In 2017, first-year Texas coach Tom Herman hired a lot of his friends and preached “alignment.” He simply wanted to transfer everything and everyone from Houston to Austin.
Now entering his fourth season, Herman in 2020 appears to be approaching the job with more confidence, both in his hires and himself.
There’s an old saying in coaching circles that hiring your friends is the fastest way to get beat. With seven new offseason hires, Herman stepped out of his comfort zone and has rebuilt his staff with those with strong track records, not necessarily those on his speed dial.
Herman hired defensive coordinator Chris Ash and then let Ash make some staff recommendations. He hired offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich, who had Ohio State ties, but sought input from Yurcich’s old boss at Oklahoma State, Mike Gundy.
“Yeah, it is important, but you know, the buck stops here, too,” Herman said Tuesday. “Certainly all of their recommendations were taken into account. And we collectively found the guys that were the right fit for a lot of different reasons.”
The confidence radiating from the new assistants was on full display Tuesday when they were introduced inside Bellmont Hall.
Asked if he was ready for the praise and criticism that comes with being UT’s primary play-caller, Yurcich said, “In my job, that’s a heck of a responsibility. But it’s something that, you know, it gets me off, you know what I mean?”
Ash is the first Texas coach in years to use the phrase “playoff caliber” when discussing, well, anything. He was talking specifically about the excellence required from UT’s new four-man defensive front. But it’s clear Ash has “playoff caliber” expectations from the entire unit.
The Longhorns had the third-worst defense in school history last season. Texas allowed 431.5 yards per game. The majority of those players are coming back, yet there’s a slew of changes in the works.
Herman said talented linebacker Joseph Ossai will be moving to a new “jack” position, which will allow him to come off the edge more. That’s how Ossai went wild in the Alamo Bowl by playing a hybrid linebacker/defensive end role.
Athletic safety DeMarvion Overshown will move to linebacker. Defensive end Ta’Quon Graham will likely shift inside to defensive tackle. Linebacker Juwan Mitchell put his name in the transfer portal in January but pulled it back out. “We’re counting on him to make a push to be a permanent starting linebacker,” Herman said.
Ash, the 46-year-old Iowa native, speaks with the hardened cadence of a Midwestern no-B.S. brawler.
New cornerbacks coach Jay Valai recalled meeting Ash as a senior at Wisconsin in 2010, when Valai went into a meeting room and saw Ash’s air mattress shoved into a corner. That’s where Ash had been sleeping for three months, Valai said.
“Well, I’ll stand here before you today and say I’m not gonna make any predictions about anything,” Ash said. “And I’m not concerned about what’s happened in the past. So I know a lot of people bring up the past, the past is behind us. And we’re just focused on the future and we’re focused on right now.”
New defensive line coach Mark Hagen will split duties with Oscar Giles, who heads into his fourth year on Herman’s staff. Giles will likely coach the defensive ends; Hagen will likely work with the defensive tackles.
Hagen arrived in Austin on Sunday and “it’s been a whirlwind.” At least it’s closer to his family than his last job at Indiana. Hagen, who worked at Texas A&M from 2013-15, said his family continued to live in College Station in recent years while he was coaching in Bloomington, Ind.
“There’s talent up front, but I also know the challenges of moving to a 4-3 from a 3-4 (base defense),” Hagen said. “You don’t just automatically create that weak-side defensive end. We had to do that four years ago when I went to Indiana, and there’s a process involved. But there’s guys to do it.”
To be clear, Herman stressed that Texas will still show some three-man fronts next season simply to keep offensive coordinators honest. “You’re gonna see us play some three down. I mean, we’re not gonna be stubborn about it.”
Herman said South Carolina linebacker coach Coleman Hutzler “came highly recommended by several people I have a great deal of respect for in our business.” That likely included South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, once the UT defensive coordinator.
“Coach Muschamp, I told him it was his fault because he bragged about Austin and Texas so much. It’s his own fault,” Hutzler said.
Yurcich, a 44-year-old Ohio native, was more understated than Ash at the podium. But he expressed admiration for quarterback Sam Ehlinger, who will be a senior next season, and what’s possible with the Texas offense.
There is less changeover on offense compared to the defense. Texas ex Jay Boulware joins the staff as the tight ends coach and special teams coordinator, a role he had the last seven years at Oklahoma. Yurcich also will lean on UT holdovers Herb Hand (offensive line) and Stan Drayton (running backs).
New receivers coach Andre Coleman is the one thankful for his chance. He was an analyst at Texas last season and had to bite his tongue at times while deferring to other assistants. Not anymore, though.
“(Receivers) can be divas. I always tell ’em, ‘I know. I used to be one of you.’ You know what I mean? I’m very quick to let them know that,” Coleman said. “I like to say that I have fun with my guys, but I am very serious about my craft. I’m very serious about what I do.
“I tell them, this is how I feed my family,” Coleman added, turning deadly serious. “I ain’t going to let you or anyone else stand in the way of that.”
With a staff laser-focused like this one, Herman doesn’t need more friends. Just more wins.
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.