After all, he’d coached in Texas for a decade and recruited the talent-rich Lone Star State for even longer. He’d worked under Mack Brown at Texas and made stops at Sam Houston State, Texas State, Rice and Iowa State. His offenses put up numbers everywhere he went.
Had he skipped out on the move to Columbus, Ohio, and instead made Ames, Iowa, the final stop of his days as an assistant, Herman would have still been a betting favorite to win more games than he lost once he finally got a top job. Still, in his estimation, he wouldn’t have been prepared to handle one of the most critical duties that comes with running a program.
“I tell people had I gotten a head coaching job out of Iowa State I could have recruited as a head coach, motivated a team, put together a game plan, fundraised, the whole nine,” Herman told BuckeyeSports.com. “Where I would have failed miserably is in the management of my staff and the people that worked for me and the people that touch the players’ lives.”
He learned of that deficiency when he came to Columbus to work for Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer, but he also learned the fix. Over the course of three seasons as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator – and especially during the last one – Herman saw firsthand what can happen when everyone is on the same page.
‘When (players) come into the football building, the message has to be aligned with everyone that talks to them, touches them and interacts with them, and there can’t be any hidden agendas or human element, as Coach Meyer says,” Herman said. “It has to be exactly the same when they come in, and I didn’t realize how important that was until I spent three years with him.”
Herman is one of three former Meyer assistants with a head coaching job in Texas – Charlie Strong is at Texas and Dan McCarney is at North Texas – a somewhat odd configuration considering Meyer has never been a head coach at a place within 1,000 miles of those programs. But his tree stretches from Oregon State to Boston College, from Marshall to Mississippi State, and the traits that make Meyer and his protégés successful aren’t dependent on local factors.
“The championship recipe is certainly not regional,” Herman said. “It’s the same wherever you go. No matter where you go, you have to get a bunch of kids to buy into your culture and you have to play very physically and mentally tough. I don’t know that the regions matter. Really the only thing you have to acclimate yourself to is the recruiting climate. For me, coming to Houston was coming home. I spent 11 years working in this state and 17 recruiting it. It was home for me.”
He’s already off to an impressive recruiting start. The Cougars have a verbal commitment from a five-star and a four-star and rank 28th in Scout.com’s team rankings. One year earlier, Houston finished 83rd and didn’t sign a single four- or five-star prospect.
Herman doesn’t have any on-field results to show yet, but he admitted it was a little weird to go through spring practice while still trying to develop relationships with and learn about the athletes he inherited. There’s also the added bonus of knowing the jobs of others depends on the success of the program he controls.
“It’s a different kind of pressure just knowing you’ve got this entire staff of coaches and families and support staff and their families and the players and their families are all kind of depending on you to lead them in the right direction,” he said. “I wouldn’t say that’s been overwhelming, but sometimes you think about the enormity of it. It weighs heavy on you and it motivates you to get up and go to work and do your best every day.”
He does so while carrying the ideas he gleaned from coaches like Mack Brown, David Bailiff and Paul Rhoads.
“I’ve worked for some really good ones, all the way back to GAing for Mack Brown,” Herman said. “Every head coach has a lot of great qualities or they wouldn’t be where they’re at. I try to take as much as I can of the stuff I thought was important to winning and building a culture, but also the things I could do and still stay me. I’m never going to be Urban Meyer, I’m going to be Tom Herman. But I’m going to be the Tom Herman that has hopefully pulled 1,000 great ideas from the coaches I worked for.”
One of those ideas – the alignment of the staff and everyone in the program – could be the reason he wins big in Houston.