Football

With Texas football on hold, Tom and Michelle Herman find new normal in coronavirus stoppage

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Story highlights
  • “We’re just trying to figure it out like everybody else,” Michelle Herman said.
  • Spring football has effectively been canceled, even though the Big 12 hasn’t made it official yet.
  • Now that the Hermans have money, they’re unafraid to give back to area non-profits.

Posted March 28th, 2020

Being stuck at home isn’t all bad. It’s brought the Hermans closer.

Normally, their house is a whirlwind of activity. A married couple with hectic daily lives and three kids — a high school sophomore, a sixth-grader and one in kindergarten — and two dogs barely have time to stop for anything, much less a worldwide pandemic.

Life has come to a standstill for Tom and Michelle Herman, same as it has for almost everyone else. The Texas football coach and his wife are following the guidelines and spending day after day at home, too.

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“That’s such a rare thing in our home, to be able to sit down and have dinner together,” Michelle Herman told the American-Statesman Friday. “Everybody’s on a different schedule. But we’ve done that every night now.”

Tom Herman, who spends most of his waking hours at the UT football complex, told Michelle he won’t regret having extra time with the kids. “I’ve played more Uno and Monopoly and the game of Life in the last week-and-a-half than I have in my whole life up to this point,” he said.

Texas coach Tom Herman films a public service announcement while his son TD serves as videographer on Friday. The Herman family has been staying at home during the coronavirus outbreak. (Herman family photo)

The Hermans already had a scheduled week off for spring break. They rented a house on Lake LBJ, rented a boat and had some fun. Now, Austin is under a shelter-in-place order. Spring break is stretching out to who knows when.

At least their kids are getting into online learning, as are many school children across the region. Want to see a child really light up? Put them on a webcast with their friends or teachers. Zoom worked like magic for Maverick, a 6-year-old finishing up kindergarten.

“We’re just trying to figure it out like everybody else,” Michelle said. “We’ve obviously got to somewhat homeschool them and that’s new to us, too.”

The Hermans also are facing a key question that every parent is wondering throughout this COVID-19 stoppage. Is it appropriate to let your children have friends over? Or, is it safe to let them go hang out at someone else’s house?

“The only exception we’ve made is for our daughter,” Michelle said. “She’s 16 and she’s got a boyfriend, and so we’re allowing them to see each other. That wasn’t a battle we were going to fight, because we were going to lose it right off the bat.”

Priya, TD and Maverick can take turns walking Ben and Jerry, two mixed-breed hounds the Hermans got from the Austin Animal Shelter. There’s a basketball hoop outside if anyone needs to burn off some energy. And so it goes. Day after day.

“When the governor tells you you don’t leave your house except to get groceries and medicine,” Tom said, “you probably should listen.”

Texas coach Tom Herman celebrates a 36-30 win over Oklahoma State with his wife Michelle last September at Royal-Memorial Stadium (Stephen Spillman/For Statesman)

Taking it ‘day by day’

Tom Herman is responsible for three children at home and more than 100 Longhorns normally housed inside the Moncrief-Neuhaus Athletic Center. They’ve all been sent home, too. The overwhelming majority live in Texas, but some are from out of state.

Spring football has effectively been canceled, even though the Big 12 hasn’t made it official yet. Texas President Gregory L. Fenves made the decision to send UT students home and closed the dorms.

The Big 12 has suspended all athletic activity until Monday, but it’s expected that date will get extended. Herman thinks May 1 is a possible target date when activity may resume. Maybe.

“From everything I’ve heard, it would be miraculous if it was before June 1,” Herman said. “I think you take it day by day. If the goal posts move, they move and we’ll adapt.

Texas coach Tom Herman walks with his team through Bevo Boulevard before facing Baylor in a NCAA college football game at Royal-Memorial Stadium in Austin on Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018. [RICARDO B. BRAZZIELL/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

“You also know that if we have a season,” Herman said, “you better be doing more than your opponents and you better be doing it more efficient. Or you’re going to be behind.”

As of now, Herman and his Big 12 counterparts are somewhat hamstrung. The league mandated that coaches cannot have video conference calls with players during the stoppage, something other Power Five leagues are allowing.

New South Florida coach Jeff Scott told the Tampa Bay Times that he’s all-in on webcasting. “I’m learning how to coach and lead the football program from behind a webcam,” Scott said. Texas is scheduled to open the season against USF on Sept. 5.

Herman is hopeful the Big 12 announces new measures that allow for webcasting with players. “I just don’t want the rules to be different for Oklahoma or LSU or TCU than they are for Texas,” he said.

The cancellation of the football season is unthinkable for many. It would be financially devastating for virtually all athletic departments, including Texas. “It’s a whole new ballgame if we find ourselves not playing football,” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby said Thursday.

Herman compared this time to the period after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. One week later, the sports world restarted, mostly to provide normalcy.

“To not have that and be able to bring a community together is difficult,” Herman said. “In any massive tragedy, we’ve always had sports to bring communities together and unify them. Now they’re telling us that probably the single-worst thing you can do in this tragedy is go pack 100,000 people in a stadium. So, I don’t know. It does feel weird.”

