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Tom Herman: Bottling Intensity

NCAA Football: Big 12 Media Days Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

During Tuesday’s Big XII Media Day Live Blog, I said that the most Herman-y of the day’s Tom Herman moments was his unflinching account of the extreme measures adopted to instill a hate of losing in the players.

Welp, that moment got bumped down the list once this Spring Ball account from nickel corner P.J. Locke started making the rounds:

That’s team leader, maybe-best-player-on-the-defense and possibly-the-nation’s-best-nickel P.J. Locke, by the way. Doing 4AM Air Raids, polishing weights and taking an A-grade reaming.

Over a water bottle.

If there was any lingering questions as to whether this whole “attention to detail” thing had been blown out of proportion, I’d say they’ve been answered. At the same time, a story like that raises a few more questions of its own.

What’s the difference between breaking players down to build them up, and simply burning them out?

Where do the lessons learned by militaries across the world for imparting fortitude, discipline and resolve cross over into petty hazing in the basement of the Sig Ep house?

When do you cross the line from intense-but-respected, ring-winning asshole (and make no mistake, few non-assholes win rings) to mindless martinet or borderline sociopath - at least in the eyes of your most important audience?

Or to put it more succinctly,

Is this guy Jim Harbaugh, or Greg Schiano?

Coaches who operate on the far right of the Intensity Bell Curve tend to have a shelf life. And while that shelf life is often externally determined by losing games, that’s usually preceded by losing the locker room.

If your players aren’t bought in to the way you set your rules and the manner in which you enforce them, you’re already on your way out.

But if they believe that the rules are aligned with a winning design, see that they are uniformly enforced and convinced that punishment is purposeful rather than personal or petty, most guys will show resilience and gain respect so long as the underlying promise - All this shit will make you a winner - remains unbroken.

Take a look back at Locke’s account. To say he was surprised by the intensity of Herman’s response is an understatement, but there’s no trace of bitterness or bucking back. And that’s from a quintessential Charlie Strong Special - an under-recruited 3* who enjoyed a solid relationship with his old coach while blossoming into both a team leader and impressive NFL prospect. Locke would have been in as good a position as just about anybody on the team to call bullshit on getting carpet-bombed over a water bottle - Herman’s proxy for the importance of hydration, which while important is in turn Herman’s proxy for remembering that you’re a football player 24/7. But instead of pushing back, Locke was doing Air Raids, cleaning weights and tying the damned bottle around his neck the next day.

And, by all accounts, continuing to tell everyone who’ll listen that Tom Herman is The Truth.

Another instructive example looks to have arisen on the defensive line.

At the risk of over-simplifying things, you could say that Herman’s unyielding approach drove off Jordan Elliott - a guy who nobody was going to confuse with Marcus Luttrell in the mental fortitude department, but who was possessed of impressive baseline athleticism and slated to provide key rotational depth up front. Now, some degree of attrition is a cost of doing business in any regime change, and it doesn’t always stop with guys who were never slated to see the field. But one reason Elliott’s departure was particularly lamented was how thin the Longhorns looked at nose tackle - which in itself was a function of how thick redshirt freshman DT Chris Daniels was when he showed up to Spring Ball.

Daniels’ writeup in this season’s Thinking Texas Football read thusly:

Chris Daniels spattered his redshirt with gravy as he spent his first season and the transitional period between coaching staffs gorging himself, forcing the coaches to weigh him on an industrial scale typically reserved for darted rhinos and Oklahoma fans at the State Fair Snickers fry. While he possesses real ability, tough-mindedness and a willingness to work will determine his value and future on the 40 acres.

Closing in on 350 pounds, Daniels was far from contributing this season - or ever - without buying in to a big-time overhaul in work habits and fitness.

Welp, take a look at what popped up on Twitter the other day:

Daniels looks...fairly bought in.

It’s too early to say whether Herman’s methods will bring an immediate on-field turnaround, and much too early to say whether he’ll be able to bank his fires for a decade-plus Nick Saban or Greg Popovich-type run.

But the first step is getting the team to believe - and so far, so good.

Want an even deeper dive on Herman’s approach and what it will take to return the Longhorns to the Promised Land? Grab yourself a copy of the best Longhorn preview on the market.