It started with an old pair of shoes from Goodwill. Well, half an old pair of shoes from Goodwill.
One year after giving up his early dream of becoming a sports talk radio host in Los Angeles and moving halfway across the country to central Texas to follow a new dream of coaching college football, Tom Herman returned to his one-bedroom apartment in Seguin, where he was the wide receivers coach at NCAA Division III Texas Lutheran University. An important part of his plan to move up the coaching ladder was a box of old shoes from Goodwill.
Herman would mail a shoe, along with a handwritten note letting the recipient know that he was trying to (ahem) get his foot in the door, shipping them to head coaches at NCAA Division I (now called FBS) universities all across the country, just hoping for a shot at advancing his career.
This clever bit of shoemanship set Herman on a long but rewarding path through the collegiate ranks.
Fast forward to December 2014 …
“When I met him the first time, I knew he had fire in his belly, and he wants to win even more than I want to win.” — Renu Khator
After seven stops in his career, including a prominent role as offensive coordinator for the national champion team of Ohio State, the peripatetic Herman arrived in Houston, assuming the head coach position at the University of Houston. He made it sound like he’s ready to put away his traveling shoes.
“There has been an absolute transformation of this university in just the last five or six years under the leadership of President Renu Khator and Mack Rhoades (vice president for intercollegiate athletics),” he said, noting in particular the construction of the new TDECU Stadium on campus. “You couple that with being in the City of Houston and the unbelievable high school football played around here, and throughout the great state of Texas, and I’d say that just screams out loud about our ability to go win championships.”
It’s exactly that kind of passion that got Herman’s foot in the door at UH.
“When I met him the first time,” recalled Khator, “I knew he had fire in his belly, and he wants to win even more than I want to win. That’s the kind of person I like to have on my team.”
That fire in the belly — and a penchant for developing high-powered offensive strategies — initially took Herman from Texas Lutheran to The University of Texas then to Sam Houston State, Texas State and Rice before leaving the Lone Star for Iowa State. His three years in Ames, Iowa, put Herman atop Ohio State Head Coach Urban Meyer’s list of offensive coordinator candidates. In a career field that is often based heavily on personal connections, Herman’s star began to shine even brighter after being hand selected by Meyer, a three-time national champion coach, with whom Herman had no previous connections.
His ability to cultivate not only successful football players, but also successful young men was a selling point for Meyer — not to mention the University of Houston, which recruited him while he was still serving at Ohio State.
So, prior to taking the reins at UH, Herman still had unfinished business at Ohio State — winning a national championship. With an agreement between Herman, Rhoades and Meyer, the new UH head coach was able to continue serving as Ohio State offensive coordinator for two more games in the first College Football Playoff.
Despite having to rely on a third-string quarterback, Herman and Ohio State secured wins over Alabama and Oregon to capture the 2015 national championship. The title instantly gave Herman, already winner of the 2014 Frank Broyles Award given to the nation’s top assistant coach, even more credibility on the recruiting trail for UH. It was a task he was eager to embrace, posing for a photo with a UH cap and flashing a “Go, Coogs!” sign even as confetti fell to the field after Ohio State’s victory over Oregon in the championship game.
In some ways, all the little steps Herman made throughout his career led to a perfect two-month storm that included reaching the pinnacle of college football and being named head coach of a promising program at a Tier One institution.
“I’m proud of my humble beginnings,” said the 40-year-old Herman, who was born in Cincinnati and raised in California. “And all the stops along the way have allowed me to realize it’s the little things that matter. It has also allowed me to realize that to be successful with limited resources, you need to be creative and can’t make excuses. You can’t decide to throw your hands up in the air and say, ‘it can’t be done’. ‘No’ is not acceptable. ‘I can’t’ is not an answer. Those words are banned from our vocabulary in the Herman household. When you start from humble beginnings like that, it really teaches you the value of finding ways to get things done,” he said, espousing this as a personal philosophy for his family (wife, Michelle, two sons, Maddock and Maverick and daughter, Priya) and his athletic credo as well.
It may not take a rocket scientist to coach a winning a football team, but being a member of Mensa — which Herman is — sure doesn’t hurt. And a master’s degree in education (from UT-Austin) rounds out the impression of an intelligent, well-educated individual who’s been successfully putting those “smarts” to work on and off the football field.
While no one can absolutely guarantee a winning football program, there’s no coach who will be working harder — and smarter — to make it happen than one Thomas Joseph Herman. And, in that respect, you could say he’s a shoe-in.