The Rise of Tom Herman

By Kyle Rowland on June 23, 2013 at 6:00a
The Ohio State brainiac.

When you win at an 83 percent clip, you’re bound to lose key members of your staff. It’s one of the main effects of winning, and Urban Meyer knows it all too well. Still, given the option of winning championships and having staff turnover, or losing and keeping everything intact, you won’t find a coach opting for the latter.

Year 1 of the Meyer Experience in Columbus received two thumbs up from all who lived it – coaches, players and fans. There is yet to be a loss, the offense and defense improved throughout the season and that all-important staff stayed whole.

With that, the expectations for the second go-round include one big target: the national championship. Accomplishing said goal could trigger a mass exodus of Buckeye assistants. Elite teams lose staff members every year when firing and hiring season arrives. Following a perfect 2012, several Ohio State assistants were rumored to be candidates for head-coaching jobs throughout the country, but none received the golden offer.

The most likely hole to fill next offseason is that of Tom Herman. The 38-year-old offensive coordinator has enjoyed a meteoric rise to coaching stardom. Nine years ago he was the wide receivers coach at San Houston State; in 2006, Herman was calling plays for then-FCS Texas State and earning $40,000 doing so; and just five seasons ago he was at Rice, far, far away from the bright lights of Ohio State or any other tradition-rich program.

But at Iowa State, Herman headed up some prolific offenses and helped tutor one of the top quarterbacks in school history. The Cyclones also had a penchant for pulling off big upsets. Meyer, a student of the game, was aware of Herman’s success in far-off Ames, Iowa, and decided to take a chance on the boyish offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach.

In a dose of irony, it was Herman who first sought out Meyer – in 2005. Herman had his first offensive coordinator job at little-known Texas State, and he needed a leg up on the competition. The team he chose to emulate was Utah, which just shocked the college football world with an undefeated season that culminated in a Fiesta Bowl triumph. That squad was led by Meyer. 

“Tom Herman has one of the bright young minds in college football,” said Meyer, after hiring the whiz kid who is a member of the high IQ society, Mensa. “His philosophies are very similar to those of my own.”

“Tom Herman has one of the bright young minds in college football.”

Their first spring together was filled with tough love. Meyer didn’t hold back, hurling insults at the offense for a month straight. Some – “clown show” and “ineffective” – became infamous. Herman and wide receivers coach Zach Smith took the brunt of the criticism. But when fall camp and the regular season commenced, the Buckeyes’ offense steadily improved.

The “aha” moment came on the biggest play of the season. With Braxton Miller at the OSU Medical Center and Ohio State trailing in the closing seconds against an upset-minded Purdue team, the Buckeyes needed a two-point conversion to tie the game and force overtime. Nearly everyone on the sideline wanted Carlos Hyde to take a handoff from Kenny Guiton. Everyone except Herman.

“’Guys, it’s right here. We’ve been practicing this for three weeks,’” he said. “’It’s right here in front of me. It’s our two-point play. I don’t care if the O-line wants to run it. I don’t care if Carlos Hyde wants to run it. This is what we’ve agree upon as a staff on Thursday for the last five weeks.’”

So a pass play to Jeff Heuerman was called – and converted. Ohio State won the game in overtime. 

“The sterility of the press box allows you not to get caught up in the emotion and not how big the moment is,” Herman said. “I think you pick your battles as a coordinator. Had I been fighting for everything I’ve wanted for nine weeks, that one might not have gotten approved.”

Although the Buckeyes went undefeated, Meyer and Herman met soon after the Michigan game with improvement on their minds. At the top of the list was Miller.

“Our quarterback was not the most fundamental quarterback in the country, so Tom Herman and I are going to have a talk about that,” Meyer said.

The two agreed that Miller’s scrambling ability would need to get better. While Miller racked up more than 1,000 rushing yards, becoming the first Meyer-coached player to do so, a majority came on designed runs. The signal caller’s passing game – a C or C-, according to Meyer – was also in need of some fine-tuning.

Now making north of a half-million dollars, Herman is the guy in charge of raising Miller’s 58 percent completion rate, refining his dual-threat skills and improving his snap decision-making. When you stop and realize Miller was the Big Ten’s player of the year after accumulating more than 2,000 passing yards and 1,000 rushing yards all the get better talk seems out of place. But Herman expects perfection and few will outwork or outscheme him to get to the finish line.

