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Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Football

Herman leaves behind a winning culture at UH


Former head coach Tom Herman led the Cougars to their first New Year’s Six Bowl win in 30 years with a 38-24 victory over Florida State University in the 2015 Peach Bowl. | Justin Tijerina/The Cougar

When Tom Herman was put in charge of the UH football team on Dec. 16, 2014, many did not know what they were getting in the new head coach. Although impressive in his time as the offensive coordinator at Ohio State University, Herman made an unprecedented impact at UH.

As confetti rained down from the rafters of AT&T Stadium in Arlington following the Buckeyes’ national title on Jan. 12, 2015, players and coaches threw on their commemorative hats that have become typical attire for championship celebration’s in sports.

Not Herman.

The freshly hired head coach immediately donned a red UH hat and presented the “Cougar Paw” despite what he had just achieved with another university. The gesture impressed UH fans and alums.

It also proved his unwavering commitment to the University from the beginning.

Winning game plan

For Herman, there was no time to celebrate. He had a tall task in front of him, but he was ready to get to work.

In his introductory press conference, he laid out his plan for his tenure. Herman said he asked for the players’ trust upon meeting them for the first time and that he would turn that blind trust into earned trust.

He promised that his team would be the mentally and physically toughest team on the field and that they would compete from the time they brushed their teeth in the morning to laying their head on their pillow for the night.

Herman assured fans that he would provide a team that was exciting to watch.

Among his goals was to give the city of Houston a “hometown college football team” that they can be proud of. He wanted students and alumni to fill the stands of TDECU Stadium as well as Houstonians who want to see the Cougars compete.

By achieving every goal that he laid out in his opening press conference, Herman revolutionized college football both at UH and in Houston. The rise to prominence that the program experienced in Herman’s two years was not probable in the slightest and anything but given.

He inherited a team that managed just a 20-17 record under former head coach Tony Levine that struggled to recruit among the football-power universities in Texas. Herman focused his recruiting campaign on keeping Houston-area high school talent in the city.

In doing so, he landed the highest ranked Group of Five recruit in five-star defensive lineman Ed Oliver from Westfield High School.

On the whole, Herman’s recruiting classes rivaled even some of Texas’ top universities, a feat that was unimaginable under previous head coaches.

The Cougars had been plagued with mediocrity since the departure of Case Keenum earlier this decade and lagging fan support. Herman made it a point to get students to the games and realized that the easiest way to do so was to win.

That’s what he did.

Herman’s legacy

The Cougars went a perfect 14-0 at home in Herman’s tenure, including a 2-0 record at neutral sites. He left the team with the longest home winning streak in the nation at 15 games.

He made a team of largely two and three-star recruits who bought into a culture of love and trust that propelled them past the nation’s top teams. Herman went 6-0 in games against AP Top 25-ranked opponents, including a 5-0 record against opponents from Power Five conferences.

Herman gave a largely commuter university a reason to make an extra trip to UH on the weekends to see his team play.

Thanks to his efforts, students who previously had little interest in college athletics loaded up buses and embarked on a 12-hour journey to Atlanta to see the team capture a Peach Bowl Championship over highly-touted Florida State University on Dec. 31, 2015.

The former head coach was a proponent for improving the school’s athletic facilities. By the help of his lobbying, he gave the football team a $1 million locker room renovation and an indoor practice facility scheduled for completion next fall.

UH is now a top candidate to join a Power Five conference when opportunities next present themselves. Before, Herman said that the Cougars would likely to be looked past immediately.

Although UH propelled yet another coach to a more high-profile job within the state, the Cougars will undoubtedly be thankful for Herman’s time at the helm. The Herman-era ended as quick as it began, but his tenure could go down as one of the most influential in the history of the program.

Whomever the next coach may be will inherit a program that is in far better shape than it was two years ago, with a fan base and administration with rightfully raised expectations.

Perhaps the biggest impact that Herman leaves behind is that winning is no longer just an option at UH.

It’s expected.

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