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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Former OSU Coach Tom Herman and His Wife - Eight Games That May Decide College Football Playoffs



HOUSTON — Tom Herman accepted his first coaching job at Texas Lutheran in 1998 on the promise of a $5,000 annual salary and a dining hall meal card. He took it sight unseen, having never even visited Texas. His girlfriend at the time, Michelle Tatarakis, drove with him from Southern California, where they lived together, to rural Seguin.
Tom wouldn't let Michelle come with him full-time, as he couldn't make enough money to provide for them. They were in their early 20s, had dated since college, and Michelle cried the entire ride. An omen came when they took a 70-mile detour in Arizona to visit the Grand Canyon. It was closed thanks to zero visibility.
These days, Tom Herman's coaching career holds a much clearer forecast. He's 20–3 in his second season as the head coach at Houston, routed Florida State in last year's Peach Bowl and won a national title as Ohio State's offensive coordinator in 2014. With an opening at LSU and possible openings at Texas and Oregon, Herman has emerged as the top candidate outside the Power 5 conferences to land at a glamour program.
But the essence of Herman's coaching journey comes from a road that began with a teary drive out west. Tom Herman knew he wanted to be a coach, even writing down his "Life Goals" to be a Division I-AA coordinator or Division I position coach by age 30 and a head coach by 40. To attempt to get there, Tom needed Michelle to ride shotgun through dingy apartments, remote towns and uncertain nights filled with considering moving back to California to sell widgets. "He's really proud," said Zack Hernandez, Herman's close friend and former college teammate at Cal Lutheran. "He's not a silver spoon kid. He's done it his way. He's taken every little step on the way."

NIESEN: One year later, the protests that rock Mizzou still loom large on the football team

Memory lane looks funny in the rearview mirror but felt bumpy in real time. Michelle can only laugh, as the stories over a lunch earlier in the season came out one after another.
There's the time Tom almost took a job at a roadside fireworks stand to make $1,000.
The time she lived in a Red Roof Inn, six months pregnant and with a 3-year old, for four weeks when Tom left Texas State to coach at Rice.
The time Tom bought her $4,000 diamond earrings, and she forced him to take them back.
On Tom and Michelle Herman's first date during their freshman year at UC Davis in 1993, he opened up the glove compartment of Michelle's car in search of gum. Tom found a bottle with cherries on it, assumed it was breath spray, and squirted it liberally in his mouth. When Michelle returned to the car, she found Tom manically coughing after ingesting her air freshener.
Even after Tom Herman caught his big break—catching on as graduate assistant at Texas in 1999— he couldn't catch a break. The first time Texas coach Mack Brown acknowledged him in a staff meeting, he referred to him by the wrong name, "Coach Harmon," from the wrong school "Trinity."
Matthew Visinsky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Herman got the coveted position because he'd already applied and been admitted to graduate school there. He admits perhaps being too ambitious at the time. He winces while telling the story of asking Texas offensive coordinator Greg Davis to make a call for him for a job he was completely unqualified for—the wide receivers coach at USC. "Looking back on it," he said, "I'm so embarrassed for my young self. What an idiot."
Herman's best friend, Jeff Barry, recalls going with Herman to buy a used bed on a visit to Texas at one of his early trips out there. (Who buys a used bed?). Michelle moved to Austin for nine months, but returned to Los Angeles for a higher paying job and to plan their wedding. Michelle sent money back from Los Angeles so he could pay rent. "She carried me," he said, "for a long time."
Tom and Michelle wed in 2001, with Tom flying back to Texas the day after the wedding. He'd just taken a job coaching receivers at Sam Houston State for $10,000 per year, and Michelle left her high paying job at a Los Angeles investment firm and apartment in Hermosa Beach to join him in Huntsville, Texas. From 2001 to 2004—the longest the Hermans have lived in one town—she worked jobs in a day care, non-profit organization, bank, the college of criminal justice and as a waitress serving muffuletta sandwiches at Humphrey's, the local college bar.
Possums waited at the doorstep of their first apartment every night, and roaches the size of saltshakers roamed freely. When Tom killed a bat with a broom one night, they decided they needed to move out. Their upgrade? They moved into government subsidized low-income housing.
But the vision to become a big-time coach never wavered, nor did the appreciation of the opportunity to coach. By the end of their time in Huntsville, duct tape held together his Honda Civic's muffler. But when they drove past the town's famous 67-foot statue of General Sam Houston, Tom made Michelle salute. Why? "He pays our bills," Tom insisted to the person who actually did.
After Herman's fourth year at Sam Houston, things finally started to come together. Michelle was getting her master's, and they were finally stable financially. She and Tom both made around $35,000 per year. They'd found success on the field, as Sam Houston lost to Montana in the semifinals of the Division I-AA playoffs. "I sobbed after that loss," he said. "I was so invested, you know?"

