Former Texas Longhorns linebacker Brian Orakpo looks on during the Orange and white spring football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday, April 15, 2017 RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Cedric Golden

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Golden: Herman needs the alumni to help turn Texas around

Posted April 16th, 2017

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Story highlights
  • Head coach Tom Herman has made a concerted effort to develop a relationship with Texas alumni.
  • There were 379 alumni who participated during the spring game weekend, including 15 current NFL players.
  • Among those in attendance Saturday were Cory Redding, Vince Young, Michael Huff, Aaron Ross, and Quandre Diggs.

Tom Herman and his players can’t do it alone.

A winning football team needs all hands on deck, from the coaches to the players to the important people that helped build the tradition.

During Saturday’s Orange-White spring game, there were several instances where noted alumni were shown on the Jumbotron at DKR.

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Two-time Super Bowl champion and Thorpe Award winner Aaron Ross was featured in a promotion and interviewed on the sideline, and Herman was there to give him a hug. Pro Bowl linebackers Brian Orakpo and Derrick Johnson, also got some love from the coach.

I didn’t watch Herman the whole game, but I’m thinking he may have even kissed a baby or two.

It’s obvious he’s trying to connect with former Longhorn players who made great things happen when they were on campus. From Friday’s lettermen’s golf tournament at Grey Rock Golf Club to separate tailgates on Friday and Saturday, followed by the spring game where 379 alumni attended — including 15 current NFL players — Herman’s welcome mat has been out from the second he walked on campus.

“The two biggest constituents are the former players and the high school coaches in the state of Texas,” Herman said. “I hope it’s been evident that we’ve bent over backwards to try to rekindle those relationships with both those constituencies and it’s not for show.”

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Herman says this is real, not some big public relations ploy to get the program noticed. So this isn’t akin to taking a sledgehammer to unsuspecting wooden lockers in the outdated team facility and plastering it all over the internet. All jokes aside, it’s a smart move, something that worked for Mack Brown and the same family concept Charlie Strong embraced, though Strong’s results were different. Herman thinks the current players would be nuts to not take advantage of the positive life examples in their midst each week.

“I have that role model each and every day they walk around with their T-rings on and they’re present at just about anything and everything,” Herman said. “Then how does that not motivate you if you’re an 18-to-22 year old current player on this team to say ‘I want to be like Cory Redding’?” Well how do you know that? ‘Because I see him every day and he talks to me and he tells me these stories.’”

During the golf tournament, Herman reconnected with former running back Hodges Mitchell for the first time in 19 years, told old stories with Matt Trissel and Stevie Lee, who were on campus when he was a graduate assistant under Mack Brown and introduced former defensive lineman Brandon Nava, who played for both John Mackovic and Brown, to his son.

“Why haven’t you stopped by the program yet?” he asked. “I want you to come and be part of what we’re doing.”

Take a look around Moncrief-Neuhaus during the week and you will see alumni all over the place. On Saturday, Redding, Emmanuel Acho, Ahmad Brooks, and new Saskatchewan Roughrider Vince Young were all suited and booted and on Longhorn Network duty. Quan Cosby was doing sideline commentary for 104.9 The Horn.

Add in 2005 Thorpe Award winner Michael Huff, now working for Herman as a quality control assistant, and many others like Orakpo, Tim Crowder and Quandre Diggs serving as mentors to players, most of whom have not experienced a winning season in college, then you see the buy-in from these football forefathers.

The salad days ended some time ago on the Forty Acres but hope abounds with this new coaching staff, in that soon-to-be refurbished locker room and among the old heads who recall better days around these parts.

“The salad days started when we bought in,” said Redding, who was one two prized jewels — quarterback Chris Simms was the other — in Mack Brown’s second recruiting class. “We had to buy in to Mack’s message if we were going to win. Now it’s important for these boys to understand that Coach Herman is trying to bring the same type of message to the program.”

Hope has been the recurring theme over the last three seasons, but the results haven’t been there. The alumni are investing heavily with their time and loyalty because they see hey see a young, hungry coach who is crazy obsessed with turning things around, the type of crazy that will bring the program out of the sub-.500 wilderness of the last three seasons.

“He’s leaving no stone unturned,” Nava told me. “From the facility upgrades that we’ve desperately needed for 10 years to the social media presence, he and his staff have developed to connect with high school recruits. … I think he’s taken the right roads to have the ability to lead Texas into our next resurgence.”

The alumni won’t be making any plays for their college team this fall, but their presence sends an obvious message that three straight seven-loss seasons is beyond unacceptable in Austin.

They’re needed here, no question.

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