Football

Herman relying on culture to replace missing leadership, production

Anthony Cook, Kobe Boyce (Joe Cook/IT)
Anthony Cook, Kobe Boyce (Joe Cook/IT)

AUSTIN — Texas head coach Tom Herman has said over his two-season tenure that the drills his team is forced to go through in helmets only in the first few days of a return to practice isn’t really football. Though NCAA rules mean Texas players were in helmets for the first day of spring practice, Herman still was pleased with what he saw on the first day.

“You could see guys that are hustling, guys that play with great effort, and guys that make good decisions,” Herman said Monday. “Saw a lot of that today.”

An uneventful start with positive signs from his team was one of the best starts to camp Herman could have hoped for. After utilizing countless media availabilities to stress the importance of culture, Herman needs the culture he built to continue to improve his program as he replaces at least 12 starters from a 10-win team.

Since that first day of practice isn’t actually football according to Herman, he and the coaches instead focus on what he calls the two pillars of the program in effort and ball security.

At times last year, Herman complained that his skill players were putting the ball on the ground too often. No complaint was heard after the first day, nor was there a complaint about effort.

However, the effect of losing all five captains and important starters on both sides of the ball means several years of important experience is gone, and there’s a slight vacuum of leadership on the team. Now, players from Texas’ highly-ranked recruiting classes are being asked to fill those roles.

When noting that there were plenty of redshirt freshmen and sophomores running with the first teams, Herman explained one of the team’s priorities before spring break. “Learning how to practice is one of the biggest goals, especially for some of these young guys,” he said.

The team will be without some of the more senior players. Patrick Hudson made the decision to retire and will help in the player development department. Brandon Jones will miss the spring because of ankle surgery. Collin Johnson is sidelined following an offseason procedure. Devin Duvernay had a stress reaction in his pubic bone, and John Burt is working with the track team in preparation for outdoor season. Keondre Coburn is also missing time due to a kidney ailment.

With that in mind, the youth has an opportunity. Most of the names competing for secondary spots are from Texas’ 2018 class. The defensive line has several upperclassmen in competition for a starting spot, but few of them have a large number of starts. Linebacker loses both starters in the middle, and several first- or second-year players have a chance to take those spots. “

Their work ethic has been great,” Herman said. “Those guys really like football, all the young guys. It’s really cool when you have an established culture in your program to where these young guys get immersed in it and there’s nowhere to hide. You either love football and you love to work, or you’re going to figure it out real quick.”

There are signs that the culture Herman created has taken hold at Texas, including with how often Herman finds himself sprinting to correct something.

Herman noted he’s “running a lot less” when something goes wrong on the practice field. Instead of him having to correct it, he can let others do that for him.

“It’s not me running after the perpetrator,” Herman said. “It’s usually some player saying that’s not how we do things. That’s pretty cool to see.”

With those examples in mind, it appears the culture will be conducive to young players Herman himself recruited having a chance to play for the Longhorns. They’re replacing a lot of experience, but Herman isn’t concerned, at least on the first day of practice.

“These guys that are poised to take their place, we have a ton of confidence in,” Herman said. “I don’t think concern is really a deal. We do know we have a lot of holes to plug.”

So far, that’s all that’s on Herman’s plate.

“Just going 1-0 today, 1-0 tomorrow” Herman said concerning current team goals. “Then when it gets time, we’ll worry about beating Louisiana Tech.”