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Tom Herman focuses on Buckeyes now, Houston later

NEW ORLEANS -- Ohio State offensive coordinator Tom Herman describes his sleep pattern over the past two weeks as “irregular and not enough.”

As Herman helps the No. 4 Buckeyes prepare for Thursday night’s matchup against No. 1 Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, he’s pulling double duty as much as he can.

Herman, who won the Broyles Award as the country’s top assistant coach, was named Houston’s new head coach on Dec. 16. But as Herman assembles a coaching staff and lays out a recruiting plan for the Cougars, he’s mostly focused on helping the Buckeyes beat the Crimson Tide. A victory would put them in the inaugural College Football Playoff Championship Game Presented by AT&T on Jan. 12.

Herman seems so focused on the task at hand that he cut short any questions about his next job during media availability on Sunday.

“It hasn't been terrible,” Herman said of the dual role. “The dead period, extended dead period from the NCAA has kind of alleviated a little bit of the stress from having to worry about getting guys out on the road recruiting and so on. So I’ve been able to focus most of my energy where it belongs.

“And if it's no disrespect, I’d rather stick to those questions regarding this game and our guys that have earned an opportunity to be here.”

During his introductory news conference at Houston earlier this month, Herman joked that Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer gave him a “month’s supply of No-Doz and Red Bull.”

It’s not the first time Meyer has dealt with staff changes going into a national championship game. In 2008, Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen was named Mississippi State’s coach more than a month before the Gators played Oklahoma in the BCS National Championship. Mullen was absent for about three weeks before returning to Florida after Christmas to help the Gators prepare for the Sooners.

With Mullen calling plays, the Gators defeated the Sooners 24-14 in Miami, giving Meyer his second BCS national title at Florida.

Of course, the Gators were able to rely heavily on quarterback Tim Tebow, who threw 30 passes and ran a season-high 22 times against Oklahoma.

Alabama has been down this road before, too. Former offensive coordinator Jim McElwain took the Colorado State job after the 2011 regular season, but returned to Alabama to call plays in 21-0 victory over LSU in the BCS title game.

Other coaches have pulled double duty while helping prepare their teams for national championship games in the past and had mixed results:

• Georgia hired Florida State offensive coordinator Mark Richt as its new head coach after the 2000 regular season, but he stayed at FSU to call plays against Oklahoma in the 2001 Orange Bowl. The Seminoles managed only 301 yards of offense – 248 below their average – in an ugly, 13-2 loss.

• Nebraska hired LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini as its new coach in December 2007, and he coached the Tigers’ defense in a 38-24 win over Ohio State in the 2008 BCS National Championship in New Orleans. The Buckeyes went 3-for-13 on third down and turned the ball over three times.

• Florida State offensive coordinator Brad Scott was named South Carolina’s new coach in December 1993, but stuck around long enough to help the Seminoles win coach Bobby Bowden his first national championship with an 18-16 victory over Nebraska in the 1994 Orange Bowl.

Herman, who is in his third season as Ohio State’s offensive coordinator, is working with his third quarterback this season. After losing Braxton Miller because of a shoulder injury in the preseason, the Buckeyes lost Heisman Trophy candidate J.T. Barrett to a fractured right ankle in a 42-28 victory over Michigan in the regular-season finale.

Herman had a week to get backup Cardale Jones ready to play Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship game on Dec. 6. Jones completed 12 of 17 passes for 257 yards with three touchdowns in a 59-0 rout of the Badgers.

Now, Herman has to get Jones ready to face one of the country’s best defenses on Thursday night.

Jones hasn’t noticed much of a change, other than a few Ohio State players playfully growling like a Cougar when passing Herman in the hallways.

“There’s no difference at all,” Jones said. “He’s still preparing for the game like he’s going to be here next year.”

That doesn’t mean the past two weeks haven’t taken a toll on Herman. He didn’t miss any of the Buckeyes’ practices before they took a break for the Christmas holidays. The Cougars officially hired him as their new coach on Dec. 16, and he oversaw an Ohio State practice two days later before flying to Houston that night.

Herman met with Houston’s players and coaches on Dec. 19 and watched them practice after his introductory news conference. He flew back to Columbus, Ohio, that night and was at Ohio State’s practice the next morning.

“It looks like someone hit him with a bat when he’s walking around here,” Meyer said earlier this month. “A good bat, though. There are bad bats, and a lot goes on with college football and bad bats. … He’s handling it well. He loves Ohio State and he’s appreciative of Ohio State.”

And the Buckeyes seem genuinely appreciative that he’s here. Under Herman’s direction, Ohio State’s offense ranked fifth nationally in scoring (45.2 points), 10th in rushing (260.8 yards) and eighth in total offense (502.6 yards).

“Coach Meyer made a great hire and the guy does an unbelievable job,” Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart said. “As good a job as anybody I’ve seen in all my years of being a coordinator of mixing it up, changing it up and keeping you off balance. No real tendencies, outstanding coach. Houston got them a good one.”

Herman admits the past couple of weeks haven’t been easy. And if the Buckeyes are fortunate enough to upset the Crimson Tide, he’ll have to do it again before the College Football Playoff Championship Game.

“It’s why you’re in this business,” Herman said. “Bankers don’t get to do this. For all the hours, the late nights, lack of sleep and hours of pulling your hair out from dealing with 18- and 19-year-old kids, it’s a pretty cool job.”