Texas head coach Tom Herman jokingly interrupts an interview to ask offensive line coach Herb Hand a question about "Step Brothers" during a media day on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, in Austin, Texas. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Football

Coaching staff consistency an underappreciated secret to Texas’ success

Texas coach Tom Herman came in knowing that massive coaching staff turnover led to problems; Keeping his staff together was top priority

Posted August 23rd, 2019

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Story highlights
  • “I think it’s great chemistry. I think the kids feel it, they react off it and they play off it.”
  • Herman initially hired seven assistants that he had worked with at Houston.
  • All of this comes back to Herman’s favorite buzzword — alignment.

Word came down in January that Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte offered contract extensions to all the football coaching assistants up for renewal.

Head coach Tom Herman never even considered that someone might turn it down. Asked if he expected all 10 assistants to return in 2019, Herman said in January, “Yeah, I hope so. Unless they don’t want to sign it.”

All 10 returned. Why leave now? Internally, the Longhorns believe things are about to get really good.

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“I think it’s great chemistry. I think the kids feel it, they react off it and they play off it,” defensive line coach Oscar Giles said of the UT coaching staff. “We’re excited about what we got going here. We’ve just got to keep it going.”

Texas defensive coordinator Todd Orlando walks into the stadium before a Big 12 Conference football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium, Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. [Stephen Spillman for American-Statesman]

Coaching staff stability is an underappreciated secret of any team’s success. Herman begins his third season  against Louisiana Tech with the same group of nine assistants he hired in 2017. Offensive line coach Herb Hand joined the fold last year when the NCAA changed the rules, allowing for a 10th assistant.

It’s remarkable stability after the head-spinning changes under former coach Charlie Strong from 2014-16. Strong employed 17 different assistants, which included three different offensive coordinators. Only two made it from beginning to end.

All the staff instability fueled Strong’s downfall. He went 16-21 at UT and now coaches at South Florida.

Herman knew the revolving door had to stop. If nothing else, he didn’t want to spend time teaching new assistant coaches his way of doing things at Texas.

“There’s all these different kinds of examples of where it’s been a detriment when you don’t have staff continuity,” Herman said. “It makes coming to work a lot less stressful when you know that you’re not onboarding a guy or two or three every year into your culture and your way of doing things.”

Think about your own co-workers. When everyone knows what to do, what’s expected of them, things just run smoother.

To expedite the UT rebuilding process, Herman hired seven assistants that had spent time with him at Houston. Herman also had worked with running backs coach Stan Drayton at Ohio State.

Offensive coordinator Tim Beck was instrumental in J.T. Barrett’s development with the Buckeyes in 2016. He arrived in Columbus, Ohio, after Herman had left for Houston. Hand was considered one of the best in the profession, so Herman just cold-called him at Auburn.

Friendships matter in college coaching circles, same as it does anywhere else. These are men who get to know each other sitting in high school coaches’ offices waiting their turn to talk to a key recruit. They see each other in hotel lobbies and airports on the recruiting trail. You might work with one coach at one school, get separated by a firing, then join up again at another one.

Texas running backs coach Stan Drayton speaks to reporters during a media day on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, in Austin, Texas. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Along the way, good coaches learn who’s good, who’s not, who they respect and who they don’t.

Drayton and Herman had their relationship cemented by winning a national title together with the Buckeyes. Jason Washington (cornerbacks) has worked with Craig Naivar (safeties) for 14 of the last 15 years at Texas State, Rice, Houston and now UT. These two can exchange looks, offer knowing nods and practically sense what the other is thinking.

“He took a hiatus and went to Kentucky for a year (2014) and it was like I lost my best friend,” Washington said.

Orlando (defensive coordinator/linebackers) practically took Giles under his wing, and now they have a symbiotic relationship.

By staying together, the staff knows what to expect, both from the head coach and each other.

“There doesn’t have to be nearly as much discussion,” receivers coach Drew Mehringer said. He spent time with Herman at Ohio State as a graduate assistant and at Houston.

“You know where practices are going to be, you know where your drills are going to be, you know what this recruiting event is going to entail, you know what to tell your wife,” Mehringer said. “That’s a big one.”

Having constant turnover among the staff is simply chaotic for players.

College coaches are allowed only 20 hours per week with athletes, according to NCAA rules. Strong had Shawn Watson running the offense in 2014, then switched to Jay Norvell after one game in 2015, and then in 2016 he brought in Sterlin Gilbert, who who had an entirely new system. That’s three offensive philosophies in three different seasons.

Texas defensive back coach Craig Naivar speaks to reporters during a media day on Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019, in Austin, Texas. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Learning a new offensive or defensive system is akin to trigonometry, Naivar figures.

“If one of your toughest classes is trigonometry,” Naivar said, “and you had three different professors during the semester, well, you gotta learn trig, which sucks to start with, and I’ve got to learn this teacher’s style, this teacher’s style and this style. If you’re familiar with everything, it’s a lot easier.”

Last year, senior offensive lineman Patrick Vahe finished his career by playing for the fourth offensive line coach he’d had in four seasons. Herman hired Derek Warehime to be his first line coach then shifted Warehime to tight ends to hire Hand.

“As much as it could have been an awkward situation, Derek and I spoke on the phone immediately after the season I got hired, and it was like, ‘Dude, I cannot wait to work with you,’” Hand said. “So we got together, we hugged up, man, and he said, ‘It’s great to have you here. I’m fired up.’”

Mass turnover disrupts recruiting, too. How does it look to a blue chip recruit when he’s talking to his future position coach, then wakes up the next day with messages from someone else? By keeping this staff together, Herman has negated, if not outright erased, mixed messages on the recruiting trail.

All of this comes back to Herman’s favorite buzzword: Alignment.

“Coach Herman said that, I believe in his first press conference,” receivers coach Corby Meekins said. “We’re going to develop you on the football field, and we’re going to develop you off the football field and we’re going to compete for championships. And that’s what the message has been from day one.”

That consistent message is paying dividends. This year, the Longhorns could reap serious rewards.

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

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