FRISCO, Texas — Tom Herman said the words on Tuesday that no other Big 12 Conference football team wants to hear.
No, not “Texas is back.”
It’ll be a while before anybody takes seriously that sentiment, though the return of a stout Longhorn club seems fairly imminent, perhaps soon.
What Herman did say that should raise ire from his conference brethren and already has been the cause of more finger-pointing at the Big 12’s sagging image was far more harmful than any forecasts of Texas trouble.
“Is it my job to take care of the Big 12? No,” Herman said during his podium time at Big 12 Media Day. “It’s none of our jobs to take care of the Big 12. You know what our job is, is to win games, graduate players, represent the University of Texas really, really well, at a very, very high, elite level, and in turn that takes care of the Big 12.”
Let’s be frank. Herman is right. It’s not his job to take care of the Big 12. It’s not his job to be concerned about how wealth generated in his own kingdom is shared in outposts like Ames or Stillwater or Manhattan or Waco.
It’s accurate that if Texas and Oklahoma are good at football, the rest of the Big 12 benefits. That’s true whether it’s bargaining leverage with TV networks or gaining a foothold with the College Football Playoff selection committee or that annoying finger-pointing from fans of other conference.
They hear Herman’s sentiments from The Ford Center at The Star and say, “See? In the Big 12, it’s still every school for itself. None for all and all for none. Here in our league, we have our own chants!”
That’s the nature of a true league, after all, the success of one benefiting all.
“I don’t know that we ever really think about, ‘Hey, let’s be an ambassador for the conference,’ ” Herman said. “You know, I’m an ambassador for the University of Texas, and if I do that job well, then by default, we’ve become, as a program, a good ambassador for the Big 12.”
Again, Herman isn’t wrong. A rising Texas certainly would lift all boats.
But that’s exactly the kind of thinking that got the Big 12 in such a lousy position to begin with.
It’s a cold, hard certainty of life that somewhere, Tom Osborne and Bill Byrne and others like them are pointing their own finger right now saying, ‘That right there is exactly why we left.”
When Osborne’s Nebraska and Byrne’s Texas A&M grew tired of the Texas rhetoric and the Texas power plays and the Texas thinking about itself rather than the overall strength of its league, they took their ball and they went to other conferences. (Byrne was especially exasperated with UT, having been AD at Nebraska before taking the post at A&M.)
Can you imagine such a revolting development? Nebraska no longer in the Big Eight/Big 12? Texas A&M no longer paired with UT and other Texas schools?
Yeah. It happened, and the Big 12 has been picking itself up off the floor ever since.
Herman came off at times pretty cocky in his first Big 12 Media Day setting, and why not? He’s at Texas. He hasn’t coached a game on the Forty Acres yet, and he’s the league’s highest-paid coach — by a lot.
Part of that is Texas itself. But part is Herman, too.
One reporter asked him about no team from the Lone Star State being ranked in last season’s Top 25 poll for the first time in forever.
“Houston didn’t finish in the Top 25?” Herman said, verily daring the reporter to check his facts about exactly where Herman’s Houston Cougars ended in 2016.
When the reporter stood his ground (Houston finished 37th in the Associated Press poll and wasn’t among 42 teams that got a vote in the coaches poll — even though Herman was a voter), Herman paused.
“They didn’t? I thought we did,” Herman said. “I guess not.”
Maybe Herman at the time was so preoccupied with his courtship with Texas that he forgot Houston lost its regular-season finale 48-44 to Memphis and then got creamed by San Diego State 34-10 in the Las Vegas Bowl. The Cougars started 5-0 but then finished 4-4, also losing 46-40 to Navy and 38-16 to SMU.
Herman also somehow took credit for the unusual glut of Texas teams in the final poll. He used to be the offensive coordinator at Ohio State, you know, and he convinced a lot of Texas schoolboys to become Buckeyes. Sure, that explains it.
“I think we had a little bit of something to do with that,” Herman said. “… Especially when Texas is down, other schools smell blood in the water a little bit. When we get Texas back … I can’t imagine a scenario where you’d ever see not one team from the state of Texas in the top 25.”
Herman did applaud his new league as a “heck of a conference” with “some really good teams” and “some good young coaches. We’ve got a lot of energy right now.”
And give him an ‘A’ for effort in trying to resurrect the Longhorns. In his short time, he’s instituted a kill-or-be-killed mentality among his corps, wherein competition is part of the daily routine.
“… We have winners and losers and the winners get to eat a better meal (than) the losers,” he said. “The list of competitions and tangible rewards for winning, but also (there are) tangible consequences for losing. I think losing has to be awful, and you can never get used to losing. That is one of the biggest, maybe, downfalls of a lot of teams is you get used to losing. No, losing is awful. It’s awful.
“It’s not just, ‘Oh, well, we’ll get them next week.’ No, this is like the sky-is-falling-type stuff. And so every time we have a competitive situation, we’re going to make sure that the people that don’t win in that competitive situation, that they feel awful about it and that it’s not funny and it’s not hokey or corny, that it’s really, really bad for them to lose, as well as it being very, very cool for the guys that win and very rewarding for the guys that win.”
That enduring image of Texas players throwing tantrums on the field after losing to Kansas last year should come in handy there. In fact, if Texas is ever going to get really good again — and thus raise all Big 12 boats — that horror scene from Lawrence should be played on an endless loop on the video screen in each player’s new $10,000 locker.
“Hopefully,” Herman said, “… losing will be something that is so distasteful that they can’t even fathom going down that road.”
Columnist John E. Hoover is co-host of “Further Review with Hoover & Rew” and can be heard every weekday on The Franchise in Tulsa from noon to 3 p.m. with co-host Lauren Rew. In Oklahoma City, catch him Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday mornings at 10:25 and every Friday afternoon at 4:05. Listen at fm107.7 in OKC, fm107.9/am1270 in Tulsa, on The Franchise app, or click the “Listen” tab on The Franchise home page. Visit his personal page at johnehoover.com.