What is Tom Herman prioritizing this spring at Texas? His tweets offer plenty of answers

3:10 | College Football
Spring camp preview: Alabama, USC and UCLA
Monday April 3rd, 2017

AUSTIN, Texas — A young Tom Herman once ended a love note with “Hook ’Em.” How do we know this? His wife Michelle found the 18-year-old note in a box and tweeted a photo of it Sunday. And Texas coach Herman, keenly aware that this little slice of his humanity will further endear him to recruits and—more importantly—their mamas, promptly retweeted it and attached a message to his bride. 

We know a lot about Herman because he shares a lot. This past weekend, he tweeted (or retweeted) 19 times. Some coaches guard their thoughts like Rottweilers protecting a junkyard. Herman freely distributes his. Through Herman’s social media activity, we’ve gotten a fascinating window into his first spring practice on the Forty Acres. But blasting information 140 characters at a time doesn’t always leave room for depth or context. So I asked Herman to explain a few of his tweets a little further, and he obliged. The result is a picture of what Herman has prioritized since taking over at Texas—explained by six tweets from the past two weeks.

1. The World’s Scariest Soccer Dad

How did WWE legend The Undertaker wind up at a Texas practice earlier this month? Because his daughter plays on the same soccer team as the daughter of Michael Huff, the former Texas star and eight-year NFL veteran who joined Herman’s staff in December as a quality control assistant. 

“Can you imagine him at a kids’ soccer game?” Herman said, flashing a wicked grin.

Huff came to Herman and asked if the head coach would mind if The Undertaker (real name: Mark Calaway; real fandom: Texas) came to a practice. “MIND?” Herman recalled saying. “I’d love it.” Calaway’s March 23 visit offered more than the chance for the players (and Herman) to meet one of their favorite wrestlers.

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Calaway, who may have retired after Sunday’s Wrestlemania, told the team about his decision to leave the basketball team at Texas Wesleyan to chase his dream of being a professional wrestler. The Undertaker told the Longhorns they needed to stay in school, but he explained that achieving a dream requires maximum effort even when no one is watching. The knock on Texas in recent years is that some players have decided they’ve made it simply because they got a scholarship to Texas. The Undertaker’s talk offered some concrete examples of how much work is required to truly make it in any field.

2. Passing Out Pizza

Herman retweeted this message from redshirt freshman receiver Reggie Hemphill-Mapps on March 24. That was the day Texas players walked around campus handing out free pizza and inviting students to come to the Longhorns’ Student Appreciation Day practice the following day.

Herman’s former boss, Urban Meyer, invites students to a special practice at Ohio State, and Herman wanted to use the concept to rekindle the connection between the team and the student body at Texas. Herman hasn’t forgotten his days at Division III Cal-Lutheran, where football players were just like regular students—right down to the tuition checks they had to write. And while Texas exists in a very different sphere, Herman would like to create a kinship between the players and their fellow students. 

“Maybe it’s the D-III guy in me,” Herman said. “But I still believe that as big a brand as Texas is and as big a business as college football at this level is, college football is an extracurricular activity. We exist for the entertainment, for the school spirit, for the fellowship, for the chance to come together as one university for four hours on a Saturday. All of that is for the student body. That’s why we exist at our core. I don’t ever want to forget that.”

3. Opining On The Rap Game

It’s no surprise that Herman loves Kendrick Lamar. During an appearance on my SiriusXM radio show last month, Herman blasted the current trend in hip-hop to create repetitive, lyrically bereft songs. While his players may listen to Migos and Future on their own, Herman—who curated some excellent practice playlists at Houston—considers most of today’s hits “too slow” to blast during drills.

Lamar’s songs are more lyrically and sonically complex than those of most of his peers. In terms of verse, he’s playing chess while other rappers play checkers. For Herman, who listened to Dre, Snoop and Biggie in his teens and moved on to Jay-Z and Outkast in his early 20s, flow still matters*. Herman is the only major college football coach I’d trust to DJ a wedding.

