Michael Huff knows what it’s like when the Texas Longhorns are good.
A first-team All-American on the ‘Horns 2005 national championship team, he knows all too well what that feels like, and knows how far Texas is from it 12 years later.
But he’s back to make a difference, serving in his first coaching role as an assistant defensive backs coach under Tom Herman. Huff has penned a piece in the Players’ Tribune recalling the glory days and detailing what it’ll take to get them back to prominence.
When Texas is playing good football, it just seems like the world is a better place.
It’s hard to describe exactly. It’s almost like there’s this warm feeling all throughout campus, Austin, central Texas and the entire state. There’s a definite buzz of positivity. The grass is greener, everyone is happier and sweet tea just tastes that much sweeter.
He goes on to mention the various theories about why and how the ‘Horns stopped winning earlier in this decade, and discussions about whether or not they’re back, or will be back soon.
This piece isn’t about all that, at least not initially. It’s about what the program means to Huff. He spent eight years in the NFL, mostly with the Oakland Raiders, and says that while it was a great experience, at the same time it was simply a job to him. Business first.
Like many, if not most college graduates, he fondly recalls the simpler times at UT. In college, it didn’t matter if you were a five-star or two-star recruit (like Huff), you were treated the same and held to the same standards. The players were accountable to each other as much or more than they were to the coaches.
When I close my eyes and think back to that time in my life, the first image that pops into my mind is the DB room. Oh man, the hours I spent in that room. I can see Quentin Jammer right there at the front, quietly watching film. When I was just a redshirt freshman, he was one of the guys I looked up to. He was also the person I never wanted to disappoint.
If Huff made a bad play, he knew he’d hear about it from the coaches, but Jammer was the one he really was worried about letting down. That standard is part of what made Texas the real DBU, passed down from player to player to player.
The final play of Huff’s college career was when he stopped USC’s LenDale White short of a first down, setting up one of the most famous drives in Texas football history. He says it’s not a play he could have made as a freshman, mentally or physically.
That edge has left the program he says, and he’s here to help bring it back. At 18, he never thought he’d become a coach, seeing football as more for fun than for keeps. Things change.
After I retired and was living in Dallas, it felt almost strange not to be involved with the game. I didn’t just miss being around football, I missed being in Austin and with the Longhorns every day. I met my wife there, and we had always dreamed of going back one day. It was Charlie Strong who first encouraged me to get involved with the program. I have him to thank for inviting me back. Then when Tom Herman took over last December, I met with him in his office and we discussed a plan for how I could best help the program. It involves a lot of different things but I was all in and now love what I’m doing.
Huff describes Herman as incredibly smart and gifted, and as a players’ coach first and foremost. Herman personalizes his approach to fit the needs of each kid in the program, leaving his players as better people than they were when they arrived.
Huff can relate.
Myself? The younger version of me needed to be pushed and yelled at a bit in order to learn. I remember when we were playing Oklahoma State early in my career, there was a receiver on their team who was talking trash. So after I broke up a pass in a physical manner, I decided to step on his back a little on my way back to the huddle. But I never made it back to the huddle — Mack Brown pulled me off the field immediately and said, in very clear terms, “If you do something like that one more time, you’ll never play here ever again.”
Somewhere over the last decade that commitment to placing the team over the individual and holding each other accountable has been lost, Huff says. Herman and his staff are changing that, and Huff loves it.
He’s unfortunately suffered in a personal — if lighthearted — way. Huff has donned the jerseys of Oklahoma and several other college teams other than Texas since leaving the Forty Acres. AKA, he’s lost friendly bets on an increasing number of games.
Huff remembers “only” winning nine games as a sophomore and how horrible that felt, then recalls that there are no players on the current Texas roster who have won a bowl game. Then he reminds everyone that it’s a long process to becoming a top-tier college football team, but assures that the ‘Horns are back on the right path.
Saturday will be a great challenge as, despite the Iowa State loss, we still know Oklahoma is an amazing team. It’s an opportunity for us to compete at the highest level and to take a huge step towards getting back where Texas belongs: Among the elite of college football.