Former Houston and Texas coach Tom Herman aims to bring FAU back to the spotlight

BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — A frustrating phone call was all it took for Tom Herman to realize that he didn’t know much about how the world works for those who aren’t football coaches.

The former Houston and Texas coach was on his phone, on hold, waiting for some company to pick up. He felt like it was an inordinate amount of time to be waiting for anything, so he yelled out to his wife Michelle and asked for advice. She asked how long he’d been on hold.

“Seven minutes,” he shouted back.

With that, Michelle Herman broke out laughing and told him to let her know when the hold time reached the one-hour mark. Evidently, her husband had no idea how call centers work. And maybe those seven minutes sent him on the path back to college football, where he will begin his seventh season as a head coach and his first at Florida Atlantic when the Owls host Monmouth on Saturday in the opener for both teams.

“He’s a proven leader. He has a great record,” now-former FAU President John Kelly said when the Owls hired Herman. “If you haven’t looked up his record and if you want to just salivate, go look at his record. He’s a winner. He wins at everything he does.”

Kelly wasn’t wrong. Herman is a member of Mensa, the society for those who have the highest IQs in the world. His six previous seasons as a head coach resulted in six winning records. He’s 5-0 in bowl games, was an assistant on an Ohio State team that won the national championship and is past winner of the Broyles Award given to the nation’s top assistant.

And now, after two years away from the college sideline, he is back.

“When we discussed it as a family this one is obviously different because our kids are older than any of the other moves we’ve made,” Herman said. “And so, we just decided the job needed to check two boxes: Will my family be happy living there, first and foremost? And can you win championships? And those are two very rare boxes in college football to be able to check. And this was the one.”

It’s no longer a question about whether teams at FAU can be successful. Lane Kiffin got the program back on the national map during his three seasons there before he took over at Ole Miss. The men’s basketball team went to the Final Four last season. And now Herman arrives as the school starts play as a member of the American Athletic Conference.

The Owls are new to the AAC. Herman isn’t. He spent his first two years as a head coach in the league, taking Houston to a conference title in his debut season of 2015 and wound up going 12-4 in AAC games over his two years before going to Texas.

“I’m really, really happy with where we’re trending,” Herman said. “We’re not there — yet. But having done this before and been around a team like this, that that has been talented in years past and hasn’t quite reached the level of expectations that that talent should bring, I think we are very much on track of improvement.”

He makes no effort to hide that he’s thrilled to be back.

Herman replaced Charlie Strong at Texas in 2017 and his four-year tenure there had clear highs and lows. Texas athletic director Chris Del Conte gave Herman a vote of confidence in December 2020 and said he’d be back in 2021. Three weeks later, Herman was fired.

Herman spent the next season as an analyst with the Chicago Bears, wanting to learn more about what that league is like, then spent the 2022 season working as an analyst for CBS Sports Network; it was the first time in about 30 years he didn’t spend August in a training camp. FAU called at the right time, Herman immediately clicked with Owls athletic director Brian White and now he’s tasked with turning the program that has struggled since Kiffin left into a consistent winner.

“We’re never going to lower our standards,” Herman said. “That is never going to happen.”


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