We’re now joined by Coach Tom Herman, University of Texas. Coach, welcome. Your thoughts about the upcoming season.
TOM HERMAN: I’m a little disappointed, no Justin Bieber.
Just to be brief, I haven’t had a whole lot of time to reflect, nor will I here shortly, but it has been a whirlwind of an eight months. I couldn’t be prouder of our staff, of our kids, for the hard work that they’ve put in, and for everybody associated with our program for laying this foundation.
Our coaches have spent an inordinate amount of time getting to know and building relationships with our players. This spring was very successful in terms of learning how to practice. We grew immensely as a team, and we’re continuing to grow, even more so this summer. Our coaches have been recruiting their tails off, and that has paid some tangible dividends thus far. And I think that’s, in large part, due to their relationships with the high school coaches in this great state.
Coach McKnight, our strength coach and his staff, have done a phenomenal job of developing our guys. Our guys, actually when they go home now, there’s a lot of people that say, man, I don’t even recognize you. You look good. You feel good. And our guys are very confident, and Coach McKnight trains them physically and mentally every single day in perfect alignment for what we want to accomplish throughout the season.
Our recruiting and social media staff have done an excellent job this first eight months on the job in terms of kind of rebranding Texas football a little bit and making sure that we are one of the really cool places to come and to get your education at and to play football, quite frankly.
I can’t thank Mike Perrin and President Greg Fenves enough. I always say that coaches and players win games, but administrations win championships. And we have a very definite championship administration.
Our facility improvements have been very much noted and that’s due in large part to the recognition of President Fenves and Mike Perrin that we needed to change, and we need to upgrade our facilities, and we done it faster than I’ve seen a facility get upgraded to this magnitude. So it’s exciting, here in the next couple of weeks, we’ll be moving back in, and you won’t even be able to recognize the place.
Ever since — and the last thing I want to say is how proud I am of our players. And since the first team meeting that we had, which was a very political one and a direct one, our guys have bought in. And I will say that the buy-in level has been extremely high from the number of players that I think really, truly believe in what we’re preaching, that believe in our way of doing things.
Now, the day-to-day, hour-to-hour, minute-by-minute execution of that belief and of that buy-in is still something that we’re learning how to do, especially when things get very difficult and you’re faced with adverse situations, but the belief is there, and that’s the first step. We’re well on our way. I don’t know — all of you are going to ask me about expectations. I don’t know. I know that these guys are going to be trained as well as anybody in the country, and we’re going to play to our maximum potential. What that is, I don’t know right now, but I feel good that these guys are willing to do whatever we ask them to coming off the three-year stretch that this program has had. They don’t want that to be their legacy. They want to be remembered as the team and the group that turned this thing around. I think we’re well on our way.
So with that, Hook ’em Horns, and I will take questions.
Q. Just start out with an easy question about the quarterback depth situation behind Shane and Sam. What have you seen from Shane in the summer, particularly, obviously, he did fairly well at the Manning Passing Academy. Does that give you particular confidence, especially in him, what he did down there?
TOM HERMAN: I don’t get a lot of confidence in quarterbacks in shorts and T-shirts. That’s pretty difficult for me to grasp, other than kind of looking at a kid’s mechanics. But the game of quarterback is played so much here and here that, what you do in a controlled environment like that in shorts and T-shirts is not really indicative of how successful of a quarterback you’re going to be on Saturdays.
Now, with that being said, Shane has done a marvelous job of coming in this summer and really trying to be more of a leader. Last year he was a true freshman that was just trying to keep his head above water. This year we’ve challenged him, and I think that’s — it’s difficult for him because, A, he still sees himself as kind of the young kid. He’s a true sophomore. But, B, he’s a very humble, very mild-mannered kind of guy.
We’ve challenged him, we’ve taught him, we’ve explained things to him that for him to take the next step in his growth, one of those things is going to have to be to continue to lead the culture of the team.
The first part of your question, you asked about the depth behind Shane and Sam. There isn’t any. We have a walk-on in Josh Covey, and then we’ll have — and that’s not to slight Josh Covey. Josh is a good player and had definitely turned some eyes in spring practice — but we’ll have a package for Jerrod Heard too each week too — that, if a bomb blows up and Shane and Sam both can’t finish a game, Jerrod would probably be the guy to go finish the game, and then we’ll figure things out the next week. That’s kind of where we’re at.
Q. Tom, when you were in Austin the first time as a young coach — I think it was Mack’s second and third year — a rebuilding situation, how do you compare the two statuses of Texas football at that time compared to where you’re at now?
TOM HERMAN: I think very comparable, Barry. I really do. I think maybe not the sustained — Mack — Coach Brown didn’t go into maybe the sustained drought that we have come into. I think Coach Mackovic went 4-7 when Mack took over for him, but the year prior to that had won the Big 12 in 1996 in the inaugural Big 12 championship game. So there had been recent success, so I think for us, it’s a little bit different there.
