AUSTIN, Texas — If you ask a successful sports player or coach what they attribute their success to, they’ll typically say a former coach, a friend who never had the opportunity, a special circumstance, even God.
And while at least part of that may be true in the case of native Westmoreland, now Lone Star State resident and University of Texas at Austin football coach, Herb Hand, he said he’s most grateful for his success to his wife, Debbie.
“I really owe it all to her,” said Hand, in a telephone interview. “She’s been my partner in this thing right from the beginning. She financed my career. She was incredibly supportive early on and because of her job in pharmaceutical sales it allowed me to chase my dream.”
Hand is a true family man, his friends say, and his former coaches say it too. He said his children have also been supportive having been through a lot of moves. Not hard to believe when you look at Hand’s resume, working at schools like West Virginia University, Vanderbilt University, Penn State and Auburn University, to name a few.
“I’m very blessed with a great family,” Hand said. “My son, Trey and my daughter, Bailey attend Auburn University, and my son Cade is a sophomore at Westlake High School here in Austin. They are just the best kids two parents could have.”
Hand’s football career began when he was just a kid himself. Before he was a Longhorn, a Tiger, Auburn or Clemson, before he was Nittany Lion, before he was a Commodore or Continental. Hand was a Bulldog, a Westmoreland Bulldog. And four years of playing high school football for Westmoreland High School taught his head coach, Jerry Corigliano, something about what kind of kid he was.
“He was a go-getter,” Corigliano said. “If something was difficult for Herbie he’d just keep working at it until he got it accomplished. And I’ll tell you, Herbie is like that with everything he does, whether it’s being a father, a coach or a friend. Also, he doesn’t forget where he comes from. He’s been all around since he left Westmoreland, worked at a lot of different schools. But when he comes home, he always comes to pay me a visit. And he always brings me a hat from wherever he is. I have all these hats from where he’s worked. He was a special kid who grew up to be a special adult.”
After high school, Hand continued his education at Hamilton College and played for the Continentals football team where he was a three-year starting offensive lineman. Serving as team captain he earned All-NESCAC (New England Small College Athletic Conference) honors in 1989. Hand graduated from Hamilton in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in history, according to hamiltoncollege.edu.
Former Rome Free Academy and Hamilton College football coach Mike Davis remembers Hand as one of the toughest linemen he ever saw and a guy with a rare quality.
“He’s the same kid today he was back in college,” Davis said. “He’s as loyal as they come and he never forgot where he came from. You know, you can’t judge a person by what kind of house they live in, or what kind of car they drive...
but you can tell what kind of person someone is by the family they have and his family is wonderful. Beautiful wife, beautiful kids. He’s the type of guy who comes by your house to have a beer and smoke a cigar with you. And I’ll tell you something else...his players just love him. They love him because of the way he treats them, with respect. Big time coaches don’t usually get together with their players. But Herb, he has them over his house for dinner and even cooks for them.”
Thats a lot of meals if you look at Hand’s resume and accomplishments on his way up the ladder to his current position in Austin.
After graduating from Hamilton in 1990, Hand served as a graduate assistant from 1991-93 at West Virginia Wesleyan where he earned his master’s degree in business administration. Hand next worked as a defensive coordinator for Glenville State (West Virginia) between 1994-96. During his time with the Pioneers they won three WVIAC (West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) Championships. In 1997 he took a job as defensive coordinator with Concord College, now Concord University, where he also coached the special teams. He worked there until 1998, and then relocated to serve as an offensive graduate assistant between 1999-2000 for Clemson University, his first NCAA Division 1 position, for two seasons, during which time the team made two bowl game appearances, the Peach Bowl in 1999 and the Gator Bowl in 2001. After his success in South Carolina, Hand returned to West Virginia in 2001 to coach tight ends and work as a recruiting coordinator for West Virginia University. Hand had great success at WVU with the Mountaineers, the team securing three Big East Conference titles and making five straight bowl games appearances. In 2006, the Big East Champion Mountaineers became Nokia Sugar Bowl Champions with a dramatic 38-35 win over the SEC Champion Georgia Bulldogs. The 2006 Sugar Bowl is listed in the top 10 of most exciting Sugar Bowl games in the BCS era, according to ESPN.com.
Next Hand served as assistant head coach/co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach for the University of Tulsa. Along with fellow co-offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn, Hand’s spread and zone-read philosophy and Malzahn’s Wing-T - based, hurry up, no huddle concept, produced the nation’s top offense for the next two seasons taking the Golden Hurricanes to consecutive GMAC Bowl appearances, crushing Bowling Green 63-7 in 2007 and Ball State 45-13 in 2008, according to www.texasports.com.
