Lessons in Leadership From Coach Tom Herman

Published on April 14, 2016

Bauer College Hosts UH Football Coach for Inspiring Minds Lecture Series

UH Football Coach Tom Herman sat down with Bauer College Dean Latha Ramchand for a discussion on leadership, during the Inspiring Minds Lecture Series. See more photos and a video of the event on WhereAwesomeHappens.com.

UH Football Coach Tom Herman sat down with Bauer College Dean Latha Ramchand for a discussion on leadership, during the Inspiring Minds Lecture Series. See more photos and a video of the event on WhereAwesomeHappens.com.

Thank you to Jack and Debbie Moore for your sponsorship of the Inspiring Minds Speaker Series and reception.

Leadership Lesson #1, according to UH Football Coach Tom Herman?

It doesn’t matter if you’re coaching a team of 18-year-old men on a football field or sitting at the head of the table in a boardroom — being a good leader means putting in the work.

“You’ve got to show them that you care,” Herman said. “On our team, we spell love t-i-m-e, time. Don’t tell me you love me or care about me. Show me. Spend time with me. The biggest way to earn somebody’s trust is to go above what is common. No matter what walk of life you’re in, in terms of the amount of time you spend with the people you’re charged with leading.”

Herman spent an afternoon with the Bauer College community on April 13 for the Spring 2016 installment of the Inspiring Minds Speaker Series, chatting first with a small group of student leaders, followed by a small reception with alumni and friends, and then a conversation with Dean Latha Ramchand in front of a packed audience in Stubblefield Auditorium.

In his first season as head coach for the UH Cougars, Herman led his players to win their first American Athletic Conference and to dominate Florida State at the Peach Bowl, ending the season ranked No. 8 in both the AP and Coaches Polls, their highest postseason ranking in nearly 40 years.

“I could not think of a more appropriate person at this time, on this day, in this year, in the history of this great university, who is doing more to move the needle,” Ramchand said in her introduction. “He has energized not just students and alumni, but really the city of Houston.”

She added: “It’s a campaign for respect. The respect that we deserve is coming our way — respect that is going to translate to a seat at the table, whether it’s the SEC or the Big 12. It’s a seat at the table so that every Bauer student is invited to participate at the highest levels in their organizations.”

Herman reflected on the “transformative juncture” currently happening on the UH campus and within the city of Houston, dubbed #HTownTakeover on social media.

“If we’re not there, we’re really close to being the college football team of this great city,” Herman said. “Maybe before it was that little old team in Conference USA, that commuter school, Cougar High over there. I think we’ve turned a corner in transforming and elevating our academic status amongst our peers, and we’ve got to continue to do our job in athletics. I’m on a mission to eradicate the city of Houston of anything but red.”

At the end of the event, Ramchand presented Herman with a special gift — a gold whistle engraved with his name.

“When you win the next championship, as you kiss the trophy, we want to see you blow this whistle,” she said.


The Quotable Coach Herman

Throughout the evening, Herman gave insight on a host of topics, ranging from how he advanced through the ranks relatively quickly in his career to his favorite books, documentaries and flavor of beef jerky. Below, we list some of the thoughts he shared during the “fireside chat” with 15 Bauer student leaders and at the Inspiring Minds main event.

Football = Family
“I grew up an only child of a single mom. Coaches were my dads. My teammates were my brothers. I fell in love with this game. I take (the mentorship) part of my job more seriously than the wins and losses. When you leave our program, you better leave a better husband, a better father, a better employee, a better citizen of this great city and state, or I’ve failed. My job is to build better men through the game of football and the team environment.”

Finding a Way
“Don’t tell me, ‘No.’ Tell me, ‘Let’s find a way.’ Don’t tell me, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’ Tell me, ‘We’ve never done that, but let’s see if we can get it done.’ Start with ‘yes’ first. This place had fallen on the rut of human nature of just saying ‘no’ or ‘we’ve always done it this way.’ Let’s roll up our sleeves together and find a way. As a leader, you have to model that. That was really important for me. You don’t want to just be the (guy) that can’t be told no. Now I’m the guy who can’t be told no that’s got a Peach Bowl championship.”

And Then, Charge it to ‘Winning’
“We’re going to go do what needs to be done. I tell our operations people and administration when they ask how we’re going to pay for it — charge it to ‘winning.’”

