Texas coach Tom Herman leads the Longhorns onto the field at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Texas’ Herman is straddling support of players and appeasing fans

Posted October 19th, 2020

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Story highlights
  • Every week appears to be a supreme test for the fourth-year head coach who wants to return for a fifth.
  • The good news, Herman revealed, was an improving health situation overall, a “unified” team and Texas’ place in the Big 12 standings because “we've got six regular-season games left, and we've got all of the the teams that are at the top of the standings in our conference right now through three games.”
  • The bad news is Jordan Whittington’s hurt again with a hip flexor, the team may not be all that unified when it comes to singing the alma mater, and the perception that Texas still has to play six Big 12 teams that to this point all appear better than the Longhorns.

Tom Herman was one mellow fellow on Monday.

He was calm. He was reasoned. He was positive. He was organized and thorough and pleasant. He even offered a few book reviews on positive thinking.

He wasn’t the least bit defensive or irritable and didn’t snap at any reporters with their ugly questions.

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In short, the loquacious Texas head football coach was everything you’d want your coach to be. At least on a Monday.

Now, about Saturday.

We should talk.

That, as we’ve all seen, can be another matter altogether. And this Saturday, Herman and his 2-2 team face yet another (a) crossroads, (b) fork in the road, (c) fork in Tom, (d) measuring stick, (e) barometer or (f) litmus test — or all of the above — when he takes on dangerous Baylor and well-respected new coach Dave Aranda at Royal-Memorial Stadium.

Every week appears to be a supreme test for the fourth-year head coach who wants to return for a fifth.

Herman is trying hard to navigate challenging waters without capsizing the boat, one that has shown more than a few leaks in consecutive losses to TCU and Oklahoma.

The good news, he revealed, was an improving health situation overall, a “unified” team and Texas’ place in the Big 12 standings because “we’ve got six regular-season games left, and we’ve got all of the the teams that are at the top of the standings in our conference right now through three games.”

The bad news is Jordan Whittington’s hurt again with a hip flexor, the team may not be all that unified when it comes to singing the school song, and the perception that Texas still has to play six Big 12 teams that to this point all appear better than the Longhorns. Yeah, besides winless Kansas, Texas still has to play five teams that are a collective 11-2 in league play. And we haven’t even mentioned a defense that allows 400 yards and 36 points a game.

Plus, the clamoring distraction of the ongoing furor over the polarizing “The Eyes of Texas” only exacerbates the pressure on his team and staff.

Herman did a reasonably good job walking that fine line between supporting his players, many of whom are tremendously opposed to standing on the field during the singing of The Eyes, and at the same time ostensibly abiding by his athletic director’s and president’s wishes.

“His (Del Conte’s) wish is that they stand out there, not to sing the song, but to thank the fans,” Herman said. “If that’s what our guys choose to do, then we would be very proud of them. But we’re also very sensitive to those that feel a different way.”

However, many alumni think he should quit straddling that line, become more of a hard-nosed coach instead of one that goes overboard in placating his players and tell them to remain on the field after games. My guess is half will leave and half will stay.

“Nobody from Chris Del Conte to myself, have mandated any of our players to do anything,” Herman said. “I think mandate is a very strong word. That’s never been a word used to us as coaches from our administration, nor a word used as coaches to our players. This not a mandate.”

In many respects, Herman can’t win.

In many eyes, Herman can’t win. Or hasn’t won. At least not big enough with a pedestrian 27-17 record, no national ranking and seven losses to unranked teams. He faces another huge challenge this week in 1-1 Baylor that hasn’t found its footing but has cast a lot of misery on other UT teams.

But he’d better win this one.

This has to weigh heavily on the coaches and players.

“We’re a very divided country,” Herman said. “And our locker room is exactly the opposite. Our locker room respects and in facts admires guys that do speak their mind. Everybody is listened to and there are no grudges held for anybody who feels a certain way about anything.”

That mindset will be on full display Saturday.

On the field, Herman continues to insist that he sees “tangible progress” in this team, citing better tackling and defensive takeaways and a healing team. The jury’s still out on all that, but he did show he’s learning to be better.

He did not say the Longhorns had a great Sunday practice. Hopefully, he won’t need the tag of Sunday’s Coach.

That alone is progress.

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