On Tuesday, numerous reports surfaced indicating that the Texas Longhorns will add Auburn Tigers offensive line coach Herb Hand as a co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach.
The expected move both adds some help for offensive coordinator Tim Beck and offensive line coach Derek Warehime and provides a public repudiation of their efforts in 2017 by head coach Tom Herman.
A look back through Hand¡¯s coaching career helps reveal some of the offensive philosophies that he will bring with him to Austin and the impact he can have on the staff.
West Virginia Mountaineers (2001-06)
After serving for two years as a graduate assistant at Clemson, Hand received the first big break of his career ¡ª Rich Rodriguez hired him as the tight ends coach/recruiting coordinator.
During this period, Hand not only started to build his reputation as a strong recruiter, he learned the zone read-based spread offense run by Rodriguez in Morgantown.
Meanwhile, West Virginia experienced a remarkable amount of success, winning the Big East three times, going to five bowl games, and finishing the 2006 season 11-2. Unsurprisingly, it was a prolific offense that made the team so dangerous ¡ª it finished No. 2 nationally in rushing, No. 3 in scoring, and No. 4 in total offense.
At a time when most offenses spread the field to throw the ball, Rodriguez emphasized a run-heavy spread utilizing tempo. From 2002 to 2006, the Mountaineers ran the ball between 69 and 76 percent of the time.
While West Virginia did run some gap-based plays, Rodriguez primarily focused on a zone-based running scheme that provided the foundation for Hand¡¯s area of expertise at his next stop.
Tulsa Golden Hurricane (2007-09)
A move to Oklahoma helped Hand forge arguably his most important coaching connection ¡ª his relationship with Gus Malzahn. After one successful season as the offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach at Arkansas, Malzahn joined Todd Graham¡¯s staff as the associate head coach/co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach. Hand joined the staff in a similar capacity, holding the same titles and also coaching the offensive line.
With Malzahn and Hand working together, Tulsa¡¯s offense led the country in 2007 and 2008. Hand was a finalist for recognition as the nation¡¯s top offensive line coach during their second year together.
At Tulsa, Hand helped integrate his philosophy with Malzahn¡¯s scheme, which was a form of sequence football based off of old Wing-T plays.
¡°What I cut my teeth in was under Rich Rodriguez and the tempo stuff,¡± Hand said in 2016. ¡°Of course, Gus was coming from more of a gap base, but still the tempo was the big thing. We were kind of zone based at West Virginia. When we got together, we married that up. It took a little time for us to figure each other out.¡±
When Malzahn departed for Auburn in 2009, Hand served as the lone offensive coordinator, but Graham called the plays as the offense regressed following the departures of its quarterback, leading rusher, and leading receiver.
Vanderbilt Commodores (2010-13)
After Hand joined James Franklin in Nashville, he helped develop two future NFL offensive linemen who paved the way for record-setting running back Zac Stacy.
While Hand didn¡¯t even earn a co-offensive coordinator role at Vanderbilt, he played a key role in helping Franklin mix his pro-style background with Hand¡¯s up-tempo, smash-mouth spread experience. The result was an offense that showcased a lot of Malzahn¡¯s influence ¡ª a small number of base concepts with shifts, motions, and different formations to confuse and out-leverage opposing defenses. The Commodores also used an unbalanced line at times.
By the 2013 season, Hand was calling it a personnel-driven pro-style offense that tried to find mismatches with ¡°non-traditional formations and alignments in traditional formation groups,¡± citing an empty formation using 22 personnel.
Here¡¯s his description of the running game:
We run a power and counter, which are our Gap schemes. We run inside and outside zone plays, which are in our Zone concepts and we run a variety of Pin/Pull sweep concepts, which fall in the G category. With our G schemes, we might pull our play side tackle and guard, our tackle and center or our center and guard depending on the scheme and the defensive front. We also have some auxiliary runs such as our speed options and speed sweeps which are like zone schemes and reverses, draws and traps as well.
With Hand¡¯s help, Franklin landed a big-time promotion and brought his offensive line coach with him.
Penn State Nittany Lions (2014-15)
By the time that Hand followed Franklin to Happy Valley, he¡¯d also earned a title as the run-game coordinator. As he did at Vanderbilt, Hand served in an ancillary role to offensive coordinator John Donovan, who was fired following the 2015 season. One notable element of those lines was that they struggled in pass protection.
