How'd you like to be Urban Meyer's offensive coordinator at Ohio State?
That's the question Tom Herman got to answer last month while he was calling plays at Iowa State. Needless to say, Herman jumped at the chance to join the Buckeyes, where he'll also serve as quarterbacks coach and tutor budding young star Braxton Miller. Herman will oversee a much different looking Ohio State offense in 2012, and I recently had a chance to catch up with him before he hit the road for the final recruiting push.
What was your reaction like when Urban Meyer first called you?
Tom Herman: I'm a pretty animated guy, so I don't know if it's fit for print. It was awesome. I'm a guy who was born in Cincinnati and whose entire family except for my mother still lives in Cincinnati -- my grandmother, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, you name it. For coach Meyer to think that much of me, a guy who's had success everywhere he's been and obviously now at this university that's one of the top five jobs in the country, well, I'm still on cloud nine right now.
Did you know him at all or study his schemes?
TH: As coaches, we do a lot of idea sharing in the offseason. I had never really had a chance to sit down with him or anyone from his previous staffs and talk specifics. But every offseason I'd study everything from their 2005 season at Utah -- I studied that a ton as a young coordinator -- to obviously their great teams at Florida, too. So although I'd never spoken directly to him or anybody on his staff, we still kind of patterned a lot of things we did after what he had been doing.
Did you tell him that during your interview?
TH: Coach Meyer did a really good job in researching this staff. He knew me from all the way back to my days at Rice three or four years ago. He was watching tape and seeing some of the things we were doing even then and how they kind of matched with his philosophy of offensive football. So I did tell him that; whether he believed it or not, who knows? The proof might have been in the product we put on the field.
How would you describe your offensive philosophy?
TH: I think first and foremost, you've got to be able to run the football to be successful in college football. Some teams have thrown the ball 60 times a game and had success doing that. But I think you've got to be able to run the football to have success. And I think by having the quarterback as a legitimate threat in the run game, you really open up a lot if you're able to do that. Then the passing game becomes a whole another ball of wax in terms of the simplicity of the coverages and maybe fronts that you see. So we want to use the whole field. The field is 120 yards long and 50 yards wide and we want to use every square inch of it and spread people out to create mismatches, whether it be through space or a numbers advantage. That's kind of the base philosophy.
I know recruiting is the main item on your menu right now, but what will the process be like as far as putting this offense together?
TH: The neat thing about this time of year and this week in particular is, even though recruiting is a big priority, we had a dead week this week. So we spent about half the day getting our recruiting stuff organized, but then we'd really sit down as an offensive staff with Coach Meyer and just start talking football and start hashing some things out. Hopefully, that will spawn some ideas as guys get on the road recruiting here for the next few weeks before signing day. We'll really come back together after signing day and just sit together in that room and just grind it out, learn from Coach Meyer.
His big thing was, he doesn't want a bunch of yes men. But at the same time, what they've done has been very successful. So when you take five guys from different backgrounds and put them in a room, you've got to be careful of going, "Oh, we did this and we did that." Our job as staff members on this offense and myself in particular as offensive coordinator is to enhance what has already been time-tested and proven. We're not interested in wholesale changes. We're not interested in new plays, so to speak. What we want to do is be able to enhance it and add to it and make sure it fits within the system.
Will you be solely in charge of play calling?
TH: I took the job under the premise that I would call plays on Saturday, with input from Coach Meyer. Hopefully I prove myself worthy of that in the next nine months or so and that he'll feel good about that when we open the season. Everywhere he's been, he's left that up to his OC, so I don't expect him to change much now. It's a matter of him feeling comfortable with me in the way the offense gets run in the meeting room and in preparation and also on Saturday. As we call the plays, are they going to jibe with his philosophy and the way he wants the offense to look and be run?
How much time have you spent learning the players you have to work with?
TH: Not much, to be honest with you. I'm still trying to put faces with names and get to know these kids as players. I did study the quarterback a little bit and gave him a few pointers here and there on some things I saw that he needs to work on this offseason. But really it's just been a matter of getting to know these guys on a personal level, and then once we start the offseason and they start getting out there and training and we see different body types and skill sets, I'll have a much better idea of what our personnel here can and can't do.
How excited are you to work with Miller, who seems to have the ideal skill set for the offense you want to run?
TH: It's amazing how much better coaches we become when you have really good players. He's still got a lot of room for improvement from what I've seen on video, but he's an unbelievable young man. He's eager to learn, very respectful, and I think the team really looks to him as a leader. You start at The Ohio State University as a true freshman for however many games he did, and that says something about not only your skill set but your mental makeup and the things you'e capable of doing. So I think physically and mentally, he's got a long ways to go. But you certainly see the potential is there with his athletic ability, coupled with the intangibles he has of being a really good kid and eager to learn. It's really exciting.
Does it help the quarterbacks that their position coach is also the offensive coordinator, so they can also see the big picture?
TH: Yeah, I think it's big. I think it's really important for this position to eventually -- it's not going to happen on Day One of spring practice, I can tell you that -- but eventually really be able to feel comfortable enough to where I go, "Hey, what does the left guard do on this play?" and for them to be able to spit back to me what they do. Now right now, he's just worried keeping his head above water and doing his specific job to the best of his abilities. But then once you're able to know not just the what but the why, and why these things are run a certain way and why they're called in certain situations, that's what really, really separates average-to-good quarterbacks from the great ones.
As a guy with roots in the area who obviously followed Ohio State, are you struck by how different this offense is about to become, compared to what we've traditionally seen from the Buckeyes?
TH: I think there's a lot of different ways to score points and win football games and be efficient offensively, just like there is on defense and special teams. That's what makes this great game so special. Will it look different? Yeah, maybe. But I think the core values of being a physical football team and being able to run the football when it matters will certainly be kept from years past here and the tradition at Ohio State. It's just how we get to those core values and beliefs that may be a little bit different in how it looks.
There was a school of thought that defenses were catching up to Meyer's spread system. As someone who has run elements of that, how much have defenses caught on, and what do you do to adjust back to that?
TH: I wouldn't say it was easy because football is never easy, but it was certainly less complex five, six, seven years ago, especially when the no-huddle aspect of it became the added dimension. Defenses have certainly caught up in the last few years, and what it's forced us to do is to stay ahead of the game and adapt a little bit here and there. It's always that constant chess match of creativity versus "this has worked for years for us, so how do we continue to make it work without making wholesale changes?"
Do you have a particular recruiting area or responsibility?
TH: As of right now, and things may be a little more finalized after signing day because we're kind of scattered about finishing the 2012 class, but I have the southeast pocket of Ohio, the state of Michigan, the state of Texas, the state of Colorado and all the quarterbacks nationally.
How nice is it to go out recruiting and have Ohio State and Urban Meyer to sell?
TH: It's awesome. It's completely different from the places I've been. I love Coach [Paul] Rhoads and wouldn't be here if not for my three years at Iowa State and with David Bailiff at Rice University. But certainly both those schools have some challenges when it comes to recruiting. Whereas at this place, it's maybe one of the top five programs in the history of college football. It's a brand that's known nationwide. The you put Coach Meyer at the top of that as the head football coach, and it's a pretty neat deal. We all believe in what we're doing. We believe in Coach Meyer and the university and the administration. So it does become an easy sell for us.