Tom Herman smiled, raised his right hand for the “Hook’em Horns” sign and said all the right things Sunday to fire up the fan base as the new Texas coach.
All of that was to be expected. Now comes the hard parts: winning, competing for a Big 12 title and navigating the treacherous landscape both on and off the field of Longhorns football.
Herman landed on the Texas campus Sunday to turn around a program worn down by three consecutive losing seasons under Charlie Strong. In Herman, Texas President Greg Fenves and athletic director Mike Perrin hired arguably the hottest young coach in college football away from Houston.
“We will win championships,” at Texas, Herman said, sounding the key note his new fans want to hear.
Herman lifted Houston with winning and public persona that pledged an “H-town takeover.” He now inherits a Texas program laboring to return to the national elite. And he’ll have to sooth some hurt feelings among the talented but young players who had pleaded a week earlier for Strong to stay. Among them was junior running back D’Onta Foreman, who rushed for 2,028 yards and is considering turning pro.
Some of that started when Herman met with his new players Sunday afternoon. Herman said he knows many of the Texas players are close to Strong, but added the “definition of insanity is doing the same thing over again.”
“There will be change,” Herman said.
Herman will enjoy a whirlwind of early support that Strong never really got. Herman was hired so quickly after Strong was fired — within hours — that it demonstrated how unified school administrators and influential donors were in a desperate rush to snatch him up before anyone else did.
Fenves and Perrin acknowledged they met Herman on Friday night after Texas lost to TCU and had an agreement in place before Strong was told he’d been fired. Three years ago, it took Texas about three weeks and flirtations with several other coaches before Strong was hired.
And Strong had barely arrived on campus when billionaire businessman Red McCombs, one of Texas’ most prominent donors, called hiring Strong a “kick in the face,” a comment that set the tone for three tumultuous years for a divided fan base.
All of that came under different campus leadership than Herman has now. Fenves and Perrin have been in their jobs less than two years.
“What is important is that in the end, we got our man,” Fenves said.
Things look and sound good now, but Herman will want to remember that Texas has a board of regents that hasn’t been afraid to meddle in athletics. It was impatient board members and influential donors who worked tried to lure Alabama’s Nick Saban while Mack Brown was still the Longhorns’ coach in 2013.
Herman will have to put a staff together, and he deflected questions on whether that will include Houston offensive coordinator Major Applewhite. Applewhite is a former Texas quarterback and assistant coach who was immensely popular with Texas fans. But he also was disciplined by the university in 2009 when as an assistant coach school officials learned he’d engaged in “inappropriate” conduct with a student trainer on a bowl trip.
Applewhite, and how the school disciplined him, remains a key element in a long-running gender and race discrimination lawsuit against Texas filed by former women’s track coach Bev Kearney, who was forced out in 2013 after having a relationship with one of her athletes in 2002. That case is pending before the state Supreme Court.
Herman will enjoy hitting the recruiting trail for the state’s flagship university and the wealth and prestige that comes with it. And the buzz across Texas’ fertile recruiting grounds will be focused on him, instead of Big 12 and in-state rivals like Baylor, Texas Tech, TCU and Texas A&M, all of whom had disappointing seasons.
Texas is known as a place where the pressure to win, be a politician and to be the public face of one of the nation’s most prominent programs can be crushing. Herman says he ready to handle it all.
“Pressure comes from being unprepared,” Herman said. “We are prepared for this job. We are prepared to be successful.”