“We are at least pleased with the progress,” Herman said recently in an interview with Big Ten Network. “Satisfied isn’t the right word, but we are pleased with the progress. When you take a step back, I would say we are on a very good trajectory. Would we like to be at the pinnacle? Absolutely, but we understand Rome wasn’t built in a day. We are going to accelerate the process as much as we can, but we like the trajectory.”

At three Texas schools and again at Iowa State, the speed and efficiency at which Herman’s offenses have operated can be best described as fast, furious and expertly. The Buckeyes refer to their no-huddle up-tempo sets as “Jet.” They had 10 scoring drives of less than a minute last season, 21 under two minutes and 29 under three minutes. It even drove some offensive linemen to vomit on the sidelines.

Could this be a national championship connection?

In the year prior to Herman’s arrival, Ohio State offense hit a low point, ranking 107th in total yards and 81st in points per game. The Buckeyes were inside the top 50 in both categories last season, including owning the most prolific offense in the Big Ten. Their 424 yards per game average was third-most in the county.

It’s no secret Miller enters 2013 as one of the Heisman Trophy front-runners. Regardless of the talent he’s displayed, Miller is still only graded as a six out of 10 by Herman. But the coach does admit his quarterback could reach an 11 if everything comes together with precision.

Part of Ohio State’s effectiveness could ride on whether the diamond formation meets expectations. It’s the same offensive set that the San Francisco 49ers rode to the Super Bowl with quarterback Colin Kaepernick. Meyer and his offensive assistants became intrigued by the formation after watching the 49ers run roughshod over much of the league. So phone calls were exchanged, tape was examined and the Buckeyes had a new set of plays.

The formation uses an overloaded backfield with the quarterback and two running backs. It can benefit an offense in a number of ways. Defenses can concentrate on the running backs, freeing up a dual-threat quarterback to run or find an open receiver. Another option for defenders is to key on the quarterback, which can result in the running backs finding open room to roam.

Dynamic playmakers at wide receiver – something Ohio State has lacked for several years – is still a need. The Buckeyes have a horde of receivers returning, but there are also several freshmen drawing attention. The most prominent is Dontre Wilson, who was primarily a running back in high school but will likely help fill a void as a slot receiver. He’s at Ohio State due to Herman’s recruiting prowess, as is linebacker Mike Mitchell. Both hail from Texas, fertile recruiting ground where Herman has strong roots.

“I knew very well Tom had a background in Texas, and I knew he’s a good recruiter, because I did the homework before we hired him,” Meyer said. “Very good recruiter.”

Said Herman: “Having been the flavor of the month, having gone 12-0, Coach Meyer’s reputation and then this is one of the most storied programs in the history of college football. You can walk into Alaska and they’re going to know what Ohio State is. There was immediate feedback, but certainly having coached in and recruited that area for 14 years and building the relationships helps you navigate your way through, rather than dumping a guy in there who’s never been there before.”

Superior offensive philosophy, the ability to mold quarterbacks into sound decision makers and yardage producers, and achieving a level of grandeur on the recruiting trail has Herman on the fast track to joining Charlie Strong and Dan Mullen as former Meyer assistants who are equally successful once they become head coaches.


Comments Show All Comments

rightfield's picture

Herman hopefully can be coaxed into staying a long time with well timed, large raises along the way. He is the type of coach who can take a large load off Urban's plate and extend Meyer's career for extra years. Lets keep Herman happy.

Its good to be the king

pabdublin78's picture

I agree we should do everything we can to keep Coach Herman here but at 38 he likely sees himself prepared to take over a program himself, similar to what Urban did.  He has a great role model with him everyday and I'm sure he's soaking everything up to ready himself for that inevitable HC opportunity that will be a great fit for him.  Let's enjoy him this season and maybe beyond, but we have to be realistic too.  

capn's picture

Rightfield, I can't agree more!!!

Capn, Make It So...

Gametime's picture

Maybe a future "Head Coach-in-Waiting"? This way he doesn't have to uproot his family again, can stay with a major program and system familiar to him - own the B1G recruiting scale and still utilize his Texas connections to bring talent from that state up here.
Then again, the opportunity to take over Texas if Mack Brown gets outted would be very tough to pass up. 

Between goals and achievement is discipline and consistency. That fire you have inside to do whatever you love is placed there by God. Now go claim it. ~ Denzel Washington

d1145fresh's picture

I think Herman will be the next coach of Ohio State. I hope he stays around for a couple of years to learn more of the way that Urban runs a program and then can take over the reins in the years to come. Unfortunately, I think at some point in time (2-3 years) he will have a HC offer that he will take but if he is successful he will be invited back to lead the Bucks to their 23-29th national championship. (Urban is going to win a couple while he is here). 

