The vast media throng that surrounded the Ohio State assistant and soon-to-be Houston coach hadn’t really abated during Herman’s 25-minute session in front of the tape recorders, but Jones tried to blend in and play a joke on the coach.
Of course, when you’re listed at 6-5, 250 pounds, that’s hard to do, and the Ohio State signal caller was immediately spotted by Herman.
“You’re 6-5, 250 pounds and you didn’t think I’d see you coming?” Herman said, unable to hold in his laughter.
It was the kind of playful moment you see as players and coaches often exchange in the dying moments of seemingly interminable media sessions. Yet it also helped show just how far Herman and Jones have come since the two arrived in early 2012 to begin their respective Buckeye careers.
As Pete Thamel detailed in a recent Sports Illustrated story, the relationship between the two wasn’t always so playful. According to Thamel, at one point, Herman had his pupil wear a dunce hat in a team meeting among other details.
Jones’ battles with Herman had as much to do with his noted immaturity than anything else – showing up late, blowing off classes, the types of things that have prompted head coach Urban Meyer and Jones to agree he’s undergone a 180-degree turn in his three seasons at Ohio State.
But at the start, Jones was just a hard-headed teenager, a smart, driven kid with unmatched physical talent and the ability to throw a ball unlike most other humans in the world. Even while lacking a stable home life, he starred at Cleveland Glenville, nearly led the inner-city program to a state championship, waited for the Ohio State offer he wanted but almost never came, and then had to spend a year at Fork Union Military Academy because the Buckeyes had Braxton Miller in his class.
Because of such things, Herman saw what was inside of Jones and never gave up on him even when it probably could have seemed easy to do so and even when Jones seemed like he didn’t want his help.
“Because I’m a sucker, maybe? I don’t know,” Herman said when asked why that was the case. “I think that this kid was put in front of me for a reason, and it was my job to believe in him until the very end, until he proved to me that I could no longer believe in him every again, and we weren’t at that point. So it was my job to believe in him, and he still has some fine-tuning, but I just figured that’s my job as a position coach is to believe in my guys.
“He gave me a lot of reasons not to, but it was never a final straw, this is it, you gotta go. He was close in some other people’s minds, but I saw what was in there.”
Perhaps that’s why Jones wasn’t happy in some ways to hear that Herman, the man who put together an offense and mentored such talents as Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett as well, would be taking the Houston job. The two had talked before about how Herman would one day like to be a head coach and was likely to be considered by other schools, but Jones hoped that day would never come.
“Me and him had a very uncomfortable conversation about him leaving,” Jones said Sunday. “It was just emotional. You get close to someone like that for three years and then they leave. But he set the record straight. It’s not like he’s out of my life or anything like that. He’s just not my coach (anymore).”
Jones went on to say that it was “great” to see Herman going out to live his dream. It’s fair to say the quarterback room meetings between Jones and Herman have changed in tenor of late. There’s no more dunce caps, just a player and a coach getting ready for the Sugar Bowl and a chance to make history.
“Here’s a funny story,” Herman said. “The scout team guys really don’t ever meet with us. Stephen Collier was meeting with the scout team. Braxton was in Birmingham rehabbing. J.T., I think, had just had surgery or was doing something so he wasn’t in the meeting, so my quarterback meeting for like three days straight was me and Cardale.
“And we have a tradition that we don’t take the field or leave the meeting room without taking a break – ‘QBs on three, 1-2-3 QBs!’ – so it was me and Cardale staring at each other, ‘1-2-3 QBs!’ It was a little weird but that’s how it went.”
The two will only have two more games at most together, and the circle is almost complete. Jones has gone from wanting to be coached by seemingly anyone else to the point that Herman's imminent departure was a tough pill to swallow.
"He knows it's part of the game, knows it's part of the business," Herman said. "Me and him have had our, I want to say ups and downs, but it was down for a long time and now trending up and really up to where we're very very close and so that hurt, but you have to move on. He'll be fine and we talked it out, hugged it out."