University of Texas Head Football Coach Tom Herman talks with the team during spring practice on Tuesday, March 7, 2017. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Texas’ Tom Herman is more yelling-and-telling than kiss-and-telling

Posted March 8th, 2017

Advertisement
Story highlights
  • Tom Herman is installing the "Plus 2" philosophy. If he asks for 10-yard sprints, the players better run for 12.
  • It's been so long since the Longhorns won a bowl game that 91 other teams have won one since Texas' last post-season victory in the 2012 Alamo Bowl.
  • The best coaches have some ruthlessness in them, and Herman is of the Nick Saban-Urban Meyer mold.

Tom Herman has his football team exactly where he wants it.

Motivated. Focused. Alert.

And scared spitless.

Advertisement

Herman says what he means and means what he says. And he says a lot.

His new players don’t walk on eggshells. They run on them. As fast as they possibly can.

Herman made that clear in Tuesday’s first spring football practice as the Longhorns went through their paces at Herman speed. “Plus two,” as he puts it.

If he asks for five of anything, you’d better make it seven. If he wants 10, his players should put up 12. It’s very much in the Tom Coughlin mold of if you’re not early, you’re late.

And if they didn’t already grasp it during offseason conditioning, the players got the picture the moment Herman demanded flawless stretching drills at Denius Fields during a 2½-hour workout.

University of Texas Football Shane Buechele warms up during spring practice on Tuesday, March 7, 2017.
RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Texas flunked stretching. The Longhorns were stretching as a 5-7 team would. Those calisthenics, in Herman’s highly structured world, are to last eight minutes. It took the Longhorns 20 minutes to execute them to Herman’s satisfaction.

Overkill? Maybe. But why not when a football team wins 16 games in three seasons and hasn’t won a bowl game since the 2012 Alamo Bowl. Heck, 91 other teams have won bowl games — including North Texas, Vanderbilt and Rutgers — since Texas last did. Texas is broken, and Herman is Mr. Fix-It.

Just one day into spring practice, and it’s abundantly clear what the new head coach’s intentions are.

To break down his team physically and mentally, only to build it back up in time for it to maximize its potential come September. Texas hadn’t had a winning season in the past three seasons. Herman, if I read him correctly, ain’t gunning for the Motel 6 Cactus Bowl. He’s shooting for the College Football Playoff in year one.

Who knows which he’ll get.

But make no mistake. He will get every inch out of his players’ potential. Or those players will be gone.

I asked him Tuesday if his players are scared of him.

“I hope so,” Herman said, then thought better of it and asked to retrieve those words.

“I retract that statement,” he added. “They’re unsure of me off the field, but they’re very sure of me on the field.”

[brightcove_video video_id=”5351510128001″/]

Herman said he’s trying his best to show his team that he’s human. Which is why the 41-year-old coach sits down with his players at lunchtime and the dinner hour. Why he asks them about their girlfriends and classes. Why he looks to help them gain internships. He’s all about the bigger picture, and only attention to the smallest details will bring that into focus.

His players will learn if his rhetoric is innate or contrived. But between the sidelines, he wants them to know he’s the final authority although, as nickel back P.J. Locke said, it’s the same from the top of the chain of command to the bottom. Alignment, Herman calls it.

Herman’s first response to the question about fear was his natural, emotion-driven gut feeling. And that will almost certainly get him into trouble from time to time. He must have wondered how a parent or a potential recruit might perceive such a quote, and he wisely backtracked. I’ll be stunned if he doesn’t blow up at a referee or at a tough question in a post-game news conference after a loss.

University of Texas offensive coordinator Tim Beck talked to quarterback Shane Buechele (7) and left tackle Connor Williams (55) during during spring practice on Tuesday, March 7, 2017. RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

He’s honest to a fault in revealing his true emotions, and some of those quotes that trickled back to Houston hit a nerve. Cougars backers surely didn’t like hearing their former coach say his new Texas team has “way, way more talent” than he had in Houston or that he’d seen defensive coordinator Todd Orlando “make chicken salad out of lesser parts.” He didn’t cite the Cougars by name and Orlando also has also coached elsewhere, but it struck a nerve. Even Houston’s Ed Oliver, the next J.J. Watt, told the Houston Chronicle there’s been “a lot less yelling and a lot more coaching” at Cougars camp without Herman.

Herman doesn’t mind stepping on toes. He’s not here to soothe feelings, and that may be the only way to rid Texas of the nasty entitlement that has engulfed many of the athletic teams on campus.

Herman’s all about accountability. His players sense it, his assistants demand it, he lives it.

His players won’t want to disappoint him. I think the best coaches have some ruthlessness in them and are more feared and respected by their players than beloved. Maybe that’s part of the reason Charlie Strong failed so extravagantly and dictators like Nick Saban and Urban Meyer succeed. Herman runs toward the Saban-Meyer model.

Herman’s going to be much more the task-master than Mack Brown ever was. Herman’s players may be broken by May, but he’s betting they’ll run through a wall in September not necessarily because they love him but because they’re sick of losing and desperate for an alternative. Who knows if Herman will pucker up with his players in pre-game, but it’s clear he’s not kissing any backsides.

They’re not kissing his either, but they had better have their butts in high gear.

Comments