Many questions filled the Texas football bye week, and head coach Tom Herman tackled them in his weekly teleconference with the media Monday afternoon.
In his opening statement, which clocked in at around nine minutes, Herman addressed the largest elephant in the room: the “Eyes of Texas” controversy between Texas fans and players.
“We have had very meaningful conversations with our team encouraging them to participate, but (are) also being very sensitive to the plight, the feelings, to the very individual circumstances that all of these young men are going through,” Herman said.
The debate over the alma mater intensified after Texas’ loss to Oklahoma when a photo surfaced online of senior quarterback Sam Ehlingher standing on the field during the “The Eyes of Texas” without the majority of his teammates.
Texas Athletics Director Chris Del Conte, who met with the players during a team meeting last week, said in his weekly Forty Acres Insider newsletter Oct. 15 that he has expressed to all head coaches his expectations that Longhorns sports teams are unified during the alma mater.
Herman said Monday that players won’t be mandated to participate but will be encouraged to recognize the fans and honor the University after games.
“Our players truly, truly do love (the fans) and love playing for (them), and is a huge reason why they came to The University of Texas,” Herman said.
Regardless of players’ motivations to don the burnt orange or their feelings about the song, Herman said the locker room is unified even if everyone does not agree on the issue.
The team does, however, seem to be on the same page about COVID-19, the other big question looming over the season. Texas has not reported positive coronavirus cases since June, while outbreaks have plagued other programs across the country, including Baylor, which the Longhorns are set to play this weekend.
“We’ve got to maintain our diligence,” Herman said. “We have been — knock on wood — really, really good thus far, but that does not mean that we are immune either.”
Herman said he read a Yahoo News article about “COVID fatigue” ahead of the afternoon availability. The piece detailed how the uptick in positive cases could be attributed to the exhaustion people feel about the restrictions the pandemic has placed on their lives, he said. His hope is that the team stays disciplined during the season when it comes to the virus, he said.
The Longhorns will also have to lock in on the field and improve their performance in games, which sparked the rest of the inquiries surrounding the team. Herman said the team has implemented “accountability runs” to hold players responsible and keep them on the right track, but they and the staff see things differently than the fanbase.
“(The team has) not fractured in the least,” Herman said. “Especially around here, if you start paying attention to the noise and the internet and Twitter and the constant bashing after losing a four-overtime ball game, then there are pitfalls to that.”