“Today we begin a new chapter in the storied history of our great university as we welcome Tom Herman and his family back to Austin as the head coach for Longhorn football,” said president Greg Fenves to introduce new Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman.
With former head coach Mack Brown and other Longhorns dignitaries in attendance, Herman sounded like a mix of Brown and former mentor Urban Meyer during his introductory press conference on Sunday.
“We will win championships,” Herman said. “We will build men of character. We will graduate our players, and we will do it all with integrity and with class. As we do it all together, this is not about one coach. This is not about one season or one team. This is about honoring all of those who have worn the burnt orange and white and who support this great university.”
Addressing Brown, Herman thanked the former coach for taking a “chance on a guy 17 years ago who dreamed of being like you.”
Herman’s continued attempts to emulate Brown were easy to see in his repeated shoutouts to high school football coaches in the state of Texas.
“I also want the high school coaches of the great state of Texas to know that this is their football program,” Herman said. “We're the flagship university of the best high school football playing state in America. And I want to continue to do a great job of recruiting our fine student-athletes produced by Texas high school football coaches.”
But that wasn’t all — Herman also gave a history lesson of the movement of former assistant coaches under legendary Cy Falls head coach Wayne Hooks and favorably compared Texas to every other state in terms of how much high school football matters.
“I've probably recruited all 50 states, except for Alaska and Hawaii, but it doesn't get any better than this, and I know, especially the people that grew up here in the state of Texas, it's not even close anywhere else in the country to how well coached these young men are and how important football is in this state,” he said.
With an important stretch looming prior to the dead period that will allow Herman and a handful of assistants to begin building relationships with players as the new head coach, Herman has a pitch ready.
“Well, I think the sales pitch will be there is talent here. You're going to be playing with some talented players, and you're going to be the best-trained team in America. You're going to be physically and mentally tough. You're going to be the most physically and mentally tough team on the field.”
Herman also has to pitch his current group of players on what it will take to succeed under his leadership. And the new head coach made it clear that the adjustment isn’t necessarily going to be an easy one.
“I told them that some of the things that we'll do in our program will be similar too,” Herman said. “But I also told them that the definition of insanity is repeatedly performing the same act, expecting different results, and that we need to change some things. But that certainly doesn't take away from their emotions and their passion for Coach Strong.”
The most important players to target for buy in are the upperclassmen, according to Herman, who witnessed some of the issues that Meyer experienced at Ohio State in that regard, so he has that to fall back on in case he encounters the same thing at Texas.
Individually, the key player Herman will have to recruit is junior running back D’Onta Foreman, who could opt to forgo his final season of eligibility and head to the NFL. Herman said he would like to meet with him as soon as possible to discuss his future.
As a well-traveled coach who has worked under a number of different head coaches, Herman picked up bits and pieces from each of them.
From Brown, he learned how to lead and manage people, as well as how he made people feel welcome in the program.
“The thing that I know I credit Coach Brown for the most was his inclusivity,” Herman said. “He included the high school coaches. He included the former players. He included so many people in this great program that, prior to Coach Brown getting here, probably were not included and felt a bit disenfranchised.
From David Bailiff, under whom Herman coached at Texas State and Rice, he learned how to love his players by building the type of relationship that takes a great deal of time to build.
At Iowa State, Herman learned how to be passionate about the place you work for from Iowa native Paul Rhoads.
The most influential stop for Herman may have been in Columbus under Meyer. Herman said it was like going to coaching school for three years and that “there were a thousand things I took away from Coach Meyer.”
Perhaps the most important single lesson Herman learned on his path back to Austin was from Meyer on alignment within the program.
“I think we are in an age now that our student-athletes are being bombarded with messages, and we only get them — the NCAA says we only get them four hours a day during the season and two hours a day in the off-season,” Herman said.
“So when they walk in the building, they have to be — every message that is thrust upon them, from a sign on the wall to an interaction with an academic counselor, the expectations and the management of the program has to be aligned because they're just getting hit left and right with all these messages.
“So from your assistant coaches to your strength staff to your support staff to your training room to the academic people to the expectations, it can't be okay to show up two minutes late for a tutor but not be okay to show up two minutes late for a position meeting. So you have to be aligned in everything that you do or else kids oftentimes have a way of going off the reservation a little bit.”
Herman also has a markedly different mindset from former head coach Charlie Strong, who was vocal in his criticism of the pressure exerted from outside forces and the impact it had on his players.
“I think pressure is that uneasy feeling that you feel when you're unprepared,” Herman said. “Pressure is self-inflicted. Pressure is self-doubt when you're unprepared. We're prepared for this job. We're prepared for success at this job. We're prepared for adversity in this job.”
Then there were the obligatory questions about a variety of issues.
Will Herman seek to renew the rivalry between Texas and Texas A&M?
Herman declined to answer that question, noting that he’d only been in Austin for six hours.
“I'm sure logistically it's pretty difficult being the schedules have been set for quite some time,” Herman said. “Haven't even given it a thought. Anything I tell you now would be a rash answer.”
Despite a report from Horns247 that Herman won’t retain any of Charlie Strong’s assistants, the new head coach said that he would start holding individual interviews with each staff member starting at 8 a.m. Monday morning.
As for Houston offensive coordinator Major Applewhite returning to Austin despite his inclusion in former women’s track coach Bev Kearney’s ongoing lawsuit, Herman also declined to comment.
In a radio appearance after the press conference, Herman said that he wants to hire “maybe four guys” to handle recruiting in the next two weeks, then make the remaining decisions during the dead period.
Expect the coordinator hires to happen during that time.
The bottom line is that as much as Herman learned from Brown and sounded like him at times during the press conference, the new head coach is not going to allow his teams to be soft, which means that they have to earn any love they receive from Herman and his staff.
“I think the TLC needs to be earned too,” he said. “We're not going to be -- it's not going to be Camp Texas around here, I can tell you that. This is going to be a very difficult program, especially at first. And you're going to have to earn the respect and trust and love of our coaching staff and of myself. But once you have, I mean, the sky's the limit. Once you've proven yourself to us as a bona fide dude, a real guy, a guy that we could trust and count on, then the love is limitless.
“But I would imagine that the first few weeks, the first few months is going to be a lot of proving, a lot of me proving myself to the players and the plan and a lot of the players proving themselves to not only me and our coaches, but to their teammates as well.”