“I was the fun guy.”
Once upon a time, new Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman just wanted everyone to like him.
In addition to learning how to align the entire message of the program from Ohio State Buckeyes head coach Urban Meyer, under whom Herman worked from 2012 to 2014, Herman received some important lessons on the psychology of motivation.
“One thing that not enough coaches know how to do — but the thing I learned from Urban that is fantastic — is how to use public praise and criticism,” Herman wrote for Sports Illustrated in 2015. “By public, I mean within the team, where you can say to one of your best players, ‘You stunk today,’ or, ‘What you're doing is unacceptable.’”
Herman also recounted a story from his first offseason at Houston.
Having already challenged the cornerbacks to step up, one showed up 45 minutes late for a summer workout. Herman tore into the whole position group, including the position coach and star cornerback William Jackson. There was no leadership in the group, Herman told them. He said he didn’t trust Jackson.
Based on his psychoanalysis of Jackson, Herman knew that his star defender wanted to be a strong leader.
“When you call him out in front of his team and his peers, William Jackson has two ways to go,” Herman wrote. “Either he goes in the tank or he responds. Later that day I had a meeting with him and built him up and told him how much I love him.”
That season, Brandon Wilson stepped up at cornerback with one interception, eight pass break ups, and two forced fumbles, while Jackson led the nation in pass break ups and recorded five interceptions.
Now Herman has to turn his understanding of the psychology of motivation on to a Longhorns team deeply connected to former head coach Charlie Strong. He’s not particularly worried about the underclassmen, but he is worried about potential pushback from the upperclassmen.
“I think we've got to attack them first -- by attack, we've got to make sure that we have the upperclassmen believing in our plan and our way of doing things, but I don't think it's any easier,” Herman said on Sunday. “In fact, I think, for a lot of reasons, it can be more challenging in a transition such as this.”
The first step was meeting with the team prior to his introductory press conference.
“I met with our team, again, at 4:15 and told them this program is going to be really hard. Winning is hard. They don't give and hand out championship trophies.”
The fun guy wasn’t present, with one report calling Herman “very stand-offish.”
Herman is known for kissing his players before games — love wins every time over fear, Herman believes — but it appears that he’ll be taking a tough-love approach to quickly shape the Texas culture in his own image.
There’s a precedence for all of this, as Herman did the same thing at Houston. Workout turned into competitions and the losers ate watered down eggs and burnt biscuits instead of an omelet bar and chicken and waffles.
Herman would also pointedly ignore players who didn’t live up to his expectations on and off the field, according to former safety Trevon Stewart:
Stewart said Herman would walk past players in the hall without even a nod if they failed in any of those areas. If the player performed in all three aspects, Herman would have a hug for him and a question about his family.
Most significantly, the players will have to earn that affection from their new head coach.
“It's not going to be Camp Texas around here, I can tell you that,” he said. “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.”
For the first few months, there will be a lot of proving, according to Herman. The players have to prove themselves to their new coaches and to each other.
“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.”
Even if the love is limitless, though, the fun guy isn’t coming back.
Blame Urban Meyer for that.