Football

Tom Herman's primary mission? Help struggling Texas escape its vortex of losing

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Story highlights
  • P.J. Locke on the increased competition: “Open your eyes. Nah, I can’t lose no more. I gotta compete.”
  • The winners get rewarded. The losers? Naashon Hughes: “Man, the food’s so bad when you lose.”
  • With a combined record of 46-42 since 2010, the Longhorns have been defined as mediocre.

Posted July 18th, 2017

FRISCO — Only three players inside the Texas locker room have ever been on a winning team. Defensive end Naashon Hughes, defensive back Antwuan Davis and kicker Mitchell Becker are all that remain from the Longhorns’ 8-5 squad of 2013, Mack Brown’s final team.

Seventy-five percent of the UT roster — the freshmen, sophomores and juniors — has never even been to a bowl game. This is the problem that confronts first-year Texas coach Tom Herman.

If the Longhorns ever hope to win big again, they must first escape this vortex of losing. A program that’s only 46-42 since the start of the 2010 season is, by definition, mediocre. That’s why Herman has spent his first eight months instilling a competitive culture where everyone and everything is broken down into two basic groups: Winners vs. losers.

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“Losing has to be awful, and you can never get used to losing,” Herman said Tuesday at Big 12 media days. “That is one of the biggest downfalls of a lot of teams, is you get used to losing.”

Texas head coach Tom Herman, second from right, poses for photos after speaking to reporters during the Big 12 NCAA college football media day in Frisco, Texas, Tuesday, July 18, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

Herman addressed a multitude of topics inside Ford Center. He wants to restart the Texas A&M series, hasn’t ruled out freshman quarterback Sam Ehlinger winning the starting job and indicated that all key contributors will be healthy when practice starts July 31.

But Herman’s fundamental stance on winning and losing shaped his first appearance at this event. It will likely define the program in the months ahead, too. He just had lasik eye surgery and moved his family into its new home in West Lake Hills just 10 days ago. Herman, 42, definitely has a clear vision for Texas football.

“No, losing is awful,” Herman said. “It’s awful. It’s not just, oh well, we’ll get them next week. No, this is like the sky-is-falling-type stuff.”

It started by competing what Herman called Tour of Duty. It’s basically a series of agility drills, defensive back P.J. Locke III said, six different stations with five repetitions required at each one. Locke said he lost to safety DeShon Elliott on the first day.

“I had to serve him iced-brewed Gatorade,” Locke said. “DeShon is the type of person that will throw it in your face. He’ll say, ‘Yeah, I won. Whatcha gonna do about it?’ The coaches were like that, too. I just got so hot. I was pissed. If I lose, I’ve got to serve him Gatorade? I can’t do it.”

The losers each day were miserable.

Texas linebacker Naashon Hughes listens to a question during the Big 12 NCAA college football media day in Frisco, Texas, Tuesday, July 18, 2017. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

“Man, the food’s so bad when you lose,” Hughes said. “The pancakes, they look cooked from far away. But when you get a little closer, you can still see the batter. Grits, I’ve never seen watered grits where it’s so loose. And burnt biscuits, bacon. Any regular breakfast you can think of at its worst level, think of that.”

In every competitive situation, Herman said the losers should “feel awful about it.” It’s not hokey or corny, but that “it’s really, really bad for them to lose.” And on the flipside, it has to be “very cool for the guys that win and rewarding for the guys that win,” Herman said.

Those who excel are invited to what Herman calls the Champions Dinner. The menu featured barbecued ribs and chicken, wings and pasta. “I’m getting excited talking about it,” Locke said. The losers got a half-cooked burger patty with plain white bread and cold beans.

“So open your eyes,” Locke said. “Nah, I can’t lose no more. I gotta compete. It affects everybody. It’s raised the bar.”

There’s a serious attention to detail, too. Offensive tackle Connor Williams said players have been kicked out of the weight room for being late. In turn, the whole group gets punished. Do that once, Williams said, and you’ll never do it again.

“Go down there and ask P.J. Locke about the time he left a water bottle in the players’ lounge,” Herman told reporters.

Players are told repeatedly to keep a water bottle on them at all times. Locke accidentally left his behind one day. Herman blasted both Locke and his position coach, Craig Naivar.

“Then I had to hear some more about it at 4 in the morning,” Locke said. “(Naivar) lives about an hour from campus, so he had to get up at 3 just to drive in and assist me in something I did.”

The result? Locke said he took a shoestring and tied the water bottle around his neck.

“If you don’t have your water bottle on you at all times, that means you’re defiant,” Herman said. “You’re saying to me that you don’t believe in what we’re doing, or you’ve got a better way of doing it.

“You can go party all you want, go enjoy Austin, go enjoy college and Texas, you can do all of those things,” Herman added. “But don’t come to me and say you want to win a championship then. Because those two things can’t coexist. This is a full-time job, and the people that win championships invest everything they have into winning a championship.”

Texas senior quarterback Trey Holtz sheds tears as he exits the field following the Longhorns 31-9 loss to TCU at Royal-Memorial Stadium in Austin, TX. James Gregg/American-Statesman

How will all of this translate into winning football? Well, that’s unclear. “Patience,” West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen said. “You can think you can change it overnight, but it takes patience. It took me four years to turn the corner.”

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said he wasn’t trying to scare players when he took over as head coach in 2005. “But I think they need to know who’s in charge,” he said. “We had to create a set of rules and standards, then enforce them and stick with them.”

Herman doesn’t have the luxury of patience. His predecessor got only three seasons and produced only a 16-21 record. The vortex of losing sucked in Charlie Strong. Herman is determined to help the Longhorns break free.

“All you have to do is look at Tuscaloosa, Alabama, or Columbus, Ohio, and you see these programs with sustained success that do it a certain way, and that way works,” Herman said.

Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com.

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