In first head coaching job, Herman puts more than a decade of experience to use as Houston rolls to 22-4 record in two seasons
Posted January 19th, 2017
HOUSTON — While at Ohio State, Tom Herman learned a whole new language.
Instead of using the word “should,” Urban Meyer taught him to use the word “will.” And heaven help the poor athletic staffer who utters the phrase, “That’s not my job.”
As the Buckeyes inched closer to winning the 2014 national championship, Herman, their 39-year-old offensive coordinator, believed he was getting closer to becoming a head coach.
“He called and said, ‘Coach, I came in second at SMU,” recalled former Texas and Iowa offensive coordinator Greg Davis, Herman’s coaching mentor. “I said, ‘That’s OK, you’re going to get a job. You just keep working.’”
Clemson offensive coordinator Chad Morris landed the SMU job. Literally one week after being turned down by the Mustangs, Herman was ushered in as the new head coach at Houston.
Before leaving the Buckeyes for the Bayou City, Herman had one piece of unfinished business. He stayed and coached all the way through the 2014 national championship game. Meyer made sure Herman was locked in on beating Oregon at AT&T Stadium, recalled Mack Rhoades, the athletic director who hired Herman at Houston.
“We had some conversations pretty late, well after midnight,” Rhoades said. “I remember one of the conversations, I could tell he was spent, he was worn out. He may have dozed off on me while we were talking.”
In a moment of savvy marketing, Herman was spotted wearing a Houston cap on the field after Ohio State’s 42-20 win. “What did I think?,” Rhoades said. “I thought it was great.”
Almost three months after hiring Herman, Rhoades took off for Missouri. Houston officials turned the job over to Hunter Yurachek, who discovered the football coach had a laundry list of wishes and a laser focus on rebuilding the UH brand.
Art Briles and Kevin Sumlin both enjoyed double-digit winning seasons during their time on Cullen Blvd. Herman believed that with his staff and a recruiting base within the fourth largest city in America, it was possible. The “H-Town Takeover” wasn’t just a catchy social media slogan. It was a movement.
“He had a vision from the first day he walked in,” Yurachek said.
Herman orchestrated a total makeover of the football offices, adding graphics to the walls, putting trophies in more prominent locations and coaxing UH supporters to donate furniture and even some lighting in a renovated locker room.
Herman was furious that water kept creeping into a long hallway that led to the locker room doors. So he and strength coach Yancy McKnight got some shovels and spent a whole night ripping out the flooring, leaving bare concrete exposed. Now, they had to fix it.
“He was making a point to our staff,” Yurachek said. “It was, ‘I’ve been asking for you guys to fix this for three months. It took me and my strength coach three hours to pull it up.’ That was kind of the statement he made to us as a department.”
When Houston started the 2015 season with a 10-0 record, Cougars fans fell in line and opened their wallets. The coaching salary and football operating budget totals jumped 59 percent in the 2015-16 fiscal year from what it was two years prior. Improvements were made to the locker room ($750,000), weight room ($369,238) and training room ($10,649). The school spent $421,098 on audio/visual equipment, video software upgrades and locker room decorations.
The school has broken ground on a $20-million indoor practice facility. It was so important, Herman had it written into his contract that his buyout would shrink if that project wasn’t started by a specific timeline. Other multi-million dollar facility upgrades are coming.
All those improvements were key selling points in Houston’s bid to join the Big 12 last summer. The league ultimately decided not to expand, a real gut punch to those at UH.
“We’re excited just to be able to come to the dance and show what we have,” said Tilman Fertitta, chairman of the UH System Board of Regents. “I think the University of Houston has come a long way.”
Herman was a key reason why. Now he’s brought that same vision, that passion, that focus to the University of Texas. A coach who went 22-4 in two seasons at Houston and 6-0 against ranked teams will be given a lot of leeway in Austin.
After three straight losing seasons, the Longhorns are ready to start winning again.
“I hope we stay going a hundred miles an hour,” Herman said, “and don’t come up for air very often.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s note: This is the last 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.