Want to know why that Texas Bowl win over Missouri was so big for Tom Herman?
There are several reasons, among them the intense desire to rid the program of the stench of three straight losing seasons, unprecedented in the modern era of Texas football.
“The team came back from the bowl game determined to improve and it’s been exciting to see how much the team has grown and developed over the last eight months,” Herman said.
That brings us to Camp Herman, Year 2. Longhorn Nation has its coach but the question remains: Are the salad days back or is this still “next year’s team” given a solid group of underclassmen on the roster and the nucleus of a great recruiting class taking shape?
Want to swing for the fences, eternal optimists? Then cling to the legend of Nick Saban, who went 6-6 in his first regular season at Alabama, a dreadful year by his championship standards. The Tide lost four straight that season, including a humiliating 21-14 home shocker to Louisiana-Monroe in November and a sixth straight loss to Iron Bowl rival Auburn. Just like Herman this past season, Saban salvaged a winning debut season with a much needed ‘W’ in a bowl game.
He followed up with 12-2 finish in Year 2 and a national title in Year 3.
Can Herman produce a similar brand of magic in his second season? Nah, not immediately. The Horns aren’t talented or experienced enough to make that kind of noise though the Big 12 is wide open due to a noticeable lack of star power at the all-important quarterback position where players like Mason Rudolph and Heisman Trophy winner Baker Mayfield are now in the pros.
Herman went 13-1 his first year at Houston. Wins over a pair of national No. 3s — Oklahoma and Louisville — highlighted a 9-3 second season and placed Herman on the wish lists of prominent football factories Texas and LSU. The Horns hired him in nearly the same breath as firing Charlie Strong, partly due to the fact that Herman had put together consecutive winning seasons in impressive fashion. Now, winning in Houston is one thing but taking on the challenge of Texas — a sleeping giant that had been snoring soundly in the years since Mack Brown left — was quite another.
Houston is a pro town. With due respect to Austin FC, the 512 is burnt-orange dominant. When Herman left H-Town after two years, the stakes increased exponentially. Despite its struggles under Strong, Texas remained a destination job.
Herman won in Year 1, but seven wins merely whetted this fanbase’s appetite. The sleeping giant has stirred and rubbed its eyes, but it’s still a few yawns away from being fully engaged.
“When you look at the situations going into Year 2, we’ve faced two completely different challenges at Houston and now here at Texas,” Herman said. “At Houston we had to guard (against complacency). Our focus here has been building on the momentum of the bowl win and taking that into offseason workouts, the spring and now preseason workouts.”
Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando had the best seat in the house for Herman’s two UH seasons and his first at Texas. It’s why I thought it would be nice to hear what he had to say about Herman’s preparation for his second season in Houston.
“I think this place, at some parts of it … there’s a lot stress,” Orlando said. “Sometimes that can make you buckle a little bit and start to over think stuff. He’s never wavered. To me if you’re a player, if you’re a coach, and you look at a guy that’s just very consistent in terms of what he preaches and stays the course regardless of what happens, it’s really important as you’re building a program.”
This fanbase would love to experience the first double-digit season since 2009 but would gladly take eight or nine wins given what’s gone down here in recent years. Those closest to Herman insist he has this program on an upward arc.
“There’s a plan, and he believes in that plan,” Orlando said. “The plan for us is the same as what every other championship team is going through and he’s never going to change it.”
Herman has momentum. The biggest challenge in Year 2 is figuring out how to keep it going.
New year. Bigger expectations. Life at Texas.