You can always gauge the mood of the Texas football program by the Monday press conference.
Coach Tom Herman was trapped in a fox hole after the season-opening loss to Maryland. The next week, following a close win over Tulsa, reporters were asking Herman if he’s arrogant.
Funny how the mood changes after back-to-back wins over top-25 opponents.
Having won three straight, Herman drifted through an easy, breezy 30-minute session on Monday. He poked fun at himself, his staff members and acknowledged his players must keep at it this week against Kansas State (2-2, 0-1 Big 12).
It was the type of no-real-news news conference that former coach Mack Brown dominated during his halcyon days. Just don’t ask about that botched John Steinbeck reference Herman made the Monday after Maryland.
“Apparently I screwed that up, too, right?” Herman said about his “Of Mice and Men” reference. “The message was received. I didn’t have all my facts exactly right.”
So what’s Herman reading these days? “Certainly not Twitter or Instagram,” he said, “that’s definitely not on our suggested reading list right now.”
Football is fun again — this week, at least — for the 18th-ranked Longhorns (3-1, 1-0). The national media is starting to talk about Bevo Boulevard. Oddsmakers are back in UT’s favor, picking Texas to beat K-State by at least a touchdown. The program even picked up a commitment on Monday from four-star safety Tyler Owens.
Even men’s basketball coach Shaka Smart noticed the high-octane atmosphere of late. “There’s been a positive spirit in the whole stadium,” said Smart, who hosted basketball recruits the last three weekends.
All coaches use their weekly press conference to speak directly to the players through the media. Herman is no different. He continues to hammer home that players should ignore outside noise and focus solely on the task at hand — in this case beating the Wildcats.
UT has not won at Bill Snyder Family Stadium since 2002. “Our program hasn’t won in Manhattan, Kansas, since Caden Sterns was 2 years old,” Herman said. (The freshman safety was also named the Big 12 newcomer of the week on Monday for his two-interception performance against TCU.)
Some of the best Texas teams in recent years have gone to Manhattan and came home disappointed.
“Obviously (K-State coach) Bill Snyder is a Hall of Famer. His name is on the dang stadium,” Herman said.
These Longhorns have no reason to be complacent, frankly. This program has finished with a winning record only once in the last four years. There’s not a single player in that locker room who has even come close to a Big 12 title.
This is a new experience for these Horns. That was evident in the locker room celebration after the TCU win.
“Winning is intoxicating. It feels really, really good,” Herman said. “I think the key that I’m proud of this group of guys, this team, is they understand you don’t beat TCU on Saturday. You don’t. The three-and-a-half hours on Saturday is the reward for how hard you prepare and the sacrifices that you make.
“You want that feeling again? Great. You’re very capable of getting it,” the coach said. “But you’ve got to go do the things you did Sunday through Friday, last week. In order to make that a reality on Saturday you’ve got to do the exact same thing, and maybe to even a higher degree because we’re playing on the road.”
Herman did take time Monday to praise certain individuals.
On receiver Collin Johnson, Herman said, “He’s one of the best one-on-one, 50-50-ball guys I’ve ever been around, I would certainly imagine probably in the country right now.”
Quarterback Sam Ehlinger is “progressing well. We’ve still got a long way to go.”
Asked about Chris Nelson’s belly rub celebration, Herman said, “I don’t know where that came from,” but he’s OK with it.
Defensive end Breckyn Hager has been credited with only eight tackles in four games. The preseason All-Big 12 pick has gone largely unnoticed so far this season. “Yeah, he’s doing good,” Herman said. “He’s getting close to the quarterback. He hasn’t had a lot of numbers show up just yet. But I think they’re coming.”
More days like this are coming, too, if Herman and the Horns keep winning.
There was even time Monday to ask about Fernando Lovo, Herman’s chief of staff who often times is the most excitable person on the sideline. Nobody challenges the officials on a controversial play quite like Herman’s trusted lieutenant.
“I’m not quite sure. Is he, like, supposed to hold me back from the officials or am I holding him back from the officials?” Herman said. “So, that’s kind of his role.”
For the first time in a long time, nothing is holding Texas back.
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.