AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Tom Herman had barely accepted the job at Texas when he sent a strong message to his new players and those who had been fiercely loyal to Charlie Strong.
Change was coming. It was going to make some of them uncomfortable, but after three years of losing, why not embrace it?
“The definition of insanity is repeatedly performing the same act, expecting different results,” Herman said at his introductory news conference, then set about ripping up just about the entire program from the spring workouts to the demolition of the locker room for a high-tech and very expensive upgrade.
About the only thing that hasn’t changed at Texas is the burnt orange color of the jersey.
Herman publicly challenged some of his players in a blistering preview of spring practice when he worried about some of his “fat” defensive linemen. He set up a workout rewards system where the winners ate steak and the losers got burnt hot dogs.
He aggressively hired new staff to produce an updated and dazzling social media presence. When Texas set up live video to watch the team smash up the old lockers to make way for the new, Herman swung a sledge hammer for the first blow. It created more laughs than splintered wood when Herman barely made a dent and nearly fell down. Then the razzle-dazzle: the new high tech lockers — each comes with a 43-inch video screen — cost more than $10,000 each.
“We’re committed to providing out athletes with the best. We’re going to make this facility state of the art and as first class as we can,” Herman said Saturday as Texas wrapped spring drills with its annual Orange-White intra-squad scrimmage.
Even a trip to the public restrooms in the athletic complex provides a glimpse into the details of Herman’s program in the form of charts demonstrating what color urine a properly hydrated athlete should have. Clear is good. Anything trending toward dark yellow draws a rebuke.
“There’s no such thing as just another day in this program, When you walk in those doors, it’s fourth-and-inches,” Herman said. “Whatever it is, a meeting, a workout, a practice, you should be mentally, physically and emotionally exhausted. If you’re not, you’re doing it wrong. I think our guys understand it. They believe it … The buy-in is probably the most difficult part and we’ve gotten it from most of the guys.”
So what will it all mean on the field?
Texas fans got their first real look at the football all of this is supposed to improve in Saturday’s scrimmage. There were bright spots such as sophomore quarterback Shane Buechele passing for 369 yards and two touchdowns to Collin Johnson. There was a defensive stand late.
But true to his keeping his players on edge approach, Herman still won’t name Buechele his No. 1 over freshman Sam Ehlinger. Never mind that Buechele started all 12 games last season and set a school freshman passing record with 2,958 yards.
“No way. A healthy fear of losing your job is just that, healthy. Shane knows we have a lot of confidence in him … but to say he’s won the job in 12 padded practices when he doesn’t even get hit— that would be premature,” Herman said.
Texas has waited patiently for positive results from change agents before.
Strong was supposed wake up a program that had quietly slipped into mediocrity after a decade of 10-win seasons, a national championship in a 2005 and a shot at another in 2009. But Strong’s Longhorns fell even further behind in the Big 12 and three straight losing seasons were too much to bear. Strong was fired and Herman was hired away from Houston.
Herman inherited a program that lost 21 games in three years, had one of the worst defenses in the country last season and was losing its 2,000-yard rusher to the NFL. He also has 17 returning starters.
Against that losing backdrop, even some of the players who were most loyal to Strong have been quick to embrace the emerging Herman era of Herman. Older players such as senior defensive end Naashon Hughes are playing through their second coaching change and say the team is ready to do what it needs to in order to win.
“We know how to deal with a new coaching staff and embrace it and not being defined as a team by an individual,” Hughes said.