Six things Tom Herman and Houston swiped from Urban Meyer

Before coming to Houston, Tom Herman spent three seasons at Ohio State working for Urban Meyer. USA TODAY Sports, Icon Sportswire

One week had passed since a Chick Fil-A Peach Bowl win served as Houston's biggest bowl celebration in 35 years and doubled as the Cougars' declaration as a future playoff revolutionary.

Tom Herman, who days earlier stood overwhelmed atop a Georgia Dome stage, was clearing space. Not for two sterling trophies but for his family. The first-time head coach who went 13-1 in his inaugural season was cleaning his garage.

The luster of a conference championship and New Year's Six trophy for Houston didn't wear off after a week. It was wiped clean. It was time for Herman's 2016 to to-do list, which constituted a Saturday of housework.

"Winning the Peach Bowl does not help you at all with what you're trying to accomplish in 2016," Herman said. "You've probably heard we don't wear any Peach Bowl gear during team activities, we don't say the words."

It's a formula adopted from Urban Meyer. If Meyer's ketchup, Herman is catsup. The recipe is the same, just a repackaged style. With a clean garage, next on Herman's to-do list was to touch base with Meyer.

Want to win a national championship in Year 2? Meyer has the blueprint, and it was Meyer who helped launch Herman's nascent coaching career with a three-year apprenticeship at Ohio State.

At two of Meyer's past three stops, Year 2 consisted of an undefeated regular season. The other was a national championship year. There have been three BCS bowls, and while Boise State and TCU are memorialized as the BCS busters, first there was Meyer's 2004 Utah team.

Now, Herman is hoping to similarly chart a landscape undefined for the Group of 5. In his second season at Houston, Herman has positioned the Cougars as a viable preseason playoff contender. In the first two years of the playoff, only one Group of 5 team has been ranked preseason: No. 23 Boise State in 2015.

"[Meyer's] Year 2s are phenomenal," Herman said.

Herman hopes to duplicate it, and there are striking similarities between how Meyer started his programs with what Herman is doing at Houston.

1. Break entitlement

Meyer blueprint:

Wide receiver Dallas Baker enrolled at Florida in 2003 under Ron Zook but lived off past Florida glory. A nose-diving program still held itself in the same esteem as the SEC powerhouse of the 1990s.

"We were losing but still living the life. We were living off stuff that Steve Spurrier did," Baker said. "That first [Meyer] year, 2005, was about breaking entitlement. Coach Meyer said the school owes you nothing."

So Meyer's first offseason consisted of midnight and weekend workouts to assess the players' dedication to the program and one another. Stripped of their gear and given tattered workout clothes, players were shipped to nearby Lake Alice to carry weighted milk jugs the length of the field. Lifting logs, army crawls and sledgehammer slams followed as the rest of campus enjoyed the temperate winter weather.

"It taught us not to give up, no matter how hard," Baker said. "It was about dedicating our time to one another."

Herman model:

Herman stripped Houston of any sense of comfort in his first offseason. Players had to earn the right to display the Houston insignia. The locker room was chained shut, and what followed were a series of consecutive pre-dawn workouts.

Earn a place on the team, Herman demanded, and build equity with the staff.

"He told us that first-meeting things will be a meritocracy," senior defensive end Cameron Malveaux said. "You get what you earn, all the way to the workout gear.

"... That first offseason, he was trying to make us realize he was the real deal. We did a lot of things to break you physically and mentally. Of course we had a couple teammates back out, weeded out."

2. Change practice habits

Meyer blueprint:

In the moments leading up to the 2006 national championship game, Meyer and Baker argued over the intricacies of a route. Early in the first quarter, a pass to Baker went for a touchdown rather than a costly red zone interception.

There is no detail overlooked during practices with Meyer. No skills are taken for granted. Basics are perfected.

"Not taking anything away from Coach Zook because he coached at Florida in the early 90s and knows Florida football, but he wasn't about hitting on fundamentals. We didn't hit on them. It was supposed to be expected," Baker said. "It was about bringing the juice like Florida had with Coach Spurrier. When Coach Meyer came, it was about competing, learning how to run, basically taking a robot apart and putting it back together."

