Did you know Texas coach Tom Herman plants a kiss on the cheek of ev­ery player be­fore a game?

The Oklahoman - - RED RIVER EXTRA - Brooke Pryor bpryor@ ok­la­homan.com

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.”

[AP PHOTO]

Texas coach Tom Herman be­lieves in show­ing his play­ers af­fec­tion be­fore they play in a game.

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