Destination Texas, Part 5: Winning in 'Siberia,' knocking off the Longhorns for Tom Herman

Story highlights
  • Iowa State QB Austen Arnaud: “Before the game, you got a kiss on the forehead and he tells you that he loves you.”
  • The Cyclones were a 2-10 team the season prior to Herman's arrival. They went 7-6 and made a bowl game in 2009.
  • Herman was at the offensive controls for Iowa State's upset big win in Austin over 19th-ranked Texas in 2010.

Posted January 17th, 2017

AMES, Iowa — Last April, Tom Herman told a crowd of University of Houston business students he was “proud to say I didn’t make over $40,000 a year until I was 32 years old.”

After spending six years at the FCS level and then two more at Rice, joining Iowa State was supposed to be a step up.

“Did a three-year sentence in Ames, Iowa,” Herman told the crowd. “Anybody been to Ames, Iowa? Yeah, it’s awful. Siberia.”

As the offensive coordinator at Iowa State, Tom Herman helped the Cyclones reach two bowl games in three seasons (2009-11). Photo by Iowa State athletics.
As the offensive coordinator at Iowa State, Tom Herman helped the Cyclones reach two bowl games in three seasons (2009-11). (Iowa State Athletics)

Herman’s time there got off to a rocky start. He interviewed with Cyclones coach Gene Chizik, and by all indications, Herman felt like he was going to be named offensive coordinator. But Chizik abruptly left for Auburn after that 2008 season, leaving both Iowa State and Herman in limbo.

Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard hired Paul Rhoads, who wasn’t sure whom he’d pick to run the offense. As Herman’s coaching mentor Greg Davis recalled, Pollard recommended Herman to Rhoads simply because Chizik had been impressed.

“That’s the way I understand it went down,” Davis said in an interview with the American-Statesman. Pollard declined an interview request; Chizik did not respond to an interview request.

“Somebody gave him Tom’s name,” Rice coach David Bailiff said. “I wasn’t a card-carrying member of Mensa, but I figured that out pretty fast.”

The shotgun arrangement clicked, apparently. Iowa State, a 2-10 team in 2008, improved to 7-6 and won a bowl game in 2009. Quarterback Austen Arnaud had three offensive coordinators in five years with the Cyclones. In Herman, he saw stability.

“Before the game, you got a kiss on the forehead and he tells you that he loves you,” said Arnaud, who now works in medical sales in Charlotte. “In pre-game warmups, he’s dancing all around. I can’t remember what the popular song was. But a mid-30-year-old guy in khakis dancing is not a popular sight before a football game.”

Arnaud was at the controls for one of Rhoads’ biggest wins — a 28-21 shocker over 19th-ranked Texas at Royal-Memorial Stadium in 2010. He threw for two touchdowns and Alexander Robinson rushed for two more.

After the game, an angry Mack Brown said of his Longhorns, “I thought they were better coached than we were. I thought they tried harder than we did.”

Meanwhile in the other locker room, “(Herman) was hugging everybody,” Arnaud recalled. “I don’t know that he was trash-talking. He believed in the system, believed in the kids.”

Said Iowa State sports information director Mike Green, “There’s still a lot of people who thought that could never happen, that Iowa State could beat Texas in Austin.”

When the Cyclones returned home, there were about 1,000 people waiting for the team bus, Green said. “We went into our indoor facility and had a little celebration. It was a big win,” he said.

Iowa State is 2-12 in the all-time series against Texas. The only other win over the Longhorns came at Jack Trice Stadium in 2015, long after Herman was gone.

In 2011, Herman orchestrated what is still considered one of the biggest wins in Iowa State history. Running back Jeff Woody scored from 4 yards out in overtime to knock off No. 2 Oklahoma State, 37-31. After the 235-pounder stormed up the middle, fans stormed the field.

Herman had helped Iowa State reach two bowl games in three seasons. Urban Meyer took notice.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email

Editor’s note: This is the fifth installment of a seven-part series about new Texas coach Tom Herman. American-Statesman staff writers Brian Davis and Danny Davis visited each of his previous coaching stops to learn about his journey from becoming a UT graduate assistant in 1999 to the head coach on Nov. 26, 2016.

Part 1 — Tom Herman, the GA ‘hell-bent for leather’

Part 2 — Tom Herman catches on at Sam Houston State

Part 3 — Tom Herman boasts little hair, but lots of points at Texas State

Part 4 — With his offense and Mensa card, Tom Herman fit right in at Rice