Tom Herman was the guy in 2016. Obviously, Herman wasn't Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney or anywhere near the top few rungs of college football coaches but he was the attainable candidate after leading Houston to a 13-1 record in 2015, his first as head coach after a three-year run on Urban Meyer's Ohio State staff. And, after firing Les Miles in September 2016, LSU wanted Herman as their next head coach.
“Herman was the hot guy, but my thought always was if Herman didn’t work out, I’d go with Ed,” former LSU athletics director Joe Alleva told Ross Dellenger in September. “Ed Orgeron was always the guy I really wanted to be the head coach. A lot of people here wanted to pursue the hot name, which was Herman, so we pursued him.
“We were going to fly over there and meet he and his wife,” Alleva continues. “If things went well, he probably would have gotten the job. I got a call from his agent, and he didn’t want to meet. I was done with it. That was it. And I don’t think you can write what I told him."
For one, interim head coach Ed Orgeron isn't promoted to permanent head coach in November 2016. Maybe he's retained as an assistant by Herman. Or maybe he lands a head-coaching job elsewhere (Temple, USF, and Western Kentucky were among the openings that year). We also don't know if Dave Aranda is retained. Maybe he's not and is a head coach by now. Utah State after Matt Wells left for Texas Tech?
What was the Longhorns' backup plan? We don't know, so we're left to speculate:
Behind Door No. 1: Jimbo Fisher.
Texas might not have offered 10 years and $75 million like Texas A&M did a year later but Texas has the money to get an antsy Jimbo Fisher out of Tallahassee. If Fisher leaves in 2016 instead of 2017, would Florida State still have hired then-USF head coach Willie Taggart? If not, maybe they swipe Justin Fuente from Virginia Tech and the Hokies' second head-coaching search in the last year ends with P.J. Fleck or Bryan Harsin. And if Taggart still goes to Oregon and doesn't take the Florida State job a year later, Mario Cristobal isn't Oregon head coach right now.
Minnesota can't hire Fleck, who's in Blacksburg, so they grab Les Miles. Two years later, Kansas can't hire Miles, so they grab Jedd Fisch, Troy Calhoun, or Willie Fritz. If it's Fritz, Tulane promotes defensive coordinator Jack Curtis or makes an outside hire of Chris Creighton, who is replaced by his offensive coordinator Aaron Keen. Or if Virginia Tech hires Bryan Harsin, Boise State brings Jimmy Lake or Pete Kwiatkowski back to Boise? If it's Jimmy Lake, does Washington still hire him as Chris Petersen's replacement in 2019?
And that's just Door No. 1…
Behind Door No. 2: Larry Fedora.
Larry Fedora is currently a Texas coach, just not the head coach. What if, two years before Tom Herman hired Fedora as an assistant, Texas hired him as Charlie Strong's replacement? Instead of conducting a head-coaching search after firing Fedora in 2018, North Carolina is searching for a head coach in 2016, a search that could've ended with Mack Brown. If not, maybe they land Western Kentucky's Jeff Brohm, which leads Purdue to Troy Calhoun and forces Air Force to promote longtime offensive coordinator Mike Thiessen.
We won't open additional doors because this is a never-ending dive into a bottomless pit of meaningless — though very, very fun — speculation.