Once Meyer built them back up, he put his players through the most physically taxing practices. He would set up the offense against the defense first-and-goal from the 1-yard line, and the loser had to run sprints. It fostered such a competitive environment that fights would sometimes break out, creating an edge which former players said the coach liked.

"My second year in the NFL, I went back to Florida and how intense it was, in the NFL you didn't practice nearly as hard or strenuous," 2006 linebacker Brandon Siler said. "It comes from the tempo and amount of stress he puts on competition."

Herman method:

At Houston, don't dare walk onto the practice field with even a slight deviance from the equipment that players were asked to wear. Don't finish a route even a half-inch past its intended point.

"That tremendous attention to detail came from Urban," said Houston co-defensive coordinator Craig Naivar.

After beating Vanderbilt last season, Herman offered a break from those heavily scrutinized practices. He asked his players whether they wanted a light day early next week. They'd watch film instead of slopping in the downpour outside.

They declined.

And this spring, Houston suffered through more live hitting in practice than ever before. Malveaux estimates there were far more than 1,000 live repetitions, exceeding any previous spring.

"It was a feel for hard-nosed football," he said. "The main thing is we have to impose our will on teams."

3. Proper alignment

Meyer blueprint:

Alignment is a word rooted in Meyer's programs, and it doesn't always take hold in the first year. Not much changes in Year 2 to spark a championship run, but after a full year, there's an alignment within the program. It's an all-encompassing term stretching to every corner of the program.

"In Year 1, I don't care where you go. You're trying as best you can to get as much buy-in, but there's never 100 percent. There can't be. Guys have been involved in another program," said Steve Addazio, who is the coach for Boston College and former Meyer assistant. "In Year 2, everyone knows the offseason program, understands accountability, bought into the principles, the way we practice, run Fridays, train. Everyone is in alignment.

"That's really what it is. I know it intimately. There's nothing else that's different."

Herman model:

At Houston, everyone in the building is aligned. It starts with Herman and extends to his coaching, strength, academic, equipment and nutrition staff.

"Everyone that plays a role in the development of the student-athletes all have the same messages, beliefs and passion," Naivar said.

The players, who thought they were signing with an ascending program that reached No. 6 in 2011, were ready to buy in to a new program. Arriving on the heels of a national title, Herman already held clout. A Week 2 win at Louisville and fast start had the entire roster on board.

"You can tell he's trying to be like Coach Meyer," said Baker, who has met Herman. "He talks and it's like 'That's something Coach Meyer would say.' It helps recruit and get the most out of guys. Coach Meyer makes you feel like you could run through a wall, and Herman does the same."

4. Develop a QB

Meyer blueprint:

Meyer inherited Alex Smith, Chris Leak and Braxton Miller in his past three coaching jobs. Smith was a future No. 1 pick. Leak was Rivals' No. 2 quarterback in the 2003 recruiting class. And Miller was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year when Meyer arrived.

"You don't win in college football if you don't have a trigger man," Addazio said. "The quarterback is so critically important at any level of football; having the right guy with the right 'it factor' and right chemistry is critical. You're in a foot race to find that guy, and teams with those guys usually have success."

In their second years under Meyer, Leak, Miller and Smith all completed at least 63.5 percent of their passes and combined to throw for 7,988 yards, 79 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. They rushed for another 1,729 yards.

Herman method:

Greg Ward Jr. was a part-time receiver and returner in 2013, but Herman identified him as the future at quarterback. In Herman's first season, he developed Ward into an All-AAC selection and the conference's top big-play threat. Only Ward and Deshaun Watson threw for more than 2,000 yards and rushed for more than 1,000 in 2015.

Of the BCS busters and 2014 Fiesta Bowl winner Boise State, only two teams returned their signal-caller the following year: 2010 TCU (Andy Dalton; went 13-0 and won the Rose Bowl) and 2010 Boise State (Kellen Moore; 12-1 and lost as the No. 4-ranked team in overtime).