Playing South Florida is one thing. But Texas fans had already circled Sept. 12 on their 2020 calendars. The Texas-LSU game in Baton Rouge, La., is supposed to be a matchup of two heavyweights. Herman politely declined to talk about that game because, being a coach, it would be impolite to South Florida.

Texas linebacker Joseph Ossai (46) sacks LSU quarterback Joe Burrow (9) on Sept. 7, 2019, in Austin. [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

But come September, the Texas and LSU fan bases will need that game. The state of Texas and the state of Louisiana will need that game. Sports fans will need that game. Herman and LSU’s Ed Orgeron will have their teams so revved up, it’s likely to be epic. The nation may need it, too.

That’s if it’s played at all.

“I do know that game one — if we play it — and I don’t care who we’re playing, if we’re playing in front of people and they’re letting 100,000 people in that stadium, it’ll be rocking,” Herman said.

The new normal

So how does a coach run a huge college football enterprise with a laptop from his living room couch? He keeps his routine as normal as possible.

If the Big 12 gets on equal footing with other leagues about video conferencing, Herman envisions “a lot of meetings” from 7 a.m. to noon. “I’m a lunch workout guy, so I’m going to encourage everybody to go work out at lunch in some form or fashion and have the afternoon for projects.”

Herman purposely delayed spring football so that seven new assistant coaches could get to know each other and the players. It was scheduled to start last Tuesday. Now, everyone is scattered.

Herman’s two biggest concerns are academics and what he calls the “shape factor.” UT has a full staff of academic tutors that work directly with the players in the football complex. Undergraduate students will have the option of accepting a pass/fail grade on their semester coursework, the university announced.

“And then, are they lifting and running the way they need to be?” Herman said.

Texas strength and conditioning coach Yancy McKnight oversees practice with head coach Tom Herman. (Ralph Barrera/American-Statesman)

Herman said strength coach Yancy McKnight is on the phone with every player, helping to script a workout program they can do at home. McKnight is creative, too. “Home Depot is still open,” Herman said. “You can get a 50-pound bag of concrete and pour it into a paint bucket.”

Once it’s allowed, Herman said UT equipment managers will mail the players a “care package” of workout clothes and nutritional supplements — just as they are allowed to supply on campus.

“Some of these kids don’t even have cleats,” Herman said. “The ones they had were in their locker.”

Herman hired new offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich and defensive coordinator Chris Ash this offseason. Fortunately, previous NCAA rule changes carved out time for those coaches to work directly with players in January and February. Most of the playbooks have been installed.

“With the Xs and Os,” Herman said, “I sleep easy.”

‘If you can help, do what you can’

All of these issues seem minor when you turn on the news. People were fighting for toilet paper two weeks ago, and the grocery stores now have limits on certain purchases.

Football is a way of life for the Hermans, no question. But even they admit, “It wasn’t that long ago we were living paycheck to paycheck,” he said.

Tom’s first job at Texas Lutheran drew a well-known $5,000 salary. His first full-time job at Sam Houston State paid $10,000. The couple will be been married 19 years this May and have been together for 27 years total.

Now that the Hermans have money, they’re unafraid to give back.

Texas coach Tom Herman hugs his wife Michelle and kids after the 39-27 loss to Oklahoma in the Big 12 championship game at AT&T Stadium in 2018. (Ricardo B. Brazziell/American-Statesman)

They made news for donating money to the Central Texas Food Bank. A donation of $10,000 is worth 40,000 meals. The Hermans ended up spreading $60,000 to six different local non-profit groups, but there was a key component. The money had to go somewhere it would be put to work immediately.

The Hermans gave to the Front Steps of Austin. “My father was homeless the last few years of his life and actually died in a homeless shelter at 52 years old,” he said.

They gave to the SAFE Alliance, an organization committed to stopping physical abuse. “You know, I witnessed my mom in an abusive relationship,” he said.

They gave to the Boys & Girls Club, a place where Herman actually went for after-school care as a child growing up in Simi Valley, Calif. As for Meals on Wheels, Michelle said, “We kind of contacted them and asked, what can we do?”

“If you can give, whether that’s time, money or resources, whatever your situation is, there’s somebody worse off than you,” Tom said. “They need our help right now.”

In the meantime, the Hermans offer hope and positivity.

“I would just say be patient. Listen to the governor’s orders. Consider other people first,” Michelle Herman said. “I don’t want to infect anyone else, and I certainly don’t want anyone else to think that it’s OK to do anything that would harm anyone else. Stay positive. If you can help, do what you can, which is what I think we’re trying to do it. “

Tom Herman plans on staying engaged. He’s even reactivated his dormant Twitter account. Now’s not the time for a high-profile college football coach to go dark. He wants fans to stay engaged, too.

“Pay attention and follow what we’re being told by the people in charge,” Herman said. “They have our entire community in mind and their best interests in mind. Stay positive. Take care of your mental health. This can be a challenging time for a lot of people, especially those who are getting laid off or furloughed or whatever it is.

“Just stay positive,” he added. “We’re going to do everything we can as a community, as a state, as a country to make sure that nobody — or as few people as possible — are affected both from a health and economic standpoint.”

Do like the Hermans. Netflix and chill.

“We’re watching ‘Tiger King,’ too,” Michelle said of the outrageous show that’s streaming online.

“Everybody that’s involved in this big cat underworld,” Tom said, “off their rocker.”

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

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