Florida State for LSU, but that didn’t stop the Tigers from pursuing him and the college football commentariat from speculating about him taking the job.
One Tampa sports radio station called Fisher’s move “a done deal,” only for the host who made that claim to say he was just kidding.
Jimbo Fisher ''done deal" — he's going to LSU.
So says TKras, now:https://t.co/zfkDtmv8UI
— WDAE (@620wdae) November 22, 2016
Hahaha, nooooo. I was teasing. Jimbo will get big $$$ regardless. I put him leaving at 25% https://t.co/tYWcwjAKaW
— Tom Krasniqi (@TKras) November 22, 2016
Nov. 24 — Maybe Strong isn’t done after all?
As if Strong hadn’t already been jerked around enough, suddenly he was reported to be coaching for his job against TCU.
Texas coach Charlie Strong could save his job with a blowout win over TCU on Friday, a university source said. https://t.co/Dl9KSgYFfR
— Brian Davis (@BDavisAAS) November 24, 2016
We’ll never know if this report was correct because Texas lost to TCU 31-9, sealing Strong’s fate.
Nov. 24 — Tom Herman to LSU is reportedly a done deal… maybe
By all accounts, LSU and Texas both wanted Tom Herman, and on Thanksgiving it looked like the Tigers were going to get him.
A very, very, very pro-Tom Herman Texas source told me minutes ago that he is hearing that Tom Herman has accepted the LSU offer.
— Geoff Ketchum (@gkketch) November 25, 2016
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) November 25, 2016
— Chip Brown (@ChipBrownHD) November 25, 2016
Chip Brown has a reputation for pressing “publish” too early, but if ESPN stalwarts like Chris Low and Brett McMurphy are reporting something, you kind of figure there’s something to it. So for a minute there, it sure looked like Herman was on his way to Baton Rouge.
Or, you know, not…
UPDATE: Tom Herman hasn't ruled out an offer from Texas, if Charlie Strong is fired after tomorrow's game vs TCU. https://t.co/oGfos1H4oD
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) November 25, 2016
Herman, for his part, insisted he wasn’t going anywhere.
Nov. 26 — Did we say Herman? We meant Orgeron
After being publicly identified as a back-up plan, Orgeron gets the job with LSU.
— LSU Football (@LSUfootball) November 26, 2016
Nov. 26 — Texas cans Strong, promptly hires Herman
In the end, this part went about as expected. Texas fired Strong in the morning and announced Herman in the evening, before any false rumors even had time to spread.
BREAKING: Texas has fired coach Charlie Strong. pic.twitter.com/H4xwYgF6rL
— ESPN CollegeFootball (@ESPNCFB) November 26, 2016
— Texas Longhorns (@TexasSports) November 26, 2016
So when we take account of all this dysfunction, we’ve got sports media figures being wrong about Orgeron having no shot at the LSU job, being wrong about Strong being fired, being wrong about Strong NOT being fired, being wrong about Fisher going to LSU and being wrong about Herman going to LSU.
So what can we learn from all this?
Well for one thing, we’ve got to be careful to trust the fringe reporters looking to make a name for themselves with big scoops. Chip Brown, who runs the Texas site on Scout.com, frequently “reports” major stories, reaps the clicks and retweets, then waits to see whether his report comes true. The report that Strong had been fired after the loss to Kansas seems to have been a similar situation.
But at the same time, ESPN was among the sites to rush with Herman-to-LSU. And that just goes to show that no one is immune to the rush to be first. There’s sometimes no time to check with a second or third source or to question your initial source’s credibility when you’re trying to beat dozens of other reporters to a story, even if that initial report comes from a self-interested agent looking to drum up some attention his client. Which is unfortunate because sometimes, unfortunately, sources are wrong.
Oh and the other lesson we can learn: Don’t ever try to predict the coaching carousel.