*But not always. Like the author of this column, Herman loves Lil’ Troy’s "Wanna Be A Baller", which is neither lyrically nor sonically complex. (You couldn’t even switch from Motorola to a PrimeCo phone. Motorola was an equipment manufacturer; PrimeCo was a service provider.) But it did sound just as sublime at Herman’s Houston practices as it did coming through the speakers of my ’94 Corolla.

4. Recruiting Deep Into The Future

One of the most important hires Herman has made at Texas is Stone’s grandfather Bob Shipley. The father of former Texas receivers Jordan and Jaxon Shipley spent 17 years as a coach at the high school level in Texas, and as the Longhorns’ director of high school relations, it will be his job to ensure coaches in the state feel properly loved by the folks in burnt orange.

Herman and his nine assistants have more than 150 years of combined experience recruiting the state of Texas, but they can’t be everywhere at once. Shipley’s job is to ensure the high school coaches in the Lone Star State know the doors of the Texas program are open to them. Herman’s predecessor, Charlie Strong, didn’t have a bad relationship with the high school coaches in the state, but Herman wants to make sure that group always feels welcome, and having one of their own as a point of contact should help that process.

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Last month, the Texas football Twitter account released the dates of all of the Longhorns’ spring practices. Those practices are closed to the public and only briefly open to media. That information was aimed squarely at the state’s high school coaches, who are welcome to attend any practice. “All day, every day,” Herman said. “You’re welcome from the time we got off the road on signing day to the time our assistants hit the road after the spring game.”

This weekend, Texas will welcome coaches from throughout the state to its annual coaches’ clinic. The keynote speaker? Bill Belichick.

5. Meeting The Locals

When Herman got the job, he reached out to several Austin-based companies hoping to establish a relationship. He called Michael Dell, whose eponymous computer company helped turn Austin into a tech hub. He called Roy Seiders, who co-founded Yeti Coolers with brother Ryan. Herman also called the folks at humor site The Chive, which didn’t start in Austin but moved its headquarters there in 2013. 

“I’ve had The Chive app on my phone for years,” Herman said.

So last week, Herman visited The Chive’s headquarters. Austin’s newest millionaire Chiver hung out with founders John and Leo Resig and left with plenty of swag, a piece of which he wore at practice the next day.

But Herman didn’t visit just to be a fanboy. “I’m also fascinated by successful entrepreneurs,” Herman said. “It’s very similar to coaching.” Indeed. Initially, the hours are long and the pay low. But for the few who truly succeed, the rewards can be huge. Meeting kindred spirits in the business world can help Herman organize his own operation better, and he plans to pick the brains of any Austin-based success stories who have time to visit.

6. The Next Level

Herman knows he’s got an NFL problem. The Longhorns have had nine players drafted since 2013. In that same period, Oklahoma has had 21 players drafted. Texas A&M has had 13 players drafted. LSU, which routinely clashes with Texas for players in the Houston area, has had 27 drafted. NFL teams don’t currently consider Texas a top producer of talent, but that didn’t stop all 32 teams from sending representatives to the Longhorns’ pro day last week.

Strong’s recruiting should help Texas improve its stock as an NFL talent producer, but Herman knows he can accelerate that process by helping make likely 2018 draftees such as offensive tackle Connor Williams, linebacker Malik Jefferson and defensive tackle Poona Ford more attractive to NFL teams. Herman hopes those players adopt the same attitude as cornerback William Jackson, whose final season at Houston was Herman’s first. “He came back and said all the other corners at the combine were amazed at how hard he was going in the drills,” Herman said of the 24th pick in the 2016 draft. “His quote to the other corners was ‘That’s how I was trained.’ That’s a point of pride for us.”

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How the current Longhorns fare in future drafts will be entirely up to them. “The scouts know they’re going to get a lot of honesty from us,” Herman said. “If a guy is a bad guy, he’s a bad guy. We’re not going to sugarcoat it.” Herman is concerned about the toughness of the players he inherited at Texas, but it should be noted that he expressed similar concerns during his first spring at Houston. That team went 13-1 and won the American Athletic Conference.

