For Herman, no pads means culture building

Tom Herman at his first spring practice of 2017 (Joe Cook/IT)

Tom Herman at his first spring practice of 2017 (Joe Cook/IT)

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Everything up to this point for Tom Herman has had a purpose. With the team on spring break following two practices Herman called “underwear Olympics,” everything done to this point by Herman and his staff has been in order to instill the culture that helped propel him to 22 victories at the University of Houston.

But the wait will have to continue. Herman wants to wait and see how his players perform in pads before making any judgement on football skill. It will, after all, be the first time he sees players like Shane Buechele, Malik Jefferson, Connor Williams and Holton Hill in pads in a Texas uniform.

“I’m never going to comment on anybody’s performance in shorts,” Herman said on March 9. “It’s just not football. We’ll wait and see. The Tuesday after spring break will be a good indication of who stands out and who doesn’t.”

That Tuesday, March 21, will be the first major checkpoint of all the culture building Herman has done since he stepped on campus in late November.

Coming into Austin, there was some expectation that Herman’s rules and regulations, as well as his style of coaching, would result in several players departing Texas for other scholastic opportunities. Herman was hired to bring out the best in his players both on and off the field. To him, that meant some tough love in order to remove some of the bad attitudes in his program.

Herman said before spring practice he has not sensed entitlement from his players simply because they are at Texas. Instead, they are buying into what Herman is teaching because they know why he is there.

“I haven’t felt it as much, again, because I think they realize that was probably a big root of what three straight seven loss seasons were,” Herman said. “They understand that that’s really not how you go about doing things. I haven’t felt it as much, the lore of it has lived a little bit.”

To Herman, the way he operates his program does not allow for any entitlement to persist.

“I think the way we go about our business as a staff, too, there’s no room for any of that,” Herman said. “It gets stamped out in such a hurry around here that it really has no time to breathe.”

It gets stamped out. There’s no room for any of it. But, according to Herman, there has been less of a need to stamp it out.

“There was less pushback than I thought because of what we had to go through at Houston,” Herman said. “These guys have been good. I’m not ready to anoint anybody yet, but it has been one of the pleasant surprises of the first three, four months here – the amount of buy in that we have gotten so far.”

With the pleasant surprises comes the unpleasant surprises. On the first day of practice under Herman, the team struggled to get through stretching periods. Herman said a lot of that is due to the team continually testing a figurative limit, only to have that test end up punishing them.

“We sprint at the end of stretch 10 yards,” Herman said. That’s it. 10 yards. We do things, we call it ‘plus 2’ round here. Any 10-yard drill should not be pulled up until after 12 yards. They kept pulling up and they kept testing the fence. Buzz! Is it still on? Yes, it’s still on. Lot of you guys were there, right? How many times did I call them back?”

This is not just something work related. Herman brings this into all aspects of his life. He said his son, TD, does 11 pushups and sit ups every evening because other kids are only doing 10. ‘Plus 2’ fits right in with that line of thinking.

Charlie Strong was thought to be a disciplinarian. Several players either chose to leave or were kicked off of the team because they would not get in line with the change of culture.

While Herman has not had to deal with some of the off the field issues Strong did, instilling the new culture and way of doing things is not easy for Texas’ first-year head coach. Following the first spring practice, Herman said that he was the most exhausted he’s ever been following a practice.

“Winning championships is exhausting,” Herman said. “Towing the line is exhausting. Me and the staff are going to make sure that if a drill says full speed through the cone, then it doesn’t matter if it’s the ump-hundreth rep of that, or if it’s hot, or if you’re tired, or if you’re sore. If we say full speed through the cone, and you don’t go full speed through the cone, there’s going to be consequences for that. It’s exhausting. You seem like the police out there at times as a coach.”

However, he knows the likelihood of him being that exhausted will diminish over time.

“You have to set the expectation level early when developing the culture and developing the program,” Herman said. “I would hope after fifteen practices they know what that expectation is.”

Even then, it will still be early in his tenure, but the team will have a much clearer idea of how to do things with Tom Herman in charge.