STAPLES: What does it take to get a playoff spot? A QB who can make plays; Punt, Pass & Pork

But Sam Houston coach Ron Randleman retired, and Herman didn't get retained by the new staff. He pondered taking the offensive coordinator job at Cyprus Falls High School in Houston, which he told Michelle would be his last shot before they'd move back to California. "He would stay stuff like that," she said. "I'd say, 'You are full of crap.' We'll figure it out. You're not going to be happy."
Before Herman had to take a high school job, David Bailiff called Herman to join him as the offensive coordinator at Texas State in 2005. Herman was 29, beating his deadline of being a Division I-AA coordinator by a year. He worked two seasons there before following Bailiff to Rice for his first full-time FBS coordinator job.
That began Herman's ascent to Iowa State (2009) and Ohio State (2012), a path forged by the hard years in Huntsville the Hermans recall as some of their favorite. Herman also beat his other deadline, as Houston hired him as head coach at age 39. These days there's three kids, a $3 million salary and national notoriety. A decade of odd jobs, cockroaches and lean times forged a deep appreciation. "I wouldn't change," Michelle said, "anything about it."
Herman knows the real reason he's on the cusp of rarest air in coaching. "She's the rock of our family," he said of Michelle. "Her support, love and understanding are the main reasons why we are where we are today. None of this would be possible without her."

 Eight games will help decide who reaches the College Football Playoff

I've heard some fans say they dislike that November upsets don't automatically result in eliminating highly-ranked teams from the College Football Playoff. Nos. 2-3-4 all lost last Saturday, but the defeats were setbacks, not necessarily game-changers.
Don't fall for the shortsighted thinking you're getting ripped off with less drama. The payoff is about to come during these final three weeks.
More teams are involved in the CFP race than in the BCS era. More games will matter at the end. And for the first time, more variables (two-loss teams and teams that don't win their conference) might be seriously in play on Dec. 4. We may get a decisive answer to the ultimate CFP question: Are they picking the four best teams or the four best conference champions?
These eight remaining games listed below will, at least as it looks now, go a long way toward deciding who's in the CFP. (All team rankings are from the current AP Top 25. My predictions are as of today with the caveat that this is college football and things will change.)
One point of order: I'm not listing any SEC or Big 12 games. By all means, enjoy them. But it's hard to see how they factor into the playoff race. Alabama could lose to Auburn or the SEC Championship Game and still make the playoff. Oklahoma-West Virginia and Oklahoma-Oklahoma State will decide the Big 12. But the Big 12 did so poorly out of conference that I'm still ruling out any of its teams making the playoff.
1. No. 4 Michigan at No. 2 Ohio State (Nov. 26): Ohio State and Michigan have each been ranked in the top 10 all year, but incredibly the winner of this intense rivalry game may not go to the Big Ten Championship Game. Michigan goes if it wins out. The Buckeyes need Penn State to lose once. Even if Ohio State doesn't get to Indianapolis, it could still reach the playoff given its one loss and quality wins. Ohio State-Michigan still really, really matters -- just with a unique wrinkle because Penn State continues to win in an impressive year for James Franklin. Pick (as of today): Ohio State
Recent history: Ohio State has won four in a row and 11 of the past 12 over Michigan. The Buckeyes won 42-13 in 2015 and haven't lost to the Wolverines in Columbus since 2000.

2. Big Ten Championship Game (Dec. 3): It's really unclear who will play in this game. Wisconsin vs. Ohio State? Wisconsin vs. Michigan? Wisconsin vs. Penn State? Even Wisconsin isn't a lock. The worst-case scenario for the Big Ten would be three-loss Minnesota vs. two-loss Penn State. Even so, it's hard to see a scenario where the Big Ten doesn't put a team in the playoff. Two playoff teams are still possible. What we do know is this game should have major implications. Pick: Wisconsin over Ohio State (I smell a trap for Penn State to lose to Michigan State on Nov. 26. In this year of Big Ten depth and chaos, the Badgers get a rematch win over Ohio State in Indianapolis.)
Recent history: The lower-ranked team has won the Big Ten Championship Game in four of its first five years. Ohio State needed a 59-0 beatdown of Wisconsin in 2014 to make the playoff, and Michigan State edged Iowa in a 2015 winner-take-all game to reach the CFP.

