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Already familiar with pressure, Tom Herman remains focused on reviving Texas football

CBS Sports logo CBS Sports 9/12/2018 Dennis Dodd

AUSTIN, Texas -- They aren't mincing words here at Texas.

Nine questions into his weekly Monday press conference, Longhorns coach Tom Herman was asked how he would respond "to a section of the fan base who thinks you're arrogant [and] don't take blame for the poor play by the team."

Wow, welcome to Week 3 of your second season, Tom.

It's not just Herman who answers to demanding constituents. USC coach Clay Helton can relate in this week's matchup with the Longhorns.

But give Texas' coach credit for diffusing a provocative situation in the moment.

"I love our fans," Herman replied. "Mack Brown told me when I got the job this could be the greatest job in America because [there's] tens of millions of people that care very passionately about their Longhorn football team. It can be very difficult, too."

I've covered Herman since 20148 when he rose to prominence at Ohio State. I never found him to be arrogant, even though he has a right to be. (Herman hates mentions of him being a MENSA member.)

He was brilliant with the Buckeyes, coaching up Cardale Jones and Ohio State to a national championship. Herman then led Houston to a New Year's Six bowl. He was a damn good recruiter landing the youngest Outland Trophy winner in history (Houston All-American defensive tackle Ed Oliver). That was before securing the nation's No. 3 class here in Austin this February.

But "arrogant?" Where did that come from?

"I don't know," said Herman, who seemed genuinely surprised.

In one sense, it was one of those trap questions: "Do you still beat your dog?" By answering, either way you've admitted to beating your dog even if you have never done so.

In another sense, it reflected the sport's ultimate hypocrisy. College football culture and the fans who drive it have shown repeatedly they'd get behind Jack The Ripper if he delivered a conference title.

If the standard is overreacting to harmless questions, Nick Saban could keep himself hip deep in apologies to Alabama and national media through December.

And if you want to talk arrogance, ladies and gentlemen, let me remind you of the irrepressible, Phil Fulmer-baiting, altogether enjoyable Steve Spurrier.

Arrogant? Really, who gives a flip at a university that considers itself a cut above anyway? Tom Herman gets it. Football has needed to catch up for years. Meanwhile, he has an 8-7 record just 15 games into his Texas tenure.

"It's coming," Herman said. 

Baby steps don't seem to be tolerated around Austin. Last year's Texas Bowl win over Missouri was the program's first postseason victory since 2012.

"My job is just to galvanize the entire fan base," Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte said.  "Expectations are pretty high, but they've been waiting for a while."

Two of the game's most respected and recognizable brand names will battle at Darrell K. Royal Stadium Saturday night. Last year's game was celebrated as a reboot to perhaps the best championship game ever played.

The 27-24 overtime loss to the then-No. 4 Trojans was also a reflection of the best the Longhorns can be under Herman.

"Inexperienced, injury-laden as we were, our best is good enough to play with anybody in the country," Herman said.  "You never want to be happy with a loss, but it was a very, I guess, proud moment to be able to play them the way we were able to play them."

The buzz is definitely diminished for the return match. For a pair of schools with 11 combined national championships, "football factory" doesn't come to mind this week. USC and Texas are each 1-1 this season.

Texas followed a second straight loss to Maryland with a narrow win over Tulsa. USC followed a season-opening victory over UNLV with a disappointing 17-3 loss at Stanford.

Clay Helton still can't seem to assuage a fan base even though he has won the Rose Bowl and a Pac-12 title in consecutive years at USC.

"I have officially lost faith in Helton and our coaching staff," wrote one poster on The Peristyle, USC's 247Sports message board after the Trojans were held to their fewest points against the Cardinal since 1944.

The complaints reflect those of any myopic fan base with outsized expectations. The board criticisms range from Sam Darnold looking better as a pro -- shouldn't he? -- to Stanford coach David Shaw's comments after the game.

"I've noticed [the narrative] is the tough guys at Stanford against the athletes at USC," Shaw said. "But I think, athletically, we're pretty evenly matched."

That could not have sat well with the USC faithful that watched their team roll over Stanford twice last season.

Never mind Helton has delivered a 22-7 record in his third full season as head coach. Never mind he was 6-4 before that as an interim holding the program together after the departures of Lane Kiffin, Ed Orgeron and Steve Sarkisian.

In many ways, Helton is the glue that has held the team together. Pete Carroll ain't walking through the door, but the truth is that Helton has the program back to the closest point since the glory years.

"I am glad I am not one of those people where I have to wake up and complain about something," Herman said when told the flak his counterpart is getting.

None of it seems to be enough. The same Kiffin -- often criticized for being born on third base -- won 10 games in a year (2011) the program was banned from a bowl. Before he went into rehab, Sarkisian won nine in 2014.

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Helton has outdone both.

Both these programs are used to trafficking in titles. In 18 combined seasons since 2009 by the schools, USC owns the only one (2017).

They also share a common bond: change.

"Coming from the outside, everyone doesn't realize this," said Del Conte in his second year at UT. "You've had three coaches in five years and four ADs in five years. There is no continuity. It hurts in recruiting. It hurts in your entire [operation]."

Since 2013, the schools have combined to employ eight head coaches and six ADs. Texas is still looking for the next Colt McCoy at quarterback. Since McCoy's final season in 2009, USC has had four quarterbacks drafted, none lower than the fourth round.

At both places, "the expectations are so high," Del Conte reiterated.

Meanwhile, this time of year, Herman has to worry only about blocking blitzing linebackers.

"I delete the Twitter app during the season," he said.  

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