Football

Anatomy of an embattled head coach’s tirade

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Tom Herman was asked a direct question in his Monday press conference: “what do you say to those groups of people who constantly see rumors out there that you might lose your job to Urban Meyer after this season, and are you concerned at all about your job security?”

It looked for a response concerning Texas’ 5-2 football team and the Longhorns’ struggles recruiting in the 2021 and 2022 cycles.

Herman’s answer possessed several trademark signs of the Embattled Coach Media Tirade, including an emphasis on the upcoming opponent, a call to ignore noise from outside the program, an assailment of anonymous sources, an emphasis on how good the relationship is between coach and administration, and a reassurance that the status quo is just fine.

This was no outburst, nor was it a clip that will appear on sports radio soundboards across the country like Mike Gundy’s “I’m a man!” or Jim Mora’s “Playoffs?” It is indicative of the situation Herman currently finds himself in, where only a Big 12 Championship may satiate the growing discontent within the fanbase.

Emphasis on the upcoming opponent

“No, not at all. I’m concerned about our players. I’m concerned about this program. I’m concerned about beating Kansas. I’m concerned about all of our goals still being in front of us.”

Since this press conference occurred on the heels of an open week, there was no actual Texas game to discuss. The quality of the cellar-dweller Kansas football program allows for fans and media to place their focus elsewhere, including internally on the program.

Herman tries to be forthright with the media, and most likely is placing his attention on the Kansas game plan as opposed to the developing narrative from those who follow the program. After all, he can’t reach the stated goals without first defeating the Jayhawks.

But hiding behind focus on the upcoming opponent is the classic first step in the Embattled Coach Media Tirade.

A call to ignore noise from outside the program

“To directly answer your question, with the players it’s really easy. These guys, they’ve seen it all and done it all. It’s almost comical at times to them because they know the truth. The mitigating factor in this is there’s a section of people, which is our program, our coaches, (and) the people intimately involved in the day to day operations of our enterprise, that know the truth.”

Not only is Herman laughing at the information being relayed about his program, but his charges are as well. Hilarious! An implied If only you knew but know you don’t.

Herman emphasizes a “bunker mentality” within his program, like most coaches around the country. He tries to defend outside perspectives from infringing on what should be the inside perspectives. It’s part of leadership strategies for any organization.

This isn’t an anomaly, it’s what every healthy program should do. Citing it as a reason things are running smoothly within the program?

This sets up the next section when mentioning the truth. Everything heard on the outside? Wrong. Everything we know on the inside? Right.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

An assailment of anonymous sources

“Then, there’s rumors and there’s unnamed sources. There’s internet reporters with agendas that claim their own opinion as fact and hide behind unnamed sources and things of that nature. The player part is really easy. Almost comical, to the point where sometimes a kid will come up to me and say, ‘coach, you’ll never guess what lunacy came across my feed. This is crazy, right?’ The recruiting part is a different story because when you have things that have been written about us and our program, myself, and our future, very unfounded articles that state, again, opinion as fact, that state unnamed sources as being factual, that’s very hard to defend against. If I’m a competing recruiter, what do you do? You press print and say ‘look, this is true. It must be true. It’s on OrangeFans.com. It must be true,’ or ‘it was written by this guy, so it must be true. This source said this, so it must be true.’ That is really, really the hard part in recruiting because these 16-year old kids are very impressionable. Unfortunately, when negativity gets written, especially unfounded, rumor-based, unnamed source-based negativity gets written, it makes our competing recruiters’ job just so much more easy. They just press print and say here you go. As far as the reality is concerned, we understand that we have the support of hundreds of thousands, tons of our fanbase, and we certainly appreciate that. We understand the difference between vocal minorities and people who make decisions and their beliefs.”

After verses one and two of the hymn, we’ve reached the refrain. It wouldn’t be a tirade with out some sort of call-out of the media and “anonymous sources.”

The fact is scores of coaches around the country have at one point been an anonymous source.

Anonymous sourcing is a growing trend not just in sports reporting, but in reporting in general. The merits and flaws of the practice are up for debate, but it is a part of the world Herman and others have joined. To assail anonymous sources, especially ones in the Texas market that have been consistent in saying Herman’s hold on his position is growing more and more precarious, doesn’t entail what Herman is denying is false.

There have been instances during the Herman era where an outlet’s reporting has caused issues on the recruiting trail, but that is not the issue facing the program in November 2020. The issue is Herman has not won enough at Texas for anonymous sources to relay as much good news as he would prefer.

An emphasis on how good the relationship is between coach and administration

“I couldn’t be more aligned with our athletic director, my boss, who we meet with constantly, who has assured me of his support and the support of university leadership, and has even commended me, our staff, and our program for how we have handled the craziest year in college football history. He’s even offered, if a recruit wants to talk to him, to give that recruit his number. It does get difficult. It gets exhausting more than anything to have to extinguish all of these unfounded, baseless claims that are hidden behind unnamed sources and agendas. I don’t know why it’s more here at Texas than at other places, but it is and it’s something that we deal with on a daily basis.”

A word from the Inside Scoop.

It’s no dreaded vote of confidence, but most athletic directors and administrations provide unyielding support of a coach… until they don’t. Then, they do so publicly.

A reassurance that the status quo is fine

“I couldn’t be happier with our staff. I couldn’t be happier with the locker room and the players in it. We were brought here to build something with the ability to have sustained level of success. We are very, very happy and proud of our trajectory in getting that job done for years and years to come, and as has been told to me, so is the leadership at this university.”

Herman wouldn’t be using the Embattled Coach Media Tirade if everything were fine and everyone was “very, very happy.” He speaks about building a program with a “sustained level of success,” but that has not happened during his time in Austin.

It has not been a historical trough like the previous head coach’s tenure, but “sustained level of success” isn’t what comes to mind for most when describing Tom Herman’s Texas program.

“Years and years to come” is great to consider, but the years that have already passed haven’t clearly indicated Herman is on the right path. After all, he did have to provide an Embattled Coach Media Tirade during his press conference.