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Tom Herman says he knew there would be tough times at Texas.
When I asked him Monday about the difficulty that has been this 3-4 start, Texas’ first-year coach paused for a free introspective second or two, then went nostalgic, recalling the time he told his wife about his dream of becoming a coach and the challenges that would come with pursuing that dream.
“Then when you’re moving every two, three years and you’re living in Huntsville, Texas and Ames, Iowa and Columbus, Ohio, and places that you never imagined, the reality of how difficult it is sets in,” Herman said. “But the commitment that you’ve made to that partner supersedes everything. I think that’s kind of how I’m feeling now.”
It’s gut-check time.
It’s early in his UT tenure, but Herman is looking at a must-win this week if he wants to keep this first season on the tracks. Sleeping on silk sheets that come with patrolling the sidelines at DKR is a bit different from the days he was coaching Sam Houston State receivers down the street from a century-old prison; the USA Today listed Herman’s annual salary at just under $5.5 million, which ranks eighth on its annual list.
Lose to Baylor and we’ll stop talking about bowl games, as road games loom against No. 4 TCU and No. 22 West Virginia.
Herman challenged his Longhorns to embrace a real hatred for losing this past offseason. It’s time to see if they were listening.
Baylor is a crossroads game. The hype surrounding the swagged-out lockers and promotional tweets over the offseason has been replaced by the simple need to get a win. Texas wants no part of a three-game losing streak, which would make it three straight years with one. You have to go all the way back to 1954-56 for the last time that happened, when Ed Price’s UT teams had three straight years with three-game losing streaks before Darrell Royal took over and built Texas into a powerhouse.
As Herman schemes on how to avoid becoming the featured highlight of Baylor’s 2018 recruiting video, he also has to deal with a locker room that’s growing weary of coming up short in marquee games. That’s nothing new to these Longhorns but it’s a foreign concept to Herman, who’s been part of coaching staffs that went 60-6 overall and 36-4 in conference games the last five seasons.
That includes a national championship that he won as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator and a 22-4 record as Houston’s head coach, when he went 6-0 against ranked teams.
Herman says he saw this coming before he took the UT job, but history suggests the blindside argument might apply here. He saw what went down under Charlie Strong and knew coming in that a fragile team psyche had to be repaired before good things start to happen. Chuck talked about this cake being baked, but Herman has had a real tough time making the whole meal taste good.
“Did I absolutely know it was going to be difficult? Yes. Is it hard for me to lose? Yes, it is awful. Awful,” he said. “But the commitment to the place I love and the commitment that this place has shown in return supersedes any difficulties that we may face and makes it a little bit easier to come to work every day.”
I’ve seen the best and the worst of Texas football over the last 20 seasons. It’s become easier to spot when a team has given up. There’s some noticeable fight in this group, a testament to Herman and his coaches. The Longhorns want to be better and have played each game since Maryland with the desperation of a winless team.
“The kids know when you’re uncertain,” Herman said. “The kids know when you’re full of disbelief and hesitation, and there has been zero of that from myself and the staff. There’s a difference in thinking this the right way to do things versus knowing this is the right way to do things. The entire staff knows that the way we do things is the right way.”
The Longhorns will roll into Waco wanting to avoid being the opening segment of SportsCenter on Saturday night. A win won’t garner much national attention, which is fine with Herman, who can ill afford a drive back home with a 3-5 team wondering how in the heck the Baylor Bears got the best of them.