Tom Herman's intensity extends off the field.
Tom Herman isn’t interested in lunch — or fake media-friendly conversations. Instead, University of Houston’s football coach is taking the fight to 610 AM in ways that the Houston sports radio behemoth is unaccustomed to and clearly unready to handle.
Just months after infamously turning down ex-610 AM host Nick Wright’s on-air lunch request cold, Herman pulled his regular weekly spot from another show on the station. This means that 610 could go through what’s arguably the most-anticipated University of Houston football season ever without any direct access to the hottest football coach in America. One who happens to reside in their own backyard. But hey, no one will break down possible fourth-string Texans defensive lineman rotations better!
It’s no surprise that Herman’s found 610 AM so offensive. The station is full of consistently anti-UH voices. This is a group that collectively derided UH product Case Keenum during his run with the Texans, disparaging and dismissing one of Houston’s greatest players ever without waiting for any actual evidence. In fact, Keenum had to leave Houston to get a fair media shot in the NFL. The largely positive press Keenum is now receiving from Los Angeles’ mega media outlets paints the anti-Keenum 610 AM campaigning in an even harsher light in retrospect.
But Keenum was just one example of the type of “Cougar High” demeaning that long ran rampant on 610. It’s something an outsider can quickly pick up on. I didn’t grow up in Houston. I have no ties to UH whatsoever. And yet, within six months of listening to sports talk radio in Houston, 610’s treatment of the city’s largest university jumped out at me.
The station tried to change its ways toward the end of Herman’s wholly-unexpected 13-1 debut season last fall, but to anyone who listened to 610 in years past it came across like sycophants desperately leaping for a bandwagon. Still, Herman likely would have been fine with that — his whole H-Town Takeover is geared around getting more people in the city onboard with UH football — if 610 hadn’t turned its sudden interest into a platform for radio bozos to claim insider knowledge.
First, 610 AM morning host John Lopez — an interesting former Houston Chronicle sports columnist who should know better — clearly falsely claimed that Herman and Texas A&M transfer quarterback Kyle Allen met in Houston. Herman took great umbrage (on the air and in a press release issued by the school) to this, noting that if the two had met in person the coach would have committed an NCAA rules violation. This is when Wright — Lopez’s co-host at the time — got rebuked by Herman when he rather fawningly asked to go to lunch with the coach after spending 20 minutes telling Herman he was wrong on air.
Then, 610 AM outdid itself over the weekend, posting an online story headlined “Tom Herman Should Leave Houston For These Nine Programs.” You know how “think pieces” are all the rage in journalism these days? This is the complete opposite of that. It starts out by stating that Herman will definitely leave Houston someday.
Is this true? Likely, but the timing of the story makes no sense. Herman definitely isn’t leaving UH this fall. He has the Cougars in the Top 15 of all the college football polls and Houston plays No. 3 Oklahoma in its biggest game of the season in this Saturday’s nationally-televised season opener at NRG Stadium. Why focus on the idea of Herman leaving now? There’s no reason unless you’re trolling someone — and doing it about as well as Taylor Swift takes the high ground. To add a little extra fuel to the fire, 610 AM’s digital crew even mentioned Herman in its tweet on the story, ensuring that the coach, who is very active on social media, would see it.
Herman saw it — and promptly ended his arrangement to make regular weekly appearances on 610 AM’s afternoon drive show with Sean Pendergast, Rich Lord and Ted Johnson throughout the season. That’s one of the reasons University of Houston fans adore Herman so.
It’s not just the winning. It’s the fact he won’t take any guff from anyone on UH. Disrespect the program and he has no use for you. Even if you happen to be a host at the biggest sports radio station in town.
Herman seems to understand criticism comes with the job. He excelled in the cauldron of Ohio State sports after all. It’s the innuendo and largely dirty dealing that seems to enrage him. So he’s stands up to a sports media bully. Again.
A prominent UH backer has told me that he thinks Herman is making a mistake with these mini media feuds. That voice believes the University of Houston cannot afford to alienate any outlet. But I’d argue that’s missing how much these stands are building Herman’s brand. Much like that diamond grill Herman got from rapper Paul Wall, it’s more priceless publicity.
And, in this case, it’s clearly getting to 610.
Pendergast tried to dismiss Tom Herman’s 610 ban on Monday’s show by saying on that Herman’s appearances on the station never spiked the ratings, anyway. The host claimed that 610 can get the same ratings from debating the Texans’ third-string running back as it can from talking to the coach who’s shaking up college football.
Who cares what’s clearly much better radio? Pendergast sounded like a guy insisting he’s much better off that his wife left him —even as he sits in his mom’s basement eating a TV dinner.
A station that’s often already held back by its management edict to talk Texans 365 days a year (listening to the talented Paul Gallant struggle to comply in the early summer months is particularly painful) now loses access to the other big sports story of fall. If this ban sticks, rival station 790 AM will certainly benefit at 610’s expense.
Herman … he just looks like a hero to the UH supporters he must regularly mobilize, again. This coach certainly isn’t afraid of the fight.