For Texas Longhorns head coach Tom Herman, the Sugar Bowl victory over the Georgia Bulldogs might as well be ancient history. The win certainly isn’t relevant to anything that happens during the 2019 season, as he made clear to his team on Monday as the Horns met in preparation for the start of the spring semester on Tuesday and the start of winter conditioning on Wednesday.
“Did last year’s team do some really cool things?” Herman asked. “Yeah, they did, especially at the very end there. That was cool to see and fun to be a part of. That was last year’s team and what last year’s team — there’s a lot of different faces up in this front row — because what last year’s team did has no bearing on what this year’s team can or will do. None. Zero.”
As usual, Herman is worried about his team becoming complacent, something that he consistently mentioned during his public comments last season. With Texas jumping from seven wins to 10 wins and appearing in and winning a major bowl game for the first time since 2009, this offseason will be a test of how a program not used to success can handle winning.
Because Herman and the assistants are limited in how much time they can spend around the players, it’s up to strength and conditioning coach Yancy McKnight and his assistants to hold players accountable.
However, the most powerful voices will come from the players themselves, a trend that Herman surely hopes is going to continue from the previous group.
Before the Sugar Bowl, defensive coordinator Todd Orlando noted that physicality is practice is a defining trait for the Texas program. By the end of last season, players took responsibility for demanding physicality and accountability in practice.
“If a player sees somebody being soft in practice or turning down hits or whatever it is, they’re kind of looking at us before they get on and saying, ‘You know what? He doesn’t belong on this field,’” Orlando said.
After losing five starters on offense and eight starters on defense, many of the team leaders from the 2018 team are now preparing for the NFL Draft and their professional futures.
New leaders, that group sitting in the front row of that Monday meeting, are now responsible for setting the tone for their teammates during offseason conditioning. Seniors like wide receiver Collin Johnson, center Zach Shackelford, linebacker Jeffrey McCulloch, and safety Brandon Jones. The team’s most important leader, quarterback Sam Ehlinger, is back for his junior season, but he’ll need some help and those are some of the players most likely to provide it.
With so much youth on the team and so many players stepping into larger roles, Herman is maintaining the motto from last season — finish and develop. After all, replacing 13 starters will demand plenty of development and the 2018 team still lost four games last season, three by five points or less. Seven of the 10 wins were by seven points or less, indicating that the team struggled to finish with separation.
“Do what we did last year, but do it a little bit better and a little more of it and a little bit harder,” Herman told the Austin American-Statesman on Saturday. “Our two themes were develop and finish, and usually in my years as a head coach, we’ve changed them every year.
“This year, we’re going to have the same two words that we’re going to focus on. We’re going to be so young that we have to develop those guys, and we still didn’t quite finish every game and our ultimate goals, too.”
One of those goals is to win the Big 12 title, which Texas was not able to accomplish last December after allowing 12 points in the fourth quarter provided the difference in the outcome against Oklahoma.
The Longhorns are still more than 10 months away from potentially having another chance to win the conference for the first time since 2009, but Herman firmly believes that what happens in the coming weeks will define whether or not Texas has a chance at reaching that goal.
“What happens this year in the fall is going to be determined by how this year’s team works, starting on Wednesday, in the winter offseason — that’s why we win games around here, because of how hard we work in January,” Herman said.