- Austin Ward, ESPN Staff Writer
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Preparing for his first season as an offensive coordinator and looking around for fresh ideas, there was a logical place for Tom Herman to start in 2005.
A team from outside the power conferences had just gone undefeated thanks to a dynamic, unique attack that seemed to mesh perfectly with the kind of system that was evolving in Herman's brain. So he popped in the film of Utah's perfect season, borrowed a few things to go with what he already had in mind and got to work building a reputation as one of the best young play-callers in the game.
Herman can still easily recall the way the Utes ran the triple-option out of the shotgun, the different looks they gave a defense with a variety of motions and the big plays produced with their play-action passing game.
Seven years later, that background might be even more handy since the man in charge of Utah back then, Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer, tabbed Herman as his new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach despite those old tapes representing one of the few previous ties between them.
"There were a few teams where I was saying, 'Who do we want to be like? Who do we want to emulate?'" Herman said. "Obviously that Utah team, what they did offensively was phenomenal. That was kind of the genesis of building an offense at Texas State, and then maybe every now and again I would reference it later.
"I think they were unique at that time in what they were doing, and we really honed in on it as much as we could learn off of video and tried to incorporate it into what we were doing at Texas State, then on to Rice and Iowa State."
The next step is to help integrate it with the Buckeyes -- and, of course, with Meyer. So far that relationship appears to be a perfect fit given the shared philosophies the two have about moving the football, which might not be a surprise considering the homework Herman had done on his new boss in the past.
But breaking down a season or two on film is hardly enough to even shape a single game plan, let alone give a young coach a full playbook or establish all the core fundamentals of his approach -- from protection schemes to routes and everything in between. For much of that knowledge Herman is quick to point to Greg Davis, the former Texas offensive coordinator who helped teach him the game during a two-year stint at a graduate assistant with the Longhorns.
High-scoring attacks at Texas State, Rice and most recently Iowa State helped validate some of the ideas he has had about offense in his 12-year coaching career. Herman now finds himself bouncing them off the man he watched on those tapes nearly a decade ago.
"It's eerie," Herman said. "It's really, really eerie to see the alignment of philosophy and core values and beliefs for two guys who have never really met, never talked football, never shared ideas. For us to come together in the same room and click that well from the ground up, that's been really smooth these last six months.
"Obviously he's got a lot more pelts on the wall, a lot more trophies and hardware than I do."
Herman won't be helping win any this year because of the NCAA sanctions that will keep the Buckeyes out of the postseason during Meyer's first campaign. But with a young quarterback in sophomore Braxton Miller for Herman to shape, what amounts to effectively a clean slate at wide receiver and some talented options to deploy in the backfield, Ohio State is certainly expecting Herman to skin his own pelts soon.
Maybe in the process the Buckeyes might make a few videos worth watching for aspiring offensive coordinators scattered around the country.
"You take the best of both worlds when you move on to build your own offense," Herman said. "Take the good of both and try to slice as much of the complicated or the bad of both as you can to come up with your own style.
"Some of that stuff [from watching Utah] carried over, and it also evolved."
The new evolution is reserved for the Buckeyes, and they have two guys who appear to have the same idea how to design it.