Did you know Texas coach Tom Herman plants a kiss on the cheek of every player before a game?
P.J. Locke had never been kissed by another man.
Not by his dad, not by his grandpa, not by any man.
At least not until Tom Herman arrived in Austin, Texas.
Along with his wildeyed intensity and hardline discipline, the former Houston head coach brought something else the program badly needed: love.
For Herman, the kind of love between a coach and his players manifests in a bunch of different ways, but the most noticeable is through the kiss he plants on each one of his players’ cheeks before they take the field.
“I’ve never seen a coach do that,” said Locke, Texas’ starting nickleback. “My dad doesn’t even kiss me on the cheek. When I first saw him, he was this real assertive guy, but he still shows his players love like that. I’m kind of confused. That’s how it is.”
By now, Herman is plenty used to the cautious way his players seem to approach his pregame routine — at least in their first time through.
He’s been doing it since he was a wide receivers coach at Sam Houston State more than a decade ago, but it didn’t become a national story until last year when ESPN cameras captured the then-Houston head coach hugging and kissing his players on the cheek as they filed off the bus before playing Cincinnati in a Thursday night game.
“I did it with my quarterbacks at Ohio State, at Iowa State,” he said at Big 12 Media Days. “You guys just never knew about it because I wasn’t the head coach.
“What was sad, I wish it was surprising, but it wasn’t, I would say over half of the players at Houston said coach, ‘That’s the first time I’ve ever been kissed by a man.’ That’s sad to me, that you’ve never felt that kind of affection from a father figure.”
To understand Herman’s pregame ritual is to understand his core philosophy.
He’s a football coach, of course, but he’s a dad first.
He demands excellence in everything from hydration to tackling to running routes, but he also wants his players to understand that he loves them.
The first-year Texas head coach likens entering a football game to stepping into a gladiatorial ring.
Each player pulls on nearly 10 pounds of padding before running out into an arena where many will hurl themselves at each other with thousands of screaming fans urging them on.
The consequence isn’t death, but make no mistake, the consequences of football can be dire.
And before Herman’s players step into that forum, the coach wants to make sure each one knows he’s loved.
“At the end of the day, there’s inherent risk involved,” Herman said recently.
“They do it because they want the guy next to them to succeed, but if my son were going to go into that environment, you know what I would do? I would hug him, I would kiss him on the cheek and I would say, ‘Son, I’m proud of you. I love you. Go do your best.’ ... Why that’s weird to people, I’m not sure. I view myself as a parent to these young men in a lot of different ways and that’s one of them.”
Since last year’s de facto kiss cam before the Cincinnati game, not much more has been made about Herman’s uncommon show of affection.
But before the Longhorns emerge from the tunnel at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday, Herman will likely follow his longtime tradition by planting a big kiss on each cheek before his players sprint into the bright chaos of the stadium.
“That’s just practicing what they preach,” Texas senior linebacker Naashon Hughes said. “You know, the love that they have for each other and the love you need to have for your teammates, going out on to the field and battling with them and then returning off and still having that same love and care for each person on your team.
“That’s just showing what’s he all about.”
Texas coach Tom Herman believes in showing his players affection before they play in a game.