5. Family atmosphere

Meyer blueprint:

Every Thursday during the season, the coaches' wives and kids met the players as they walked off the practice field. Hugs, high fives and candy awaited the Gators after a final practice before a Friday walk-through and Saturday's game.

Coaches' and players' families joined the team for dinner on Thursdays. A player could invite anyone from his family. Meyer wanted to foster an iron-clad link among his team.

It continued Friday during walk-through with 20 minutes of free time. Linemen, never in favor of much running, played touch football on a truncated field. Skill players shuffled through games of hot potato.

The camaraderie carried over to the field.

"When you're around people more, you form a bond. You understand what now makes a guy tick," Siler said. "My defensive linemen, they're lazy in their natural state. If you challenge them, though, they're huffing it and killing it. So I knew what made them go, and if I didn't, I've never be able to get them to move."

Herman model:

How Meyer's Fridays began are how Herman's end. The last part of practice might turn into a Wiffle ball game. The defensive backs will take part of the field and bring out the ball and bat in what turns out to be a competitive affair.

Then there's a team meal and chapel service before players, coaches and families are shuttled into a big room on the eve of game day. There are movies, video games, TVs, cards and dominoes to occupy time. No one can leave until late into the evening.

"Everyone is in that team setting, and they're there until 9 or 10 o'clock," Naivar said.

6. Motivate/avoid complacency in Year 2

Meyer blueprint:

Fans were upset, taking to sports radio to voice their anger. Meyer, in his second season after a 9-3 first year, was keeping players from dressing in the locker room. It was an unacceptable stunt at Florida, according to fans who grumbled on a local station that players listened to occasionally.

The summer of 2006, players were removed from the home team dressing room, and invites back came only a few at a time.

"Everybody said they'd do whatever it takes to get back in there," Baker said.

The team, which finished No. 12 in 2005, fell prey to the ploy. There was a motivation and edge created just before the 2006 season. Any lingering complacency ceased among the team.

In the spring, Herman called Meyer about avoiding complacency, and so Meyer cited another coach he is close with to help relay his message.

"It's an adage that I've heard [Bill] Belichick and great coaches say: guys wake up on third base, but they never hit the triple. That's a pretty good way of thinking about it," Meyer said. "[Herman has] got guys walking into the program, guys who are going to play for him who have had nothing to do with nothing and they're getting patted on the back. 'You guys beat Florida State.' Yeah, but they had nothing to do with it. That happens when you have success."

Herman model:

A two-touchdown win over Florida State in the Peach Bowl should give Houston preseason credibility, which Herman believes will make it easier to potentially crash the Power 5 playoff party. But Herman wants this Houston roster to move past its rockin' New Year's Eve in Atlanta.

"I wanted to pick [Meyer's] brain a little bit on the fine line of referring to those examples and teaching moments from last year without living in the past. What he told me was that 'It's absolutely OK to celebrate the examples and the process, but you certainly never want to dwell on the result,' " Herman said. "You don't want to sit there and gloat about how fun it was to stand on the stage in the Georgia Dome or out here in our stadium when we won the conference championship."

So no pats on the back this offseason from Herman. It's question marks instead. Peach Bowl gear was traded in for shirts bearing a large question mark on the back.

"People say we have hype, but that was last year's team and not this one," Malveaux said. "That team won the Peach Bowl. This is a whole other team."

Exhaustive Big 12 expansion discussions doubled as motivation for the Cougars.

"The outside world thinks we're a fluke," Naivar said. "The conference expansion and who's worthy and who's not, our kids don't care and will play in a Wal-Mart parking lot. When people talk down to them because they're not in the Big 12 or SEC, they get a chip on their shoulder."

Meyer protégés have spent weeks at No. 1, finished No. 2 and won major bowls and coach of the year awards. None have won a national championship.

Herman is aiming to be the first, relying on Meyer's blueprint to do it. He called his three years under Meyer like "head-coaching school," and now Herman is looking to duplicate Meyer's Year 2 successes.

"He's a smart guy," Meyer said. "He's obviously done a great job."