If a player is willing to work, Herman and his staff will sing that player’s praises and try to get him drafted as high as possible. That can only help recruiting in the future. “This is still Texas,” Herman said. “There’s going to be plenty of talent here for years to come.”

How that talent performs will be up to Herman and his assistants. We’ll likely know how the current players are progressing because Herman will share it online. Still, he doesn’t share everything. For example, Herman has yet to tweet whether sophomore Shane Buechele or freshman Sam Ehlinger will win the Longhorns’ starting quarterback job.

Here’s guessing we won’t see that one until September.

A Random Ranking

Groundhog Day has been turned into a Broadway musical. Here are the top five movies that need to be turned into musicals—pronto.

1. Fletch

Sample lyric: A steak sandwich, a bloody mary and a steak sandwich and don’t mind the bills/When I’m done I’ll charge it to the Underhills!

2. Total Recall (1990 version)

Sample lyric: Hear my voice and look into my eyes/Now step back and get ready for a surprise!

3. Clerks

Sample lyric: Thirty-seven you say?/I’m not even supposed to be here today!

4. I’m Gonna Git You Sucka

Sample lyric: I sure am hungry/One rib, I said/By chance, do you have change for a hundred?

5. Fargo

Sample lyric: I’ll fix you some eggs/I’ll do my best/Marge, you gotta eat a breakfast!

First and 10

1. Gonzaga will face North Carolina tonight at University of Phoenix Stadium for the men’s basketball national title. In January 2007, Florida beat Ohio State there to win the BCS title. In January 2011, Auburn beat Oregon there to win the BCS title. In January 2016, Alabama beat Clemson there for the national title.

Forty years earlier, the land where the stadium stands was a farm. Who lived on that farm? Current USC defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast. The Washington Post’s Chuck Culpepper tells the story.

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2. Video surfaced last week of former Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson leaving Innisfree, the Irish pub that sits less than a mile from Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. According to a post on the bar’s Facebook page, customers—not anyone affiliated with the bar—attempted to invoke the right to refuse service to the guy who happened to lead the Tigers to a win against Alabama in the national title game. 

This video shows Ryan Anderson, a linebacker who just wrapped his Alabama career, and former Alabama player and current Cincinnati Bengal Wallace Gilberry among those pressing Watson and his group to wrap it up and leave. 

This is why I want Alabama and Clemson to play every year. 

Also, it appears Watson wasn’t unwelcome everywhere in Tuscaloosa.

3. Michigan State held its spring game Saturday with the cloud of a sexual assault investigation that touches at least three players and one staffer still hanging over the program. The Michigan State police department submitted requests for arrest warrants last month, and the prosecutor’s office is reviewing evidence. Spartans coach Mark Dantonio said earlier last week not to assume that players missing from the spring game were involved in the case.

But that didn’t stop everyone from wondering which of the 15 players listed on the roster but not dressed were involved in the case rather than injured or suspended for some other reason. Dantonio did reveal that tailback LJ Scott missed spring practice following postseason surgery. But Dantonio reiterated that he wouldn’t get specific about the case at this point. Perhaps some clarity will come soon.

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4. A prankster posed as Auburn offensive line coach Herb Hand last week and convinced Miami Central High lineman Taurrian Stafford that he had a scholarship offer from the Tigers. After the Central coaching staff contacted Hand and everyone realized it was a cruel joke, Hand was not thrilled.

Fortunately for the 320-pound Stafford, he’ll have plenty of chances during spring practice to impress college coaches in person. Central, the alma mater of Dalvin Cook, Devonta Freeman and dozens of other football stars, is a regular stop for college assistants during the May evaluation period. Hand plans to be one of those this spring.