3. No. 7 Washington at No. 20 Washington State (Nov. 26): Unless Washington loses this week to Arizona State and Washington State beats Colorado, the Apple Cup will decide the Pac-12 North title. They're all must-win games now for Washington's playoff hopes and for the Pac-12 to avoid getting left home two straight years. Maybe Washington's loss to USC was just a blip, but the Huskies have some key injuries on defense and must bounce back quickly from a demoralizing home defeat. Washington State actually plays some defense this season. Pick: Washington State
Recent history: Washington has won three in a row and six of the past seven over Washington State. The Huskies won the past two by a combined margin of 76-23.

4. ACC Championship Game (Dec. 3): The ACC is in solid shape to put a team in the playoff. The question is who: ClemsonLouisville or possibly even both? Clemson and Virginia Tech both lost last week with a chance to clinch their divisions. They're both still in control to reach Orlando. The nightmare scenario for the ACC: The Coastal Division winner beats Clemson or Louisville, one-loss Washington wins the Pac-12, and Wisconsin wins the Big Ten without beating one-loss Ohio State. That could leave Ohio State sitting at home as the Big Ten's second team and the ACC out of luck. Pick: Clemson over Virginia Tech
Recent history: Clemson or Florida State has won the past five ACC championships. Three of the past four championship games have been decided by less than a touchdown, so don't expect a blowout.

5. Pac-12 Championship Game (Dec. 2): This game likely only matters if Washington arrives in Santa Clara, California, with one loss. As a one-loss Pac-12 champion, the Huskies would get serious consideration and would have to hope their lower strength of schedule doesn't doom them. Washington might be helped by winning a rematch against the only team it lost to (USC). The Pac-12 South will be decided in Boulder, Colorado: No. 20 Washington State at No. 12 Colorado (Nov. 19) and No. 11 Utah at No. 12 Colorado (Nov. 26). The Buffaloes capture the division if they win both games. Pick: USC over Washington State
Recent history: The North Division is 5-0 in Pac-12 Championship Games. But that could change this year if USC sneaks into the championship game by Colorado losing to Washington State and beating Utah.

6. No. 3 Louisville at Houston (Nov. 17): Two months ago, this game looked like it could be Houston's last chance to impress the committee. The chaotic losses around the country last Saturday were exactly what Houston needed to get into the playoff -- before losing twice. Now this game may be Louisville's last, best shot to shine. The Cardinals would still have to beat Kentucky, and that's no given. But this road game could give Louisville more of a bump, even though Houston is not playing as well lately as early in the year. Pick: Louisville
Recent history: Houston won 34-31 in 2015. Greg Ward Jr. ran for 98 yards and threw three touchdowns, and Lamar Jackson was intercepted twice and ran for 16 yards on 12 carries. This was pre-Lamar Jackson as we know him now.

7. No. 5 Clemson at Wake Forest (Nov. 19): Forget the ACC Championship Game for a moment. The Tigers just need to get there so they could make the playoff as a one-loss ACC champion. Winning the division is no guarantee given how the Tigers and Demon Deacons are playing lately. Clemson is by far the more talented team, but its turnovers, penalties and rushing-game struggles continue to persist. The Demon Deacons held Florida State to 17 points and limited Louisville to 10 points through three quarters before the Cardinals exploded late for a 44-12 win. Pick: Clemson
Recent history: Clemson has won seven straight games over Wake Forest, including 33-13 in 2015.

8. Minnesota at No. 6 Wisconsin (Nov. 26): The winner of this under-the-radar game could claim more than the Paul Bunyan's Axe. The Big Ten West title and the Badgers' playoff hopes might be at stake. If Minnesota beats Northwestern and Wisconsin, the Golden Gophers could go to Indianapolis. Somehow, I don't think TV viewers and the committee would love to see a Minnesota-Penn State rematch for the Big Ten title. Minnesota lost in overtime at Penn State and fell by seven points to Nebraska so this isn't a layup for the Badgers. Pick: Wisconsin
Recent history: Wisconsin is on a 12-game winning streak against Minnesota, including a 31-21 win last year. Minnesota hasn't won in Madison since 1994.

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