Tramel: Can Texas coach Tom Herman end Longhorns' long-running stagnation?
Tom Herman says his Internet scrolling is restricted to Yahoo! News. Which means he’s up to date on President Trump’s COVID and the latest celebrity gossip.
The level of disgruntledness among Longhorn football fans? Not so much.
Good strategy by the Texas coach. Herman’s ‘Horns are 2-1, having won a game they had no business winning and having lost a game they had no business losing. Which means none of us really knows in which direction this Texas football season will go, much less how the Longhorns will fare Saturday in the Cotton Bowl Holy War.
But we know Texas fans can’t be happy. The Longhorns are 27-16 under Herman, continuing the puzzling stagnation of a college football citadel.
“Anytime you subject yourself to people that are outside the arena, you’re asking for trouble,” Herman said at his press conference this week.
Herman chatted with Clemson coach Dabo Swinney last week and received some sage words that Herman carried with him throughout the weekend, after Texas’ 33-31 loss to TCU:
“It’s not the water outside the boat that sinks ships. It’s the water that you allow inside the boat that does.”
Herman repeated those words to his players Sunday, a day after the Longhorns lost to TCU when tailback Keaontay Ingram fumbled trying to stretch the ball across the goal line with two minutes left in the game. But the Longhorns beat Texas Tech 63-56 in overtime, despite trailing 56-41 with three minutes left.
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So while some in Bevo Land lament not being 2-0 in the Big 12, others wonder how a team so highly regarded is fortunate not to be 0-2.
“Our guys, they know what they signed up for, and so did I,” Herman said. “When you come to a place like Texas, there’s going to be very high expectations and a lot of people that think they know how to do your job and play your position and all of that.
“Our job is to put our nose to the grindstone and continue to improve.”
But there’s the rub. Longhorn football seems stuck in neutral since January 2010, when quarterback Colt McCoy was injured during the national championship game against Alabama. The Longhorns lost 37-21, and UT football hasn’t been the same since.
Through four more years of Mack Brown, three with Charlie Strong and now three-plus with Herman, Texas is 73-58, without a conference title, with only three-top 25 finishes and just final-poll ranking higher than 19th.
It’s a lost decade of Longhorn football, during which Texas ranks sixth in conference winning percentage, behind OU, OSU, Kansas State, TCU and Baylor.
Herman, who had been a graduate assistant under Brown and was Urban Meyer’s offensive coordinator on Ohio State’s 2014 national championship team, seemed a perfect fit for Texas. He was head coach at Houston for two seasons, during which his Cougars went 5-0 against Power 5 Conference opponents, including OU and Florida State.
If Herman can’t win big in Austin, who can, outside of Nick Saban or Urban Meyer?
Herman is in no danger of being fired. But he knows the pressure is on. That’s why he changed coordinators from last season, with Mike Yurcich replacing Tim Beck on offense and Chris Ash replacing Todd Orlando on defense.
Of course, just Herman’s luck, the pandemic hit. And while Yurcich hasn’t made major shifts in UT’s offense, Ash’s defense is a big change.
“We’re installing a brand new defensive system with all new coaches, with no spring practice and a training camp that was unique, for lack of any better term,” Herman said. “We knew there was going to be growing pains on that side of the ball.
“Unfortunately, we made the change in system prior to the pandemic and knowing what the last seven months were going to entail, but these are the cards that we’ve been dealt.”
So growing pains ensued. Texas Tech’s offense had much more success against Texas than it did a week later against Kansas State. TCU’s offense had more success against Texas than it did a week earlier against Iowa State.
“When an offense shows you a new formation, a new motion, a new scheme, there’s a lack of banked reps, from experience, in the system,” Herman said. “Every time they’re seeing something on Saturday that’s new, it’s quite literally the first time they’ve ever seen it in this defensive package.”
That sound you hear is Lincoln Riley licking his lips. OU coaches for almost a century have held back wrinkles, waiting to spring them in the Cotton Bowl. Riley is no exception.
Riley comes into this game with his own problems, his Sooners being 0-2 in the Big 12. It’s not like the OU fan base is any more understanding than the brethren south of the Red River.
But Riley’s problems are new. Since he arrived in Norman, the Sooners are 44-6 in the Big 12.
Herman has no such capital. He captains a ship that is more than a decade from such dominance and is just trying to keep the water out of the boat.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at 405-760-8080 or at email@example.com. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at oklahoman.com/berrytramel.