Keondre Coburn picked Tom Herman up off the ground, and suddenly, the head coach was lying above the Texas football team.
The sophomore defensive lineman and his teammates gave Herman the opportunity to crowd surf for his first time ever last Saturday after the Longhorns’ big road win over Oklahoma State.
Music blasted in the video of the postgame locker room party, and Herman smiled with his horns up atop the sea of players extending their arms to support his back. Moments before that, the coach bounced around the space as he got hyped up with his team.
“It was fun that they let this old, crusty guy be a part of their celebration,” Herman said in a Tuesday press conference.
Herman is what some sports fans describe as a “players’ coach” — someone who is sensitive to their players’ individuality and feelings rather than driven by a disciplinarian philosophy.
Players’ coaches are loose, like Herman was in the video, and give their athletes ownership of the team. The Longhorns are not only led by their head coach but also several student leaders; it’s a balance of power.
Before “The Eyes of Texas” discussion escalated, Herman was one of the most outspoken college coaches when issues of racial injustice dominated the national conversation over the summer.
Joined by the Austin Police Department, he marched with his players in June to the Texas State Capitol to protest racial injustice and encouraged them to speak their minds.
“I mean, say what’s on your heart,” Herman said to the Austin American-Statesman in June. “You’re a minority football player at one of the biggest brands in the country. You have a voice. Use it.”
In addition to calling out the double standard that plagues Black athletes and advocating for player compensation, Herman has made an effort to connect with his athletes.
“What head coach do you know who wears a grill?” sophomore quarterback Casey Thompson said to 247Sports in February 2018. “It’s not the main reason I chose Texas, but Tom Herman is one of the main reasons I chose Texas. He’s not corny. He’s a cool coach. He relates to the Black players. He knows that not all of those guys come from a perfect home.”
The crowd surfing video silenced Longhorns fans and media members who insisted that the Texas locker room is divided. It also earned Herman praise for being “lit,” but the critics still came out to play.
They said the team’s celebration was overkill, and the players acted as if they’d won a national championship and hadn’t dropped two games in conference.
Even with the victory, those in the “Fire Tom Herman” camp couldn’t forgive the 13 penalties the Longhorns committed in the game or the blown coverages on defense. There’s a lack of discipline on the team, they say — a common criticism of players’ coaches.
“We really didn’t listen to all the people on the outside saying that ‘Texas isn’t back,’ ‘What are they doing?’ ‘Is there division in the locker room?’” Graham said Tuesday.
What fans saw in the locker room last Saturday is actually what’s carrying the team through, Herman said. No one on the outside knows what the true culture on the team is, and Herman was just happy to get an invite to the postgame rave.
“We’re surviving right now because of the unity, the closeness of this team and its coaching staff,” Herman said.