Bucks's picture

Bold thought D1145 and haven't thought of Herman as a future HC here. Intriguing to ponder, for sure. I want to see what happens this year compared to last but all indications are, this guy is worth every bit of praise.

Oldschoolbuck's picture

Could the ex-scUM QB we love to hate actually be HELPING us with info on the diamond formation?
That would be the definition of irony!
And, yeah, let's keep Tom around for a while!

gumtape's picture

Harbaugh is ok, he called out michigan academics six years ago, and spurned their head coaching gig for the nfl.
He also threw a lot of passes to brian stablein, one of my favorite buckeye receivers of all time when they played on the colts together. Stablein is a lot like sanzenbacher, good hands and shifty speed, except stablein had a better nfl career.

High and tight boo boo

Bucks's picture

Funny you mention that, just read through a dated article on that very thing yesterday. I would say he is scUM's Lebron James for what he said and the backlash.

pjtobin's picture

Can you post the article? 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

pjtobin's picture

Thanks bucks. I've been watching big ten network film vault. Our 1957 buckeyes were just on. They won the nc that year. Talk about blast from the past. Lol
edit. I just read the article about Harbaugh. Never liked him before. But after reading that I have respect for him. And what the hell was that hart kids problem. He was the perfect case of shotgun mouth, and BB gun ass. He was a disgrace to scum. IMO. 

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

Bucks's picture

Ya know, Hart aggravated people to no end. I was annoyed by him more for putting foot-in-mouth and not learning from that mistake. I have to believe there were fans up north who cringed at some of what he said.

lamplighter's picture

I hope he stays around as long as he wants and as long as Urban agrees.  Not sure whether he has the ability to be a HC - some of the best have not measured up when given the job.  Just because he's been a good/great offensive mind and a very good recruiter does not make him the next great head coach.  He would likely benefit from more than 1 or 2 years around Urban, et al, before taking the plunge 

zbd's picture

PASSING YARDS                       242.3
181.5                                      10TH OVERALL
Talking of coaches maybe leaving after a National Title are like putting the cart before the horse.

Hovenaut's picture

Here's the dawn of a new era....really look forward to seeing the offense explode with efficiency this season. I look back to the Cooper and Tress years, where there were dynamic players, but under Meyer...Herman, the entire unit looks primed to attack in ways we've not seen in Columbus.

I'd love it if Herman stays, but think he eventually moves elsewhere to begin his head coaching career. Should the day come when Urban decides to move on himself, I'd hope Ohio State and Herman's paths cross again.

AAStagg's picture

I hope Tom Herman never leaves the Buckeyes, which is of course a foolish wish.  It's just that he's exactly the kind of guy you want to be able to point to as an Ohio State football coach.  He's young, smart as hell, bleeding-edge innovative and has his stuff together.  He's the most effective assistant I've seen at Ohio State since Jim Heacock.  I'm proud to have him recruiting and coaching Buckeye football players.

Keep calm.  It's only a game.

Bucks's picture

Well said. It is both sad & satisfying to look at the assistants/coordinators we've had. I agree with you on Heacock but for me, Dantonio would be the best in my life thus far. I'll always hold that spot for him.

nickma71's picture

That offense does not work with Bollman's fat boys trying to clear the lanes for it. After Meyer, I am most thankful to have Ed Warinner on staff.

Adambob's picture

I bet he goes to Texas after Mack Brown leaves.

lwitters's picture

I have thought the same.  Brown needs to go and Herman would have to be at or near the top of UT's list.  As much as I would like to keep Herman around, head coach at UT would be a tremendous opportunity for him.  Particularly now, when the program is down so there won't be so much pressure to win at the highest levels right away.  

smith5568's picture

That wouldn't surprise me. However, I have continuously heard that Muschamp will leave Florida for Texas because he has strong personal ties to the state and then Strong would leave Louisville for Florida because of his strong ties to Florida. I also believe Muschamp and Strong have the same agent.  

thatlillefty's picture

So this article begs the question: in the event, Coach Herman does, who might we target for the next OC?

Also, I think whether Herman leaves next year off the season after is contingent on Braxton's plans. If the kid sticks around for his senior year, Coach might decide to see his 'project' through.

SilverBulletNYC's picture

Stanley Jackson. 