From 2009-13 Hand served as offensive line coach for Vanderbilt University where he is credited with helping Wesley Johnson and Ryan Seymour earn SEC honors and opening the door for both student-athletes to the pro leagues. Seymour was selected by the Seattle Seahawks in the 2013 draft and Johnson went to the Pittsburg Steelers in the fifth round of the 2014 NFL draft.
Following Vanderbilt, Hand spent two seasons at Penn State where he developed and produced future Tampa Bay Buccaneer offensive tackle, Donovan Smith, who went in the second round of the 2014 NFL draft, according to www.texasports.com
Two separate schools... with two different players in the same years’ draft.
In 2016 Hand received an offer he told the Pittsburg Post-Gazette was “too good to pass up.” Hand was headed to Auburn University as their new offensive line coach reuniting under old friend, Tulsa colleague and now Auburn football head coach Gus Malzahn. During the two seasons Hand coached at Auburn his offensive line was named one of three finalists for the Joe Moore Award in 2017 and semi-finalist in 2016. While his job description was that of an offensive-line coach, when Malzahn conceded play-calling to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashee that season, it was Hand helping Lashee out in the box, according to sbnation.com.
“Herb, for an O-Line guy, he’s got kind of a coordinator mindset,” Lashee told SBNation.com. “He’s good at big-picture stuff. There’s a lot of O-line guys that are so locked into details...He’s been in the box before and so he understands the system, he knows what we’re trying to accomplish, he sees the defenses.”
And then, in 2018, after 27 years experience, three-time finalist for Offensive Line Coach of the Year, co-coordinator for an offense that led the nation in total offense two consecutive years, six conference championships, three division championships along with too many additional accolades to name, The University of Texas “hooked” Hand away from Auburn to Austin to fill the co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach position. Their feeling at the time was to find someone who could boost the front line and the running game, according to www.texasports.com.
At Texas in his first season, Hand was credited with changing technique on plays like the inside zone, and studying the quarterback runs against odd fronts. As a junior, now senior, center for the Longhorns, Zach Shackleford said Hand’s experience is nice to have Shackleford told sbnation.com.
“Every offensive line coach kind of has their techniques they go to, but I think his is vast knowledge of the game,” Shackelford told SBNation.com about Hand’s expertise. “He has so many different experiences in terms of coaching offensive lines. He’s been through so many different scenarios. I’ve said this before, but there’s never any scenario that he hasn’t already been through. So it’s nice to have that knowledge behind you.”
Shackleford said Hands coaching, techniques and understanding of the game have truly made a difference.
““It can be a simple thing like where you place your feet inside the zone, it can be like a matter of inches,” Shackelford said. “It’s pretty complicated — it’s a game of inches. Anything like dropping your first step on your initial get off, it can make the world of difference in terms of getting movement, power, and leverage on defensive linemen. Just the way he teaches us to combo block and stuff like that is very technical. He brings a lot to the table. He always has a technique he teaches us to finish a block off or to wall a guy off or something.”
Hand admits it’s been a long ride so far and he’s seen his share of differences in the game and in the organizations he’s had the privilege to work for. For instance, the speed of the game at different levels and also, the support system from D-III ( having played at Hamilton) to D-II, D-1 and on to the NFL.
“It’s like watching a car race,” Hand said. “When you watch it on TV you can’t get the true feeling of how fast the cars are really going, but when you go to the track in person it’s a whole different animal. You get a real sense of how explosive and powerful it truly is. Division 1 is like that. Of course, the NFL is the top of the pyramid when it comes to speed. It takes time to train your eye to catch it all.”
Secondly, Hand said the support system between Division-II and Division-I is very different.
“In D-I we have so much help,” Hand said. “There’s strength and conditioning staff, nutritionists, academic training and so many other people to help out. In D-II ball, I was the assistant strength coach, academic advisor and even used to help setting up the field. You wear so many different hats”
Hand said he’s had a lot of support throughout his life that he is especially grateful for. His coaches, Corigliano, Davis, Paul Adey and Steve Frank from Hamilton College were all huge influences on his life. Also, Rich Rodriguez, Tommy Bowden, and of course, Gus Malzahn and Tom Herman.
But when it comes to support Hand said besides his immediate family he owes everything to his parents, Marilyn and James Needham, who if not for them, and the foundation they laid out for him, he wouldn’t be where he is today.
“They are my constant connection to Westmoreland,” Hand said. “They have always been our biggest fans through every move we’ve ever made. I love where I come from, and I get home as often as I can. Nothing’s better than one’s hometown.”
Hand said his only advice to anyone who wants to know how he got where he is and how can they get there too.
“It’s what you have inside that counts,” he said. “I believe that with all my heart, and I encourage all to just go and get what you want in life. You can make your dreams come true.”