Tom Herman has been here before. Everybody wanted him, but he’s one of us. And when the hottest commodity in college football was introduced Sunday as Texas’ 30th head coach, it wasn’t just a promotion for the 41-year wunderkind; it was a homecoming.
At least that was the message when Herman took the podium inside Bellmont Hall in front of a packed house including Mack Brown, Edith Royal, DeLoss Dodds, interim Athletic Director Mike Perrin and UT president Greg Fenves. Never has a Cincinnati kid been billed as so authentically Texas and perfectly suited for the job as the Longhorns football coach.
Said Fenves: “It’s a great day for The University of Texas.”
Said Perrin: “We got our man, and that man is the hottest coach in college football.”
Said Herman: “This is the opportunity of a lifetime.”
The Ohio native, of course, got his start in Texas as a graduate assistant under Mack Brown (1999-2000). He learned the Hook ‘Em hand signal from Ricky Williams while sharing a parade float celebrating his Heisman Trophy and Brown’s inaugural season. Herman later received his Master of Education degree from Texas in 2000.
Herman looks to Brown as a mentor, but there is one area of contrast between them relative to their first week on the job in Austin. It has to do with how each described the pressure associated with the coaching the nation’s most high-dollar, high-profile college football program.
Brown told the story of meeting Barbara Bush the month he was hired. The former First Lady commented: “You’re the new football coach at The University of Texas? I just can’t imagine the pressure you’re under.” Moment later, Brown turned to his wife and said: “The President’s wife said she couldn’t imagine the pressure from coaching here. What did I get myself into?”
On Sunday, Herman defined ‘pressure’ as “the uneasy feeling you get from not being prepared.” He added, “We’re prepared for success at this job, and we’re prepared for adversity. I don’t feel any sense of pressure. At all.”
Herman brings a reputation as one who is confident, meticulous, ambitious, energetic and creative. His pre-game ritual of hugging and kissing players has drawn as much national attention as has his on-the-field success.
“My wife doesn’t mind that I have become known for kissing other people,” Herman said.
In fact, he used the word “love” at least two dozen times Sunday. He spoke of his love for players, for staff, for the coaches who impacted his life, for places like The University of Texas, and for the game itself.
Make no mistake: this is tough love. The public display of affection is just one aspect of Herman’s persona, according to source inside the UH football program. During practice, Herman is a hands-on, old school, in-your-face drill sergeant, according to our source.
“This is not going to be Camp Texas,” Herman vowed.
A poised, articulate Herman won the press conference; now, he may have to win the locker room. He met with the team at 4:15 Sunday, less than a week after more than 50 players gathered in support of Charlie Strong during his final Monday press conference. Breckyn Hager and P. J. Locke were on hand for Herman’s introductory press conference.
Herman told them it was right that they still love their former coach, whom Herman described as “a heckuva man and a heckuva coach.” But, then Herman had some tough love for a team that has stumbled to three-straight, seven-loss seasons.
“I told them the definition of insanity is repeatedly performing the same act and expecting different results. We need to change some things.”
“This program is going to be really hard. Winning is hard. They don’t hand out championship trophies. The formula, the blueprint is always going to work as long as people put in the necessary effort and energy. The plan can only be screwed up by people and the decisions they make. If you recruit really great players, which we’re going to do at The University of Texas, and you execute that plan, for the love of the guy next to you, for the love of your position coaches, for the love of the program, then really good things are going to happen.”
It was a savvy move when Herman mentioned Texas high school coaches right off the cuff. It was reminiscent of Mack Brown immediately acknowledging Texas prep coaches upon winning the 2005 national title.
“I want the high school coaches in the great state of Texas to know this is their football program,” Herman said. “We are the flagship university of the best high school football state in America.”
This point cannot be emphasized enough: Herman’s recruiting base is Texas; Charlie Strong’s base is Florida in terms of history and deepest connections.
Said Herman: “It’s not anywhere close, anywhere in the country, to how well-coached these young men are, and how important football is, in this state. If someone has never been here, that might be a huge adjustment because the high school coach is so important. I have been in this state for so long, and have had numerous jobs throughout the state. I know how Texas football is looked upon by people of this state.”
Herman is steeped in Texas high school football recruiting circles following stints at Houston, Rice, Texas State and Sam Houston State University. Twice during Sunday’s press conference, Herman stated that he has recruited Texas for more than 20 years. In fact, his strongest statement of the press conference was geared toward in-state recruits.
“The sales pitch is going to be…you’re going to be the best trained team in America. You’re going to be physically and mentally tough. You’re going to be the most physically and mentally tough team on the field. Never once have I seen a football coach hoist a championship trophy, whether it’s Super Bowl, college or a conference trophy, and say, ‘You know, we out-finessed them.’ That’s never come out of any coach’s mouth. Ever. They (recruits) will know we’re going to be the most mentally and physically tough team on the field every Saturday. And they know they are going to get one of the premiere educations in the entire country, living in the city of Austin, and playing for men who love them and want to build them into better husbands, fathers and employees. Winning is a by-product of that love.”
Fenves and Perrin met with Herman late Friday night and into the wee hours Saturday morning. Although the Board of Regents must still approve the arrangement, Herman was, in essence, hired before Strong was fired. UT officials said they did not want to compound a difficult Friday for Strong by dismissing him immediately after the loss to TCU.
Herman’s structuring of his staff begins Monday morning with interviewing current Texas coaches. He did not disclose if he would bring any one from a Houston staff that has a burnt orange tinge. In addition to offensive coordinator/QB coach Major Applewhite, the Cougar staff included Longhorn letterman Oscar Giles, the defensive line coach, and former assistant coach Darrell Wyatt.
“The most important thing to me, right now, are the players in the locker room at The University of Texas and then getting on the road to recruiting. We’ll let the staff play itself out over the next couple of weeks.”
Herman also expects to meet individually with RB D’Onta Foreman Monday. Foreman previously said that Strong’s dismissal would factor into a decision to enter the NFL Draft.
Herman’s hire was not seen as a grand slam by the entire fan base but, then again, it never is. Some point to his relative inexperience; other look to losses this season against SMU, Navy and Memphis. Yet, Herman was 22-4 in two years at Houston and a perfect 6-0 against ranked teams. His 38-24 thumping of No. 9 Florida State in the 2015 Peach Bowl was Houston’s first post-season win against a ranked team since 1979. Perhaps more impressive is the fact that Herman coordinated the Ohio State offense toward the 2014 national championship with a third-team quarterback.
Herman agreed to a five-year contract that, reportedly, is close to $6 million annually. Texas will also foot the bill for Herman’s $2.5 million buyout as well as the $10.7 million remaining on Strong’s contract.
“None of us got into this business to make money,” Herman concluded. “It’s been well-documented what my salaries during my climb through the coaching ranks. You get into this business to change young men’s lives. You get into this business because of how coaches affected your life. I want to mold young men’s lives. The winning is all a by-product. If you ask why I don’t go coach Division-III the rest of my life, there is also, I think in all of us coaches, a competitive fire that makes us want to go be the best at our craft. I want to do it at the best place, in the best way possible and win a whole bunch of championships.”
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