Texas coach Tom Herman reacts after a turnover against the Oklahoma Sooners in an NCAA college football game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Football

Anger over ‘The Eyes of Texas’ threatens to engulf the Longhorns’ entire season

Herman: Players are encouraged to stay for school song but others still have concerns over its history

Posted October 12th, 2020

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Story highlights
  • Herman opened his Monday press conference by reading a statement. “There are very strong emotions on both sides.”
  • As if “The Eyes” situation wasn’t tricky enough, Herman had little wiggle room on other topics.
  • “And I can assure you that our players are working their ever-living you-know-what off to achieve those very high standards and expectations.”

Things have somehow reached a point where Texas coach Tom Herman started his weekly press conference Monday by reading a statement about the school song. It’s a nuclear bomb that nobody at UT can disarm.

“I do want to address something I know that continues to be a point of conversation out there, which is ‘The Eyes of Texas,’” Herman said.

Fan anger about the players’ desire to get rid of the “The Eyes” was already boiling. The pot spilled over Saturday when quarterback Sam Ehlinger was standing front and center, all by himself, with his Horns up after a four-overtime loss to Oklahoma.

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The fact that Herman led his press conference with “The Eyes” shows it trumps anything to do with his 2-2, unranked football team. Going forward, Herman will “encourage” players to stay on the field after games but it will not be mandatory.

A few other players remained on the field Saturday. But dozens of photos taken from the stands posted online show only one — the senior who accounted for six touchdowns in a five-hour loss — standing up for school pride. The rest of the team had already left the Cotton Bowl field.

“There are very strong emotions on both sides,” Herman said. “And this is something we’ve been working through since our campus initiatives were announced back in July.”

As part of Herman’s prepared text, the coach noted that UT President Jay Hartzell asked professor Richard Reddick to chair a committee that will compile an official school history of the song. The committee is expected to complete its work by January.

The song was written in 1903 and meant as a comical jab at the school president at the time. William Lambdin Prather learned the phrase “The eyes of the South are upon you” from Robert E. Lee, turning the phrase into “The eyes of Texas are upon you” as UT’s president.

Students created a satirical song using the tune “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad,” a Black work dating back to 1894. At UT, this new version was later performed by white singers in blackface at minstrel shows. Over time, it became UT’s school song.

This summer, UT players from multiple sports sent a list of requests to school leaders that addressed the school’s racial past. Almost all of the requests were accepted — but the school wasn’t changing “The Eyes of Texas.” Several football players later said they would not sing it, and it was decided they no longer had to stay on the field for it, either.

The UT volleyball and soccer teams initially did not acknowledge “The Eyes” at their events. Last week, volleyball players stood shoulder to shoulder while the song was played over the loudspeaker.

Texas fans stand for “The Eyes of Texas” before a Big 12 volleyball match against Kansas at the Erwin Center on Oct. 1. (Stephen Spillman/For Statesman)

“I’ve encouraged our staff and team to join me in participating after games, if they are comfortable doing that,” Herman said while reading his text. “I do believe it’s important that we acknowledge and thank our fans after a hard fought game.”

Of those who stayed after the OU game, Herman said, “I applaud them and respect that.”

“That said, some members of our program have concerns and aren’t comfortable participating at this time, and I respect that as well,” Herman said. “This is an issue that we will continue to have meaningful conversations about and work through as campus committee gathers more information and addresses it. These findings will allow us to continue our conversations about ‘The Eyes of Texas’ moving forward.”

As if “The Eyes” situation wasn’t tricky enough, Herman had little wiggle room on other topics. He fielded questions about the Longhorns’ injury report and the incredible amount of penalties being accumulated.

Cornerback Chris Brown and running back Roschon Johnson both have shoulder problems. Receiver Jake Smith aggravated his injured hamstring in pre-game and did not play against OU. Caden Sterns was also battling a turf toe injury.

Ever since arriving at UT, Herman has maintained he has no quarrel with effort penalties, things like holding or pass interference. It’s the mental mistakes he can’t stand, like jumping offside or shoving an OU defender in the back or talking smack after giving up a big punt return.

Going forward, Herman said penalties will be met with punishment. “It’s the only thing left that we know how to do,” he said. “We have educated, we have pleaded, we have, again, till we’re blue in the face.”

What else needs work?

“Red zone defense, rushing defense on that side of the ball, running the football on the offensive side of the ball,” Herman said. “We’ve got to find creative ways to get our receivers open versus man coverage.”

As always, Herman said “it’s fixable.”

Oklahoma’s Austin Stogner is upended by Texas safety Chris Brown during Saturday’s four-overtime Sooners victory at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman)

Texas is off this week and is scheduled to face Baylor on Oct. 24. Right now, the odds of that game happening aren’t good. The Bears have temporarily stopped workouts because of a COVID-19 outbreak. The school announced it was rescheduling its game against Oklahoma State for Dec. 12.

The Horns have plenty to work on themselves. “We’ve got to establish an identity here in the next two weeks,” Herman said earlier in the day on the Big 12 coaches teleconference. That’s a stunning remark from a coach now in his fourth season.

“We need to practice. We need to work,” he told UT reporters. “Our plan, we’re not even going to introduce Baylor until Friday.”

Nobody’s going to introduce a solution to “The Eyes” problem anytime soon, either.

Asked if there was some sort of compromise to be had, like getting the players to stay on the field after games, Herman referred back to his statement.

“Again, I put a lot of thought into the words that I said to open up the press conference,” Herman said. “I know our leadership, both at a university level and an athletic department level, is working very hard on that. And we will follow their lead on wherever that takes us.”

The majority of the fan base sees a .500 team robbing the program of its traditions with nothing to show for it.

“Well, I wouldn’t say nothing. I would argue on that,” Herman said. “But other than that, I would say what I said to start the press conference, which is we thank them. We thank them very much for their support, and we understand that at the University of Texas, they’ve got tremendously high expectations.

“And I can assure you that our players are working their ever-living you-know-what off to achieve those very high standards and expectations.”

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

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