Our Strategy? Be the Best.
“We firmly believe that culture eats strategy for lunch every day of the week. It’s how we do what we do that sets us apart, not what we do. We try to do a very small amount better than everybody else. There’s no ‘different’ in football. You’re not going to build a better mousetrap. But our mousetraps are really, really well coached, and they love each other a lot. That’s what motivates them.”

“Going 1-0” in Life:
“I like competing — not just against the other guy but against what’s always been done and against my best self. If I’m not a better coach, husband and father today than yesterday, then why did I wake up?”

Go With Your Gut, Urban Meyer
After getting an early Sunday morning cell phone call from famed Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer (“He said, ‘This is Urban Meyer,’ and my first words in response were, ‘Shut the (blank) up.’”), Herman flew to interview for a position on the staff that wasn’t quite clear. “He was very noncommittal on what he wanted me for. I said, ‘From everything I’ve read about you,’ — and at the time, I hadn’t read anything really — ‘I know that you’re a man who goes with his gut. Your gut right now is telling you I’m your offensive coordinator.’ I thought, ‘I’m sitting here playing hard ball with Urban Meyer — what am I doing?’”

Coaching When You’re Winning (and When You’re Not)
“You coach with a heavy hand when you’re winning and a big heart when you’re not. When you’re winning, you’re fighting against complacency, and when you’re not, you’ve got to fight against the human nature to doubt yourself.”

On that Memphis Game and the UH Cougars’ Epic Comeback:
“We’re going into the Memphis game, 9-0. It’s our biggest game of the season — we’ve got JJ Watt and Roger Clemens on the sidelines, and we’re down 20 in the fourth quarter. I said (to my players), ‘Just go have fun. Stick to the plan and trust your training.’”

JJ Watt on Speed Dial
When asked the most surprising thing about the UH coaching job (after saying he didn’t realize the team would reenergize the city so quickly): “I didn’t realize I’d get to meet as many famous people as I’ve met, probably. I can call JJ Watt right now. That’s really cool. I have Slim Thug’s cell phone number. How cool is that?”

Sweat Everything
“One book I refuse to read that my mom read is ‘Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff (And It’s All Small Stuff).’ I say, sweat everything. (When people say), ‘You’re making a mountain out of a molehill,’ damn right I am. If we let enough molehills grow around us, guess what — we’re going to have a mountain full of molehills.”

The Nerdiest Coach in College Football
Ramchand noted, “You’re a member of Mensa. It seems like you read a lot of books, and I heard you’re into documentaries. I hate to say this, but you sound like a geek.” Herman enthusiastically agreed, adding that he was also a trombonist in the high school band and involved in student government. “For the students in here, get involved in anything and everything you can do. Be in organizations. Be present. Be alive in your life. It’s too easy to just go to class, go home, play video games, sit on my phone, go to sleep, wake up and do it again. Enjoy your youth. Use it.”

The Age-Old “GIF or JIF” Question
Herman often includes a .gif alongside his tweets (@CoachTomHerman), but he’s changed his tune on the often debated pronunciation of the file format. “We’ve had this debate for quite some time in our staff room. I’m very passionate about this topic, to be honest with you. When that format first came out, I was calling it ‘JIF,’ like everywhere else in the English language — giraffe, giant, you name it. ‘Gi’ is a soft-g. Then, a bunch of computer people told me, ‘You’re wrong. It’s ‘GIF.’” It took me forever to convert, but I finally started calling it ‘GIF,’ naturally, and then three weeks ago, the dang inventor of the format says, ‘No, it’s (pronounced) ‘JIF.’” Right now, I’m on a ‘JIF” kick; I’m a soft-g.”

Grill in 2017?
Herman famously worked with Houston rapper Paul Wall to get a diamond grill (jewelry worn over the teeth) after the UH Cougars won the American Athletic Conference. Ramchand asked what the stakes are if the team has another successful season. “I’m not getting another grill. No tattoos, no earrings. I’m good.”

“We Play for You”
“We believe in our heart of hearts that we are there for the representation and entertainment of our student body, period. That’s why college athletics exists in its purest form. To me, the least the student body can do is be present. Last time I checked there are 365 days in a year; you can give six of those back to this team to be there and be loud at those home games. If we didn’t have the raucous, enthusiastic, positive student section we have —shirts off, painted up, the whole nine — we don’t win the game.”

By Jessica Navarro

Posted Under: Events

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