Auburn Tigers (2016-17)
Malzahn and Hand reunited on the plains two years ago and though Hand didn¡¯t have any official role beyond offensive line coach, he quickly took on an important role in 2016. As Malzahn gave up play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee in late September, Hand spent his time in the box helping Lashlee.
¡°Herb, for an O-line guy, he¡¯s got kind of a coordinator mindset,¡± Lashlee said. ¡°He¡¯s good at big-picture stuff. There¡¯s a lot of O-line guys that are so locked into the details ¡ª because it¡¯s hard now to coach O-line, five guys and all the details ¡ª and so that¡¯s one of the reasons we put him in the box. He¡¯s been in the box before and so he understands the system, he knows what we¡¯re trying to accomplish, he sees the defense.¡±
In that role, Hand worked with Lashlee, primarily facilitating adjustments between drives based on his high-level view of opposing defenses.
Hand also helped produce three all-SEC offensive linemen from a group that ranked No. 6 nationally in adjusted line yardage as the Tigers finished as a top-30 run offense in S&P+. As a result, he was named a finalist for offensive line coach of the year by FootballScoop.com.
After the season, Lashlee took a paycut in leaving Auburn for the offensive coordinator position at UConn, which he described as wanting to ¡°get out of my comfort zone.¡±
Regardless of whether Lashlee was forced out or left on his own, Malzahn hired Chip Lindsey from Arizona State as his replacement. Lindsey had spent one year with Malzahn previously, but was mostly known as a long-time high school coach with more of an Air Raid influence. During the spring, he reportedly placed more emphasis on run-pass options and deep throws.
Spending a year with Lindsey is one of the more intriguing elements of Hand¡¯s recent resume, as he doesn¡¯t have any other associations with coaches using any strong Air Raid elements.
The 2017 Auburn offensive line struggled giving up sacks, in large part because both starting tackles from the previous season¡¯s team graduated. However, it remained effective run blocking, finishing No. 25 in adjusted line yards and excelling in short-yardage situations and in avoiding negative plays.
As an offensive line coach, Hand is known for using a matrix instead of a depth chart. By cross training each of his offensive linemen at every spot, he can develop an approach to rotations with a higher level of complexity when he has a more experienced group.
¡°You always want to have a contingency plan to have your best five guys on the field,¡± Hand said last year. ¡°It¡¯s almost like from a basketball sense ¡ª you¡¯ve got your starting five and then you¡¯ve got your sixth man, your seventh man. What happens when the sixth man comes in? Who has to adjust? Those aspects of it make it a little bit to manage, but it¡¯s also nice when you have options.¡±
Hand then uses film study of the different combinations in practice to determine how the pieces all fit together as he seeks to always have his five best players on the field.
From a personality standpoint, Hand was known as the outgoing foil for Malzahn¡¯s famously dour personality, who once claimed that he doesn¡¯t understand jokes.
¡°He brings something new to the table,¡± Auburn center Austin Golson said in 2016. ¡°He¡¯s very energetic. He¡¯s funny. He¡¯s a hard worker. You can tell that he loves his job and I really appreciate that. I don¡¯t want anybody coaching me who doesn¡¯t love their job. I¡¯m very excited to play for him.¡±
Hand¡¯s energy and charisma extends to the recruiting trail, where he¡¯s also been known to close the deal as a cook. And he also knows how to use his Twitter feed to showcase that personality and build rapport with recruits and players.
The role that Hand played at Tulsa may be the closet analogue for how he¡¯ll fit at Texas next season ¡ª working alongside Beck in the same manner Hand served as the ¡°right-hand man¡± for Malzahn. In that scenario, wide receivers coach Drew Mehringer could move back down to the field, while current offensive line coach Derek Warehime communicates to that position group, assuming that he stays on the coaching staff.
In particular, Hand could be extremely beneficial to Texas in helping Beck adopt a more sequence-based approach to play calling and finding a base set of concepts dressed up with shifts, motions, and different formations.
And Malzahn was also known for having a number of trick plays at his disposal every game ¡ª given how rarely those plays worked under Beck, being able to consistently execute a trick play once or twice per game could provide the Texas offense with a significant boost.
Herman¡¯s continuously stated emphasis on alignment provides an interesting angle to the Hand hire because the two coaches haven¡¯t worked together. But Hand does have an intriguing history that aligns with what Herman wants to accomplish.
As Beck settles in carrying out Herman¡¯s vision and Hand adds some fresh ideas and perspective, the Longhorns will have a chance to make at least a modest leap offensively next season with better gameplans and more cohesive play calling.