Total alignment: Tom Herman is transforming Texas with his vision, messaging and plan

Posted August 30th, 2017


At Texas, the head football coach must be half-coach, half-CEO. Leaning too far either way results in disaster.

Sure, Tom Herman knows he must win football games. At 42, he’s now the most recognized face of a colossal athletic enterprise that’s inching closer to $200 million in annual revenue.

Herman’s success or failure with the Longhorns depends largely on his leadership skills. That’s why he preaches “alignment.” He must communicate a unique vision to administrators, assistant coaches, support staff, players, alumni and fans — even Matthew McConaughey.


In a recent interview with the American-Statesman in the coach’s office, Herman admitted, “I have my hands on a lot of things. If I’m going to be hired and fired based on the performance of my program, I think it’s only fair that I have control over my program. And that’s a little bit different from the way things were around here in the past.”

Herman doesn’t credit any one specific coach as his biggest influence. He’s a melting pot of all those he’s worked for, “from Brian Marmion at Texas Lutheran to Mack Brown, Ron Randleman, David Baliff, Paul Rhoads, Urban Meyer, they’ve all been educational experiences for me.

RELATED: Tom Herman to Texas: The alignment of a coaching philosophy

“It’d be remiss if I didn’t say that there’s a lot of assistant coaches out there who have at least one head coach horror story,” Herman said. “It’s like, ‘Oh man, I worked for this guy three years and oh boy, I’ve been blessed.’”

From all those coaches, Herman developed his plan. And the only people who can screw up the plan, he believes, “are the people.”

Texas coach Tom Herman addresses the players during training camp. RALPH BARRERA/American-Statesman Staff

Herman’s plan drills down to microscopic detail. He recruits the players and monitors the color of their urine to check for “championship hydration levels.” He helped select the songs that will be played inside Royal-Memorial Stadium on game day and he gave final approval for the team’s schedule poster.

Oh, there’s large-scale vision, too. Herman walked UT President Gregory L. Fenves and men’s athletic director Mike Perrin through the football complex and showed how behind-the-times it had become. They in turn approved $10 million in upgrades and purchased 126 new lockers costing $8,700 each. As Herman said in January, “We’re behind, but not by much. Nothing that a multi-million dollar facelift can’t fix.”

It’s more than bleeding-edge lockers, though. The guts of Texas’ Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletic Center have been ripped out and replaced with a 21st-century look.

Tom Herman-Texas Longhorns
Texas coach Tom Herman wants to instill toughness for his new football team as he instructs defensive lineman Charles Oeenihu.

“Matthew McConaughey, when I first met him, I said, ‘We’re going to redo the downstairs area.’ He said, ‘Oh, thank God,’” Herman said. “He said, ‘Everywhere I look there are 17 words. I’m not smart, but I’m OK. But every time I’m down there, I walk out of there with a headache and my ADD kicks in. I don’t know which word is more important than the next.’”

McConaughey will now find a huge “1-0” sign on the wall. That’s Herman’s mantra. Physical and mental toughness. Unit pride. Competitive focus. “We don’t have a lot of buzzwords, but the ones we do, we use over and over and over again,” Herman said.

One buzzword is “bad guy.” You never want to be labeled a “bad guy” by Herman. It’s not meant to be interpreted literally, but Herman must break through the noise to reach today’s 18- to 21-year-old athlete. He spent the spring transforming players who are “compliant but not convicted.” If you win Herman over, you become a “dude,” the ultimate sign you’ve earned his respect. The opposite end is brutal.

Staffers hung a sign inside the players’ lounge with a snapshot of Reggie Hemphill-Mapps from practice and the caption read, “Championship Ball Security!!!” The sign added, “When in trouble, double!!”

RELATED: The Texas 22: Starting at wide receiver — Reggie Hemphill-Mapps

There’s another photo of Devin Duvernay on a different door. “Horrific Ball Security!!! Not locking the elbow … 0-1 mentality. Bad guy.” The photo had a red X on Duvernay’s arm for not securing the ball.

“Did it say bad guy? That’s awesome,” Herman said. “He is a bad guy. At that moment, he was being a bad guy.”

Herman said the players understand its meaning. “Oh yeah. It’s you over-analytical people who don’t,” he said. “There’s some lightheartedness to that. But you do it enough, that is who you are, too.

“Don’t be this guy,” he added. “These kids are competitive dudes. The players think, ‘Oh my God, I don’t ever want to be up on that wall again.’ If that’s the one thing that saves a kid from fumbling again, then it was worth it.”