5. Speaking of Auburn, someone finally turned the Kick Six into a Tecmo Bowl play.

6. Meanwhile, former Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville sure seems like he’s headed for the campaign trail to run for the governor’s office in Alabama. AL.com reported last week that Tuberville loaned himself $100,000 for a potential run. Tuberville also talked to AL.com's Joe Goodman about the possibility of a run

And like most politicians—or would-be politicians—Tuberville is now having to explain things he said years ago. In this case, it’s the infamous “pine box” comment that implied he’d leave Ole Miss in a coffin before he left for another job. Shortly after that, he took the Auburn job. Tuberville explained the backstory behind that situation while sitting in with The Morning Drive on WJOX-FM last week. 

7. The University of Chicago released some interesting news Saturday. But before you start making the-Big Ten-has-15-members-jokes, read the URL of the web page after you click this link.

8. Meanwhile, Florida took suggestions Saturday for a new mascot.

A former Gators player and coach and current athletic department ambassador shut down that prank in a hurry. 

9. Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin denied using the alias Joey Freshwater, and the Internet wept. Kiffin did suggest to Fox Sports radio host Clay Travis that he’s used “Jimmy Chestnut,” but then he said he was only kidding.

10. Clemson defensive lineman Christian Wilkins has only expanded his dance repertoire since busting a split following the Tigers’ national title game win.

What’s Eating Andy

Had this not been an April Fool’s hoax, I probably would have bought it.

What’s Andy Eating

We’ve already discussed some of the surest ways to determine the quality of a barbecue joint before ever walking into the door. First, you should be able to smell the smoking meat from at least a quarter mile away. Second, there should be a pile of wood somewhere in the vicinity.

Let’s add a third to that. Examine the quality of the vehicles in the parking lot. If they range from held-together-by-duct-tape beaters to price-of-a-small-house SUVs, you’ve found something special. In a society that Balkanizes itself online by creating echo chambers unfamiliar ideas can’t penetrate, great barbecue places still bring together people of every race, socioeconomic group and ideology. (Except vegetarians, I suppose.) The best way to get people to leave their respective bubbles and intermingle remains properly smoked meat.

The parking lot at CouYons in Port Allen, La., has that kind of range. This town across the Mississippi River from Baton Rouge isn’t wealthy, but pricy rides sit alongside more modest modes of transportation because everyone who got behind the wheel came for the same thing: the best barbecue in the area.

When I visit a new barbecue place, I try to order the most diverse plate I can so I can taste as much as possible. Usually, this is a three-meat plate. If the restaurant chooses to answer The Eternal Question—How much for one rib?—I’ll stick to the sliced, chopped or pulled meats and add a bone to the order. But CouYons has something even better.

The $26.99 pricetag for the sampler plate sounds quite steep until it comes out of the kitchen. It’s actually two plates piled with every meat CouYons makes in every style CouYons makes it. It includes slices of moist brisket, pork ribs, slices of lean brisket, piles of pulled pork and chopped brisket, slices of turkey, a quarter of a chicken and a sausage link. It also comes with two hefty sides. I chose green beans and cajun rice dressing.

The old Andy would have tried to power through this massive offering. The new (hopefully thinner) Andy got two meals and a snack out of it. Yet after thorough examination, I couldn’t choose a favorite meat. This isn’t because the meats were mediocre; far from it. If CouYons played in the NBA, it would average 10 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals and 1.5 blocks a game. That’s right, it’s a barbecue Glue Guy. No single meat is transcendent, but everything—especially the high-degree-of-difficulty chicken and turkey—is cooked with remarkable competence. I’d order any of these meats by themselves, but I’d much rather eat them all together.

And just as the Glue Guy’s contribution to a team is greater than the sum of his individual stats, CouYons has a dish that combines these flavors into something truly amazing. Remember those two sides I ordered? The green beans were great, but they were a mistake. I should have ordered two of the cajun rice dressing and another gallon of it to go. Why? Because the cooks at CouYons take all the juicy bits that remain after the meats are sliced and chopped and pulled and they stir them into soft, tender rice. This creates the world’s most beautiful dirty rice, and it brings people from everywhere. And even if none of them agree on anything else, they all know deep in their souls that they want another spoonful of that rice.

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