Tom Herman has won more games than any college football coach working in the Lone Star State over the past two seasons.
Texas’ first-year coach, who made a national impact by posting a 22-4 record in two seasons at Houston, has not won any of those games for the Longhorns. Yet his new team, coming off a 5-7 record and three consecutive losing seasons, is regularly listed in preseason projections as a Top 25 contingent and Big 12 title contender, rising as high as No. 13 in Athlon magazine’s preseason rankings.
In Tuesday’s updated win projections by Bovada Sports Book, Texas checked in with an over/under of 7.5. The total matched TCU and Baylor for most among the state’s Big 12 programs and exceeded the projection for Texas A&M (7).
Herman shrugged off any numerical goals Tuesday, explaining that his primary goal for the 2017 Longhorns is to make losing feel “so distasteful that they can’t even fathom going down that road.”
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“People, they love to throw on their burnt-orange sunglasses and have all these crazy expectations,” said Herman, who inherits a team that posted a 16-21 record over the past three years under predecessor Charlie Strong. “I think losing has to be awful. You can never get used to losing. One of the biggest downfalls of a lot of teams is you get used to losing.”
The winners get to eat a better meal. There’s also tangible consequences for losing. Losing is awful. It’s not just, ‘Oh, well, we’ll get them next week.’ No, this is like the sky-is-falling-type stuff.
Texas coach Tom Herman, on how he structures the competitive nature of daily drills
Herman stopped short of saying he inherited a team crippled by that mind-set under Strong, who suggested in December that the Longhorns were on the cusp of a major turnaround because of two consecutive strong recruiting classes he signed during his tenure in Austin. During Strong’s introductory news conference after landing the job at South Florida, he said: “I baked the cake at Texas. Now, it’s Tom Herman’s job to put icing on the cake and win a lot of games.”
Herman intends to win lots of games during his Texas tenure, perhaps even this season. He seeks to break Texas’ first streak of three consecutive losing seasons since 1936-38. But that won’t happen, said the coach who posted a 13-1 record in his debut season at Houston (2015), unless he can get his message about a genuine distaste for losing to take root in the minds of all players.
Efforts to make that happen, he said, are ongoing in coaches’ reactions to drills, meetings and other endeavors. Whether it’s about academics or athletics, Herman wants players competing on a daily basis and reaping the rewards or consequences that follow.
“Everything from off-season conditioning drills, where we have winners and losers … to student of the week,” Herman said. “The winners get to eat a better meal. There’s also tangible consequences for losing. Losing is awful. It’s not just, ‘Oh, well, we’ll get them next week.’ No, this is like the sky-is-falling-type stuff. We’re going to make sure that the people that don’t win … feel awful about it because that’s what happens on Saturdays.
“So we train for chaos, and we put our guys through some extremely chaotic situations throughout off-season drills so that on Saturdays, hopefully, the games will be easy and that losing will be something that is so distasteful that they can’t even fathom going down that road.”
From Herman’s perspective, the approach worked at Houston. Before that, it reaped dividends at Ohio State, where Herman served as offensive coordinator for the Buckeyes’ 2014 national championship team.
Ohio State coach Urban Meyer said Herman is “ready for the task” at Texas because of his football smarts and status as “a great person and family man.” Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby identified Herman, who will earn $5.25 million this season in his first year of a five-year contract, as a “superstar in his own right” in coaching circles.
This season, the Longhorns’ success will depend on the learning curve of two young quarterbacks (Shane Buechele, a sophomore from Arlington Lamar, and Sam Ehlinger, a freshman from Austin Westlake) new to Herman’s offensive system. With only two scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, receiver Jerrod Heard looms as the third option. Herman stressed Tuesday that Buechele, the incumbent, must stay healthy and “take the next step in his growth and lead the culture of the team” to maximize Texas’ win total in 2017.
Herman credited Buechele with doing “a marvelous job of trying to be more of a leader” during summer drills but remains puzzled about this team’s potential until he gets a better handle on its psyche in fall camp.
“We don’t know how to win really well right now,” Herman said. “These guys don’t want that to be their legacy. They want to be remembered as the team and the group that turned this thing around.”
With each punish-the-loser drill in practice, Herman pushes them toward that goal on a daily basis.