Tom Herman-Texas Longhorns
Texas head football coach Tom Herman speaks to reporters during the Big 12 NCAA college football media day in Frisco, Texas, Tuesday, July 18, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

There’s importance in honesty, Herman believes. This spring, he told reporters that he thought the defensive linemen were fat. That alone generated a headline. Herman learned a lesson about the size of his new platform.

RELATED: As spring football starts, Tom Herman brutally honest about ‘fat guys’ on Texas’ defensive line

“My first thought when that became a big story was, ‘Wow, this media is not used to hearing the truth,’” Herman said. “It does me no good when asked a question to lie or sugarcoat the answer. If I’m telling a kid in private he’s too fat, and I’m telling the media he’s doing OK and (he) reads that, or it gets on a message board and it gets spun into some cotton-candy spin, then the kid is going to ask what is the right message?

“I’m never going to openly tap the mic and say, ‘Guys, I’ve got an announcement to make! Joey is a dirtbag!’ That’s never going to happen. But if I’m asked a question, it doesn’t behoove me or the program to be less than truthful.”

Herman learned the importance of messaging from his earliest days as a graduate assistant at Texas from 1999-2000.

RELATED: Tom Herman to Texas: Tom Herman, the GA ‘hell bent for leather’

“You have to make sure everybody gets on the same language,” said former Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis, one of Herman’s mentors. “I used to tell my staff there, and the same at Iowa, if you called this block a ‘tray’ and I call it a ‘blade,’ then the kids are confused. We’re talking about the same block. The language has to be consistent.”


UT Head Coach Tom Herman watches his players at practice at Royal-Memorial Stadium on Saturday March 25, 2017. JAY JANNER / AMERICAN-STATESMAN


The lexicon is taking hold, apparently. P.J. Locke III recently retweeted a photo of players dancing in a special teams meeting and joked, “What you doing with your phone in meetings? #BadGuy lol.”

“A lot of times for the safeties, if we have one bad guy, everybody gets punished,” sophomore Brandon Jones said. “So you don’t want to be that guy to mess up, because you will get called out in front of everybody. Then everybody else is doing your work for you because you messed up.”

At Big 12 media days, Locke told a story about how he once accidentally left his water bottle in the players’ lounge. Herman blasted both Locke and safeties coach Craig Naivar. The head coach had told the assistants how important the water bottle was for hydration.

To hear Locke tell this story, it was obvious the player had let the head coach and his position coach down.

“He believed it! It wasn’t like, ‘Man, can you believe this guy?,” Herman said. “When you foster that kind of relationship between player and coach, then again, it means way more.

“As humans, we can take … the punishment that we deserve,” he added. “You start punishing people I love for crimes or transgressions I committed, what a whole other level of guilt that is. Not that we’re motivating by guilt. I think we’re motivating by the desire to not let someone you love down.”

It’s expected that Herman will kiss each Longhorn before each game, same as he did at Houston. Herman believes it’s the most effective way to show real, genuine love. For some players, the football coach is the only dominant male role model in their life.

There are no secret plays or secret formations, Herman believes. During a speech at the Texas High School Coaches Association last month, Herman looked out at a reporter from the stage and said the Horns would run a pro-style spread offense and a 3-4 base defense. “Tell the world! I don’t care!,” he said in a packed room with more than 3,000 people.

Herman is implementing a vision for Texas football.

That’s how Darrell Royal approached the job. And Mack Brown. Both won national titles. Both were half-coach, half-CEO for the Longhorns. The last three years, Strong focused solely on being Texas’ coach. He didn’t care about facility upgrades or scoring political points. He went 16-21 in three seasons and got dismissed.

RELATED: Tom Herman praises Mack Brown, other mentors who molded Texas’ new football coach

At Texas, the job demands you be both. Good leaders somehow find a way.

“I like Tom Herman,” said Edith Royal, Darrell’s widow, who was there for Herman’s introductory press conference last November. “He came in and had so many things to say that were similar to what Darrell would have said. I was really impressed.

“I told him after the (press conference) was over, ‘You sound a lot like my husband did,’” she added. “He was very flattered. It kind of helped him a little bit, I think.”

Said former UT men’s athletic director DeLoss Dodds, “That’s good news. I’d say that Darrell would be very positive about it.”

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email

The post Total alignment: Tom Herman is transforming Texas with his vision, messaging and plan appeared first on HookEm.

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