Losses on the field.
In the midst of two losses in three games, including a narrow victory over the Kansas Jayhawks, the Texas Longhorns faced a potential crossroads in the third year of head coach Tom Herman in Austin heading into last Saturday’s game.
Questions began arising about the team’s mental state, particularly in regards to the younger players as Texas lost promising freshman offensive tackle Javonne Shepherd to transfer, along with sophomore wide receiver Jordan Pouncey.
Meanwhile, three recruits decommitted from the 2020 recruiting class.
Then, after falling behind 14-0 against Kansas State, Texas recovered to score 27 of the final 37 points in the game and come out with a much-needed victory.
In his post-game press conference, Herman’s opening statement almost immediately expressed his frustration with some recent reporting.
“You know, with what these guys have been through these last few weeks and every — all the misinformation that’s been out there and said and written about this team and the attitude and togetherness of this team, teams that aren’t together, teams that don’t love each other, teams that are splintered, teams that are selfish don’t go down 14-0 [and respond],” said Herman.
“We can’t get off the field on defense, can’t do anything on offense. Teams that are all those things, they splinter, and it turns into a blowout. They wave the white flag, and it could have been a really, really bad scene in DKR. But the win is obviously very important for us and what we wanted to accomplish tonight.”
Herman went on to once again emphasize that teams without belief, confidence, and togetherness aren’t able to overcome the type of adversity that the Longhorns faced against the Wildcats.
In a follow-up question, the Texas head coach was asked specifically about what bothered him and Herman repeated assertions he made on the radio last week and at his Thursday media availability.
“When people print fifth-hand information and it gets said as fact, it’s just — that’s irresponsible in my opinion,” said Herman. “But it comes with the territory. You know, we knew what we signed up for when we came to Texas, and the fans have very high expectations, as they should, and we do, too. But we know the pulse of the team, and we know those guys in that locker room really, really, really do a great job playing for each other.”
The question is how a coach who devotes a lot of public time to emphasizing how much his team doesn’t pay attention to outside noise can square that bunker mentality with concern about what is getting published in the media.
Ultimately, Herman’s comments over the last few week are in line with his previous efforts dating back to his first weeks on campus to ensure that parents don’t speak with reporters.
“Our business is our business,” said Herman when players reported back to campus for the spring semester in 2017. “If your son tells you something, it’s expected to stay within the family because that’s family business. And we need your support and we need positivity. Your sons are going to be better husbands and better fathers, better employees having been through the program in the love that we will share with them.”
As a result of that edict, Herman believes that any information coming out of the program goes through numerous people before it makes it to the media.
“I said on my radio show today that, you know, stuff that gets reported, that industry plays a giant game of telephone,” Herman said on Thursday. “You know, the little kid game that you whisper and it’s, you know, mom calls Johnny: ‘Johnny. How you doing?’ [Johnny:] ‘Mom, it’s hard. You know, it’s a grind.’ Mom calls dad: ‘Hey, I just talked to Johnny. He says it’s really hard. I don’t really like the way he sounds.’ Dad calls high school coach or trainer: ‘Hey, Johnny, sounds real unhappy. We’re not quite sure.’ Then, trainer or high school coach or whoever calls internet guy and says, ‘Hey, Johnny’s really unhappy at Texas. He’s not quite sure about anything.’ And then, you know, that’s what’s printed.”
After spending the bye week holding meetings with each remaining member of the 2019 recruiting class and emphasizing the need for bridge players to step up to connect the team leaders with the freshmen, Herman believes that his team is in a good place.
The response on Saturday helped prove that, but won’t stop Herman from working to manage the narrative in the future — he understands that if he loses the fanbase, then his ability to keep his job is severely compromised.
The result in those situations is the type of public relations battle that has now bled into multiple media availabilities.