But I think the biggest thing is too — and the you look at Coach Brown’s first full recruiting class too, that was the class that brought Cory Redding and Chris Simms in, that were both the USA Today number one player on offense, number one player on defense, and they had the number one recruiting class in the country, and kind of turned the tide a little bit in terms of bringing in the necessary talent to compete. Then Moncrief Neuhaus, our new facility, had just been finished, which, again, 18, 19 years ago was state of the art. So that attracted a lot of players and, again, made Texas kind of the cool place to go. And we’re doing the same with our facilities now.
So I think there are some parallels. The one that I think is a bit different again — and I remind people that throw on some — they love to throw on their burnt orange sunglasses and have all these crazy expectations. Since the class of 2018, these 16-year-old kids that we’re recruiting — since they were 2 years old, they’ve seen two winning Texas football seasons, two; and they’ve seen four losing Texas football seasons. So the Texas that they know is a lot different than the Texas that people in my generation know. So it’s our job to show them what Texas is capable of, what Texas has been in the past, and what we’re planning on being again in the future.
Q. Last year for the first time in quite a while, no teams from the state of Texas finished in the top 25. I’m wondering if you think there’s any challenges to teams in the state that maybe didn’t exist in the past and how you intend to overcome them.
TOM HERMAN: Houston didn’t finish in the top 25? They didn’t? I thought we did. I guess not.
I don’t think there’s any inherent challenges being a university in the state of Texas. I think the doors to out-of-state recruiting have been opened a little bit, and I kick myself every day because at Ohio State I think we had a little bit of something to do with that. When I came down here and signed J.T. Barrett and Dontre Wilson and Demetrius Knox and Mike Mitchell, I think that was a little bit different than what had been done in the past here in the state of Texas. So I think a lot of people feel like they can — especially when Texas is down, other schools smell blood in the water a little bit. When we get Texas back, I don’t think that you’re going to — I can’t imagine a scenario where you’d ever see not one team from the state of Texas in the top 25, especially — as well as some of the other non-Power Five schools are playing in our state.
Q. Coach, wanted to ask you about the past six to seven years, and now that you’ve had time to analyze this program, why has it struggled so much, despite recruiting at a fairly high level?
TOM HERMAN: I don’t know. I know that it went through a tremendous storm, if you will, from Coach Brown’s departure to now. We’re talking about a Hall of Fame coach leaving, a Hall of Fame athletic director leaving, a president leaving, a new president coming in, a new AD getting hired, that AD leaving, a new interim AD leaving, the next head coach leaving and not having success. So I think there was a lot of non-continuity, if that’s a word. There just wasn’t any stability from the top down.
Other than that, I — it’s really — I haven’t really spent a whole lot of time thinking about it because it’s — you know, what’s done is done. What’s the past is in the past. And our job is to make sure that whatever happened doesn’t happen.
But I think that’s probably the biggest thing, when I do spend a couple of seconds thinking about it, is just the enormous turnover in positions of leadership in a short amount of time.
Q. I’m wondering, as the head coach at the University of Texas, do you feel any inherent responsibility to be an ambassador for Big 12 football abroad?
TOM HERMAN: Abroad, like across in Europe?
Q. Maybe just in America.
TOM HERMAN: I think this is a heck of a conference. I think this is a conference that has some really good teams in it. We’ve got some good young coaches. We’ve got a lot of energy right now. Is it my job to take care of the Big 12? No. It’s none of our jobs to take care of the Big 12. You know what our job is is to win games, graduate players, represent the University of Texas really, really well, at a very, very high, elite level, and in turn that takes care of the Big 12.
So I don’t know that we ever really think about, hey, let’s be an ambassador for the conference. You know, I’m an ambassador for the University of Texas, and if I do that job well, then by default, we’ve become as a program a good ambassador for the Big 12.
Q. Since the spring game, you’ve added the freshman class, but the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors, 75 percent of your room has never even been to a Bowl game. With that, how have you continued to teach them how to win?
TOM HERMAN: That’s a great question. In fact, in our first team meeting, I said raise your hand if you’ve been on a winning Texas football team, and three people raised their hand. We have three redshirt seniors, one of them is here today in Naashon Hughes, that were on Coach Brown’s last team. So we don’t know how to win really well right now.
But I think the best way to do it is really to — it’s nothing different than what we’ve done everywhere we’ve been and that’s to compete every day in what we do and make sure there are tangible rewards for winning whatever that competition is. We talk about how we have the student of the week, and that guy gets recognized. We’ve got T-shirts and all that. We’ve got — again, everything from off-season conditioning drills, where we have winners and losers, and the winners get to eat a better meal not that the losers, the list of competitions and tangible rewards for winning, but also tangible consequences for losing.
I think losing has to be awful, and you can never get used to losing. That is one of the biggest maybe downfalls of a lot of teams is you get used to losing. No, losing is awful. It’s awful. It’s not just, oh, well, we’ll get them next week. No, this is like the sky-is-falling-type stuff. And so every time we have a competitive situation, we’re going to make sure that the people that don’t win in that competitive situation, that they feel awful about it and that it’s not funny and it’s not hokey or corny, that it’s really, really bad for them to lose, as well as it being very, very cool for the guys that win and very rewarding for the guys that win. Because that’s what happens on Saturdays and that’s what happens throughout the season.
So we train for chaos, and we put our guys through some extremely chaotic situations throughout off-season drills in the spring and in the summer 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.