The Herman Way In Houston

Houston Chronicle

ATLANTA, Ga.— Every program in major athletics has their set of standards to make them successful both on and off the field. For Houston Cougars head coach Tom Herman, it is the “Meritocracy.”

Like Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban has the now famous “Process” to make his program successful, this is what Herman installed immediately back in January when he took over the program.

In January of 2015, Herman was just wrapping up the national championship winning season with the Ohio State Buckeyes, when he was introduced to the college football World as one of the bright young offensive coordinators. He took three quarterbacks to develop a title winning offense in that season.

Very soon after the win in College Football Playoff title win over Oregon in Arlington, Herman immediately donned an interlocked “UH” red hat on the field to pay homage to his future destination. Very soon after that, he was in Houston to meet with his team and put the “Meritocracy” to work.

Senior safety Trevon Stewart remembers one of those first meetings and the times that followed for the program when Herman took over.

“He told us it’s either our way or you can leave,” Stewart said. “He said we’re going to work hard, it’s going to be the hardest workouts/offseason you’ve ever done in your life. Some guys on the team started looking around. He told us he’s going to try to get the guys that are not going to follow the plan out early. That’s so we can have the ‘doers’ still on the team to fight for us.”

Stewart says that Herman soon put chained padlocks on the locker room door, until they showed him they deserved to have the luxury of their facilities. Stewart says it made the players even hungrier to work for him.

The results worked for the 2015 season, the Cougars are in Atlanta for the Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl to play against the Florida State Seminoles as part of the “New Years Six” bowl games. They went 12-1 and beat Temple to win American Athletic Conference in the process.

Houston junior quarterback Greg Ward says he didn’t know what the “Meritocracy” meant when Herman shared the concept with the program. That said, he was on board with it as soon as he heard of it.

Ward says the team earned their way to Atlanta.

“We’re truly blessed,” Ward said. “Everybody has dialed in and everybody has focused. It was just a matter of time until we got on the field to see what coach was putting us through and see how that would play. It actually played out good for us.”

Ward’s offensive coordinator Major Applewhite got to know Herman as a graduate assistant at the University of Texas in 1999 when Applewhite was the starting quarterback there. He got to know Herman’s style then and knows that his words have been backed up by his actions.

“I’ve seen his path and seen him earn it,” Applewhite said .”Whether it’s been at Texas State, Sam Houston State, Rice, or Iowa State. He’s not one of these guys that just worked for a big named guy and then gotten a job at 25 years of age. He’s really worked his way up and earned it. When he got his time to shine at Ohio State the last three years, he did it.”

When you ask Herman about the “Meritocracy,” it is about getting to know your players. This is something he says he learned how to communicate to them, while he was in Columbus under Urban Meyer.

When it comes to preparing the program for life on and off the field, Herman’s philosophy has no room for “participation trophies.” It truly is a “make your own luck” scenario in his eyes.

“A lot of people in today’s society think that fair means equal,” Herman said. “Fair does not mean equal. Fair means, you get treated how you deserve and how you’ve earned to be treated. That’s kind of the way we go about business around here.”

Herman had the chance to move on from Houston after just one season as their head coach, however he wants to build a program with the Cougars. This means that the “Meritocracy” has the chance to be even further installed in the program for the next few years.

Houston has the chance to match their program record for wins at 13, if they beat the Seminoles on Thursday. If Herman wanted to set an example for what he wants this program to become, then he’s already off to a heck of a start in season one.

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