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Midweek Musing: When Coaches Attack

Dang it Urban, you made me agree with you.

Maryland v Texas Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Let’s get this out of the way first: Urban Meyer has plenty of reasons to try and disparage Tom Herman, especially when it comes to how he treats his players. The Ohio State Football roster currently has six players from the state of Texas - including superstars JK Dobbins and Baron Browning, two former Longhorn targets. So when he speaks up about coaches throwing their players under the bus, it’s hard not to think it’s a little self-serving.

All that being said... he’s kind of... right.

Tom Herman has rubbed me the wrong way for a while now. He reminds me of one of those people who talks about how great their marriage is on Facebook just weeks before an acrimonious divorce, or how religious they are before getting caught using their work phone to call dozens of escorts, or one of those coaches who kisses their players on the forehead before blaming them for an embarrassing opening loss. That last one, of course, was Herman’s.

“I told our guys to never get used to this feeling, but that if we all thought we were going to come in here and in nine months sprinkle some fairy dust on this team and think that we’ve arrived, then we were wrong.”

Texas has never had problems collecting talent. Charlie Strong exited after collecting back-to-back top-rated recruiting classes, full of- by all accounts- top talent. And yet, that wasn’t good enough for Tom.

"I'd heard about these back-to-back top 10 recruiting classes," Herman said, "and I was surprised that there was not as much depth here as there would seem to be with two ballyhooed recruiting classes in back-to-back years."

Now, we all know recruiting rankings are as political as they are accurate, and just because a kid collects stars doesn’t mean he will become one. But, at the end of the day, you can’t coach measurables, but you can develop them - something that Charlie Strong, and now Herman, haven’t been able to do.

Maybe it’s unfair to judge Herman on Texas’ on field ability; after all, it’s only been nine months for him on the job and apparently fairy dust doesn’t ship through Amazon Prime. But he’s had an entire spring and fall camp to take what is conceivably a talented group and make something competitive out of them. Obviously, they performed much better in week two than week one, but his comments after the opening week defeat at the hands of Maryland, a game in which they allowed 51 points to a Terps team that played most of the second half without their starting QB, were damning.

“We’ve got to find a way to stop being ourselves. We’ve got to find a way to execute the way we’ve been trained to execute when live bullets are flying,” Herman said. “We’re our own worst enemy right now. I wish I hadn’t prophesied as much,” referencing his pushback against the Longhorns’ preseason ranking, “but we knew there would be adversity and we knew the key to the adversity would be how we responded to it.”

Basically, Tom is saying ‘I wish I hadn’t said you were going to be good at football because you are bad at football and don’t blame me for not making you better at football’. And this is where Urban comes in.

"C'mon man. I don't know where that came from," Meyer told CBS Sports. "It's like a new generation of excuse. [Herman] said, 'I can't rub pixie dust on this thing.' He got a dose of reality. Maryland just scored 51 points on you."

And, the self-serving part:

"Players read that," Meyer continued.

I am sure you hope that they do, Urbz.

But it’s what Meyer said next that struck a chord in me - as a coach, as a teacher, and as someone who works with high schoolers and understands that even the most confident among them still want to be supported by the adults that take leadership role in their lives.

"That's like, when I got here, everybody wanted me to say Jim Tressel left the cupboard bare," Meyer continued. "If I heard any assistant coach [say that], they'd be gone. You're done.

"Those are your players. I hear TV guys [say], 'Wait until they get their own players in there.' They're our players. What do you mean 'their players?' The minute you sign a contract, they're your players.

"You didn't choose me, I chose you. You're mine, absolutely. I love you, and I'm going to kick the shit out of you, and we're going to do it right …

"[Blaming players] drives me insane."

The new generation of coaches are the same caliber of celebrity as the highly recruited players they game to sign, and sometimes even greater. Jim Harbaugh can’t buy a new pair of khakis or have a slumber party without attracting the attention of every college football writer across the country. Herman himself became a super-duper star in just two short seasons at Houston, highlighted by marquee victories over Oklahoma, Florida State, and Louisville. A constant need to know more by college football fans, coupled with the ability to connect instantly with coaches through social media, have made them the next generation of rock stars in athletics. This isn’t always a good thing.

If you google “Brian Kelly throws players under the bus”, you get a laundry list of results.

There was that time he blamed a center for his “atrocious snaps”, and yet continually called for shotgun formations in hurricane-like conditions.

Or, that time he talked about how he never blames players before summarily blaming his players.

“You know, I generally — I’m falling on the sword nine out of 10 times,” Kelly said. “But I know what I’m doing on a bye week. I’ve had great success. I know what it looks like.”

“I’m certainly not going to go back and second-guess the way I’ve prepared over 21 years in a bye week. Sometimes there’s some accountability from everybody, coaches and players alike ... They didn’t play as well as they needed to play.”

Oh, and a fairy-dust-esque quote of his own:

"You can see the players that I recruited here," Kelly said Thursday. "You know who they are. We've had one class … that I've had my hand on. The other guys here are coming along. But it's a process. It can't happen overnight. They're getting there.

Sometimes, you can’t blame a player, so Brian Kelly blamed an intern, at least when it came to liking a tweet with the hashtag #FireVanGorder.

“I have a number of people that manage my twitter account,” he said. “Obviously, going through it somebody unfortunately made a mistake as they were scrolling through and inadvertently hit it. It was just an unfortunate mistake made by one of my staff members.”

I could go on and on. Literally... there are pages of articles talking about Kelly blaming everyone under the sun for everything, and never once taking responsibility for the fact that his teams just haven’t been very good the last few years. And this is the trend. We start telling kids how great they are from the time they are in middle school because they are good at a sport, pass them through school and make them into stars before they take a collegiate snap. We turn them into super heroes and verify their twitter accounts and watch them announce where they are going to college on national television only to berate them when they change their minds. And then, when they arrive on campus, too many coaches blame the players, their high school coaches, 7 on 7 tournaments, and on and on and on. But at the end of the day, isn’t it their job to identify talent and coach it up?

It’s easy to live and die with our college football teams. But, at the end of the day, they are kids playing a game. Coaches’ jobs depend on how they do that, and I suppose that the human response is to protect yourself. But, man, it’s not a good look. Here’s hoping Tom Herman stops blaming his players, or starts winning.