The Houston Cougars open the season against the Oklahoma Sooners tomorrow morning. It’s perhaps the biggest season-opening game for the Coogs since the days when Bill Yeoman was roaming the sidelines as head coach. If the Cougars, ranked 15th, pull off the win in a sold-out NRG Stadium on national TV over third-ranked Oklahoma, then the Cougars are primed to live up to the promise that saw the team earn a Sports Illustrated cover just several weeks ago.
But of course the stories emanating from Cullen Boulevard this week have had little to do with that football game. Instead, the majority of this week’s press deals with the renewed hostilities between Houston head coach Tom Herman and the hosts at SportsRadio 610, Houston’s top-rated sports talk station.
Seen in isolation, the latest 610 transgression was rather innocuous. One of 610’s staffers tweeted a link of a post listing the nine coaching jobs Herman should leave UH for. It’s one of those stupid Bleacher Report-type things meant to generate clicks with no real content and no actual evidence supporting the contention that Herman would leave UH for another job.
The post drew a lot of attention, including from Herman himself. The coach's response was to cancel his weekly radio appearances that had been scheduled for him on 610 for the football season. That kind of sounds like an overreaction on Herman’s part to a stupid tweet and an even stupider post. But then again, this was not the first time 610 had put Herman in its sights since Herman took over as Houston’s head coach.
This all started last November when 610 discussed a story that Herman was leaving UH for Georgia, which was quickly discredited by Georgia. That was followed by a December story generated by host John Lopez that essentially stated Herman had committed a recruiting violation. Herman attacked the story and went on the air with Lopez and Nick Wright (now with FS1) in January. The interview, which was contentious from the start, quickly devolved into insults, with Herman rejecting Wright’s lunch invitation. So put all of those together with that tweet about the jobs Herman should take, and apparently the line has been crossed.
Sean Pendergast (A Houston Press contributor and host of the program on which Herman was to appear) addressed the issue on-air:
“My opinion on this - I do think it's shortsighted. This is a show that has numerically speaking, our show, has the biggest audience in town and has for a long, long time. It seems peculiar that you wouldn't want to do an interview. If Coach Herman were to leave someday to go somewhere else, there are places where the spotlight burns a whole lot brighter than the University of Houston. Things like articles on the 610 Sports Radio website are going to seem minuscule. They're going to be a pimple compared to starting out 4-5 in a given season at Texas, Texas A&M or some other school. His us-against-the-world mentality is a) perfect for that school because I think they have that mentality and b) it's perfect for that school right now.”
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There’s a lot that’s correct about that statement from Pendergast. His station, and his show, draw the largest audience in the city, and it is shortsighted to ignore that audience. And Pendergast is correct when he tells UH fans his show gets bigger ratings from talking Texans position battles than UH football — but this is true of just about everything sports talk in Houston. And he’s further correct that Herman has to have a thicker skin and learn to put up with trolling from stations looking for page clicks and Twitter hits.
Here’s the thing about Herman. There’s perhaps no other coach to come through the University of Houston football since Bill Yeoman who so seems to be in sync with the school, the alumni, the students and the general fanbase. There has always been a UH-against-the-world mentality on the campus, and no amount of success has stemmed that feeling. Herman has picked up on this, and he has fed that feeling to his team and those fans.
But if UH and Herman want to be treated as a prime-time program, that chip has to come off their shoulder. Herman was right with his reaction to the recruiting story back in January, but he’s got to get used to stories he may not like. That’s what happens when you’re a respected coach at a non-powerhouse school. And Herman has to remember he’s not in Columbus, Ohio, or at some SEC school that controls the media.
Herman needs to stop looking for provocations from the media because when some of these people see they can get to him, they’re going to keep on poking away. He just needs to concentrate on his job, making sure his players are prepared to handle the Oklahoma Sooners.