FRISCO — Tom Herman swept through the Metroplex on Tuesday and wowed ‘em.
He was literally the last man standing, still taking questions from a dozen or so reporters some 20 minutes after coaches and players from West Virginia, Baylor, Oklahoma State and Kansas State had already left their tables inside the Ford Center and vacated the building.
Little wonder he was the focus of the final session of Big 12 media days. Texas has always been a lightning rod for attention whether it’s coming off one of its four national championships or three straight, seven-loss seasons. And Herman is part of the Big 12’s new coaching crowd, joining Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley and Baylor’s Matt Rhule. He’s a fresh face.
Others may have enjoyed the spotlight more. Baylor’s personable Matt Rhule absolutely killed it on Tuesday, but he had plenty of competition from the colorful Mike Gundy, who has a new, longer contract but the same ol’ mullet. One that was quickly nearing “ponytail potential.”
Still, Herman was the main attraction.
During his 90-minute time with the media, he touched on Chris Warren III’s mumps, announced a two-game suspension for tight end Reese Leitao, proudly bellowed toward nickel back P.J. Locke III about his strong 2.90 GPA and, likewise, to offensive tackle Connor Williams 30 yards away about his exemplary 3.40 average, and said he will kiss his players before games this fall per his tradition at Houston.
And here we thought Charlie Strong was a player’s coach.
In truth, he was. Herman may be too, but he goes about it in a different way. He’s hoping to be a father figure, but a stern father who doesn’t tolerate missteps. He is singularly focused on winning and shows tough love at every turn.
He punishes offenders and rewards the successful on a daily basis, whether he’s handing out customized Kevin Durant sneakers with Longhorns embroidery stitched on them to the winners or feeding the losers a breakfast of watered-down powdered eggs, lumpy pancakes and burnt toast. He prefers to call the results “consequences” rather than punishments.
Call it what you want, Herman already has proven over his first eight months that he’s a gritty, no-nonsense coach with obsessive attention to detail that few others can match. Little things matter to Herman before they escalate into big things. And there’s nothing little about a bad habit.
Herman may or may not be the next Darrell Royal, but Longhorn Nation is counting on him not being the next Charlie Strong.
Herman reminds me of Buddy Ryan, but without quite the bluster. Ryan, you’ll recall, was the NFL defensive icon who revolutionized the league with his 46 defense for the Chicago Bears before he made his last head coaching stop in Arizona.
Upon his first day with the Cardinals in 1994, Ryan boldly declared in his introductory news conference, “You’ve got a winner in town.”
He lied. After some initial hubub and marginal improvement on defense by his team, Ryan managed no better than an 8-8 record that first season and completely fell on his face the next, when the Cardinals limped in at 4-12 and he was fired.
Herman didn’t make any such chesty proclamations at his first foray here and even chided some Longhorns fans who wear “burnt-orange sunglasses and have crazy expectations.”
But you can tell he’s a winner. It’d be shocking if his first Longhorns team doesn’t play in a bowl game and win eight or nine games. If he can’t turn Texas’ fortunes around, the school may have to unearth Vince Lombardi or drop football.
Herman passed his first public test, not that there was any doubt he could hold up to a thousand media questions.
He was abundantly clear. He has no specific expectations but was adamant that he has zero tolerance for losing. He’s got a job to do, and he will relay on tunnel vision to get it accomplished. And he’s gotten his message across.
With the weight room still under construction inside the Moncrief-Neuhaus Complex, the players have worked out all summer under the adjoining tent.
“There’s no AC,” Herman said. “It’s a sweat box. Like working in a sauna. They’ve done it every day, and I think we had one miss from one guy.”
So are the players scared of Herman?
“I don’t want to say that,” Locke said before adding, “but yeah.”
“The intensity has been turned up,” Williams said.
If you’re big on body language, Herman’s your guy. He oozes confidence and — Texas fans are counting on this — arrogance. Texas arrogance, which has been missing lately.
Bob Bowlsby went so far as to suggest Herman may be the next Jim Harbaugh, whom Bowlsby once hired at Stanford. Asked for Herman’s similarities, the Big 12 commissioner said, “His energy. His intellect. And his sense of competition. I think that’s part of the magic of Jim, and I see a lot of that same magic in Tom.”
I would think Texas would accept Harbaugh 2.0 or any incarnation of the polarizing Michigan coach, and Herman figures to be every bit as detailed, organized and intense as Harbaugh. Everyone is noticing.
When I asked TCU’s Gary Patterson for his impression of Herman, he said, “He’s all-business.”
The business of winning.