The South will NOT rise again!

thatlillefty's picture

Posted this from my phone - lot of typos.
In the event, Coach Herman does leave*... whether Herman leaves next year or**

DenBuck's picture

I guess it's a given that he will leave but hopefully we get a few more years with him...has anyone ever heard him mention aspirations to run his own program? Wonder if he'd ever be promised the reigns when URBS leaves? 

Buckeye For Life

trasch_man's picture

I love what Tom Herman has brought to Ohio State and he definitely has potential to be the head man in Columbus one day. That being said, it's probably for the best if he goes and gets his feet wet somewhere as a head coach first before being thrown into the fire here. I like what Darrell Hazell is doing in that regard, you have to start somewhere. All the best to Herman and I hope he sticks around for a long time.

pjtobin's picture

I would hate to see him go. These two coaches just mesh so well I would hate to see either leave.

Bury me in my away jersey, with my buckeye blanket. A diehard who died young. Rip dad. 

OSUs12-OH's picture

Great article and wonderful points about why Herman really helped Urban last year more than some may have been aware of.  I had previously heard that he called several plays in to Meyer in big situations and it was upheld which had altered the outcomes of some games (i.e. Purdue, Wiscy and TTUN games for instance).  Personally feel without him I don't think OSU goes unbeaten last year IMO.  
As for him leaving, IF TX gets rid of Mack Brown I tend to think Herman could actually be a possibility (it's a BIG if but I wouldn't be surprised if OSU has the type of year I'm expecting).  I know many have said they think TX will try to make a bigger splash.  I wholeheartedly disagree with that. TX's big problem has been the offensive side of the ball and Herman's specialty is making some of the best offenses in the country (Early prediction, OSU has the # 3 overall offense in the country this year;-)  

"I want a hungry team. I want a team that can't wait to get out there. I want an angry team! You're the Ohio State Buckeyes. You're an angry football team. You're a hungry football team and I'm proud to be your coach." UFM

YTOWNBUCKI's picture

I love these kinds of stories.  You guys make being on a deployed naval ship tolerable...well you guys + the internet.  I hope Tom can stay for years and I have a feeling that UFM can talk him into staying for just a couple more. 

CJDPHoS Board of Directors

Go get your shine box, Gumar!

BuckeyeSouth's picture

Thank you for your service, Ytown.

Champions.  Undisputed.  

Firmthyfriendship's picture

I like Texas. They are like the OSU of the southwest IMO. It's a large college town much like Columbus, they love their football, and well, both my sisters rowed for them (though they both claim to be buckeyes mor than longhorns ironically). If, much like the above comments said, we have the year we are all hoping for I could see Tom Herman go to UT, and I couldn't blame him or UT.  I've had nothing but respect for Mack Brown and thought there were similarities between he and Tressel, and it seemed like they were staring a respectful rivalry. Perhaps Tom And Urbs could be the next chapter for that. Until then, I really hope Tom sticks it out here to learn as much as possible. Heck, maybe Ol Tom will become a buckeye through and through and never want to leave like Coop did.

UrbanBuckeye's picture

Herm is the man. Really hope he's a Buckeye the rest of his career. If/when he does find a head coaching gig somewhere else, I will be rooting for that team.

Vonn Bell once asked me in class if he could borrow my pencil and he never gave it back. Ain't even mad.

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

I think Tom will want to stick around a few years at OSU and learn the ropes under Meyer!  He's making some serious cash, at one of the greatest universities in the country, and being mentored by Urban Freakin Meyers!!!

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

Max Power's picture

Ive been very impressed with Coach Herman and I hope tOSU sees hia value and gives him a handsome payraise to keep him on our sidelines. If we can pay him like Clemsons OC then maybe he will stick around for a while. But like all coaches, being a HC is everyone dream.I would hate to see him leave before the playoff format begins. Losing Herman would be a big hit to our staff. Great recruiter and a great offensive mind. I dont like the idea of naming anyone a head coach in waiting since that could be several years and many other programs will likely offer him before Urban hangs up his whistle. Lets all hope that tOSU breaks out their checkbook to keep a vital part of our staff with us for years to come. If Chad Morris is worth a million then surely Tom Herman is as well. Assistants leaving is the circle of life in sports but he is one I pray we are able to hanfg onto.

cinserious's picture

Herman's as good as gone if we win the last BCS ntional championship or even get to that game.

One day I will valiantly become a political prisoner of 11W jail.

yankeescum's picture

I am from Alaska and I know what the Buckeyes are.  Even here in the frozen north, the Buckeye fanbase is strong.