Noted barbecue connoisseur Herb Hand is already branching out during his time in Austin. His culinary curiosity is paying huge dividends.
“I could eat at Sway every day. That’s a good spot,” the new Texas offensive line coach says of the trendy Thai restaurant.
“Here’s what you want when you sit down to eat,” the burly 50-year-old said. “You take the fork, whatever you’re eating, you cut it, you put it in your mouth and then you just drop the fork and go, ‘That’s it right there.’
“There’s some places where you take the fork, you put the food in your mouth and you go, ‘Meh, I’ve had better.’ I want the fork-dropper.”
Longhorns fans have seen offensive line coaches come and go around here in recent years like trendy hot spots. Hand is the fourth line coach UT has employed in the last four seasons. Gulp. That stat alone is a fork-dropper, all right.
At Friday’s first practice, Hand was barbecuing something. Burnt ends, so to speak. “Get outta here!,” he screamed at one player who didn’t line up right.
There’s a strong belief inside the program that Hand will stick. Texas needs stability in its offensive line, for if the running game can’t get on track, this entire season will taste plain awful.
“He’s the best offensive line coach I’ve ever had,” junior center Zach Shackelford said. “Just in terms of his overall knowledge of the game, so many techniques I’ve learned in such a short period of time since he’s been here, things I’ve never even heard of before. So many things.”
Players like Shackelford and senior guard Elijah Rodriguez have no choice but to roll with the shifting staff changes. Joe Wickline was at Texas from 2014-15. Then Matt Mattox came as a package deal with offensive coordinator Sterlin Gilbert in 2016. Last season, UT coach Tom Herman hired Derek Warehime, who’s now coaching the tight ends.
“I will say, I am super grateful that I’ve had that experience of having a lot of different coaches,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve learned how to be very coachable, adapt to different coaching styles and learned how to conduct myself with excellence no matter what’s going on around me.”
New NCAA rules allowed coaches to hire a 10th assistant coach. Herman cold-called Hand and asked if he would interview. The head coach had always been impressed with what he saw on film from Hand’s days at Vanderbilt.
Hand was at Penn State (2014-15) and Auburn (2016-17) before coming to Austin. All in, the coaching lifer has logged 26 years in a profession where one’s individual teaching methods are a hodgepodge of previous experience.
Knowing UT players had been though a lot of turnover, Hand has taken a different approach. Instead of teaching his players new methods and terminology, he learned the Longhorns’ current playbook and signals. Several players said Thursday that running the same offense for a second straight year was a huge bonus.
“We’re not going to be learning a whole new thing from day one,” Shackelford said. “We’re just sticking with the same thing with some cool, new tricks up our sleeve.”
Last year’s offensive line was a veritable stew. Four different players started at left tackle, and Shackelford and left guard Patrick Vahe both missed time, too. Right tackle Derek Kerstetter, now a sophomore, came off the bench and started the final 10 games.
Mish-mashed blocking and lack of an explosive running back led to real problems. Texas averaged 139.6 rushing yards per game, seventh in the Big 12.
“The one thing you could tell from watching the tape, it was a new system,” Hand said. “You could tell there was a lot of moving parts. Every time I turned the game on, it seemed like there were different cats in there, different guys who got dinged up.”
On Friday, the first-team line featured Denzel Okafor (left tackle), Vahe, Shackelford, Rodriguez and Kerstetter from left to right. Graduate transfer Calvin Anderson was going through his first practice in burnt orange, so he ended up watching, listening and learning. He’s expected to be in the rotation at left tackle as well.
“We finished (last season) with eight scholarship offensive linemen,” Herman said, “and now you add the four freshmen, Calvin Anderson, Patrick Hudson in the mix, we feel like we’ve got a better room.”
Said Hand: “The key to me is going to be the development of Sam Cosmi, J.P. Urquidez, Tope Imade and then getting Patrick Hudson back healthy. How much can we count on those young guys, because you’re going to have to count on them as the season goes on.”
Hand said he was at Tulsa for two seasons and didn’t have a single injury on the line. Knock twice, please, for that to happen at Texas.
If the Longhorns can keep everyone upright, they’ll have a whole helping heaping of choices come September.
“He’s so knowledgeable,” Shackelford said. “Every problem that we face, he has an answer for. It’s just nice to have that security blanket around the offensive line room.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.