- Tom Herman said it was "like a funeral home" around the football building, but is there enough accountability?
- Athletic director Chris Del Conte said Herman was talking to his young players but understands the fan base is hurting.
- Where is the sense of urgency after a 7-7 overall record and a bad loss to start Herman's second season.
Tom Herman insists he’s not mad at his players.
But is that a good thing?
There’s a fine line between coaching ‘em up and demanding accountability. When Herman suggested Monday that the loss to Maryland was a “not very” big setback, was he coddling his team and defusing expectations? If so, could softness and entitlement be far behind?
I’ve never been fond of colleges coaches calling their players kids when they’re old enough to fight in wars, vote in elections and pack their shoulder pads in $9,000 lockers. Quandre Diggs once complained about not having flat-screen televisions in the team’s hotel rooms on a road trip to Oklahoma State, but he’s also one accountable guy who’d rip your throat out and play with passion, no matter what.
He also famously said Texas’ roster didn’t have enough dog in ‘em. It didn’t then and still doesn’t.
We hesitate to compare anyone to Nick Saban, the consummate bully’s bully, but there’s an appreciation for a head coach who gets on one of his players even in mid-game when Alabama is crushing an inferior opponent. He has a standard. Saban’s teams are never accused of being soft. His strong persona suggests an in-charge, feared, respected coach who insists upon the best and settles for nothing less. Of course, in Tuscaloosa, the players demand accountability of each other as strongly as the coaches do.
Herman said a lot of right things Monday about how losing is unacceptable, how Sunday was “like a funeral home around our building,” how he understands how outraged Longhorn Nation is and how Gary Johnson needs to expand his reading list to John Steinbeck. OK, we’re totally bewildered what that was about.
(Curiously, Herman referenced the “Of Mice and Men” novel, and we’re still scratching our heads as to what a mentally challenged young man squeezing the life out of a rabbit has to do with losing to Maryland. He might have been wiser to have brought up the “Grapes of Wrath” because there’s a lot of wrath going around.)
The players mimicked Herman’s mantra in the aftermath of the Debacle in D.C. They mentioned his critique that the 34-29 loss to the Terrapins was “not very” big as a setback, which was the last thing about 25,000 visiting Longhorns fans at FedEx Field wanted to hear.
Yes, that was one loss in the first game of the season, but the collective fan base is rip-someone’s-head-off mad not just because of a second straight loss to what is perceived as an average Maryland team, but because of the last eight seasons.
Maryland was only the latest manifestation of a broken program that needs fixing.
Herman seemed to get it Monday after almost cavalierly dismissing the defeat two days before. But I found it puzzling because he arrived here from Houston with the manic approach of a man who considered the sky to be falling with each and every defeat. Hence, soggy pancakes and watery eggs for the losers whether it’s a weight-lifting drill or full-out scrimmage.
Where is that sense of urgency?
Herman did point out the positives, and there were some. Brandon Jones looked strong on returns and in goal-line defense, cornerback Kris Boyd had some moments but also a muffed interception attempt and a pass interference call, and nose tackle Chris Nelson acquitted himself well.
Texas looked like it might have something special in Keaontay Ingram but benched the talented freshman back the entire second half because of a “hot hand” in older Tre Watson and Kyle Porter, with Herman weirdly blaming the decision to sit Ingram in part because of a 86-minute rain delay. Huh?
But there’s nothing wrong with verbally poking his team collectively. It’s about setting expectations.
As then-Oklahoma defensive coordinator Brent Venables told me in the middle of a five-game win streak over Texas, “You get what you demand.” Herman may not be demanding enough. Despite the loss, there wasn’t a single change in the depth chart. I assume that means the top 22 had acceptable performances, which doesn’t speak well for the team’s depth.
Athletic director Chris Del Conte said he understood Herman’s kid-gloves approach.
“He was talking to 18-to-22-year olds,” Del Conte told me Monday. “Tom is plenty upset and hurting. That whole coaching staff is. You’ve got to understand kids read the paper. I know you’re looking for fire and brimstone, but we have 11 more games.”
No one’s asking Herman to embarrass his players, but he could do more to engender a toughness and accountability in his players. Is losing really unacceptable here? These top recruits came here for big-time glory, but with that comes glaring scrutiny. Otherwise, Texas State could use some players.
Some are starting to wonder, especially since Herman’s burnt orange résumé shows a 7-7 record and less promise unless some folks start showing more anger and resolve. As Darrell Royal once chastised his team at halftime of an Oklahoma game, “There’s a heckuva fight going on out there. You might want to join it.”
So might these Longhorns.