PETALUMA — It was July in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and the humidity was so stifling, said Trent Herzog, that “after being outside for 20 minutes everyone looked like they are taking a shower in their clothes.”
Herzog, the Casa Grande football coach, didn’t care.
Alabama football coach Nick Saban was telling Herzog he wanted him to coach the defensive backs at Saban’s football camp. You don’t let your mind wander when college football’s god speaks, unless you want an ear blister from Saban’s fire tongue. See the Lane Kiffin video for further amplification.
By what happened next, Herzog felt the sting of Saban’s legendary intensity. Herzog didn’t immediately heed coach Saban’s instruction.
“Hey, coach, we’re coaching here! Let’s go! We need to coach our ass off on the field! That’s the way we do it here!”
“It was a really deep voice,” Herzog remembered.
Herzog explained to Saban he understood the instruction in the abstract but it was a new type of coverage for him and could Saban run just one drill so Herzog could see it?
“I want to know exactly what I’m doing before I teach it,” Herzog said. Saban lowered his thermostat. He understood. Seeing is believing. The blackboard is one-dimensional. No one has ever accused Nick Saban of being one-dimensional.
After a few drills, with Saban perched close by, the man who stands alongside Bear Bryant in ‘Bama legend walked away, satisfied Herzog got the message. Welcome, folks, to the University of Alabama, home to 16 national championships, 24 players who are in college football’s Hall of Fame and 115 All-Americans.
Herzog will give us a peek into the legend within a legend — Saban and Alabama’s legend. How it came to be started simply enough, with Herzog about as far away from Saban and Alabama as Saban is from meditation.
“I just wanted to pick their brain,” Herzog said. “I wanted to be a better coach. I knew I could learn from them.”
Herzog is not talking about Alabama. He’s talking about Cal. Twelve years ago, Jeff Tedford was Cal’s head coach and had a very welcoming open-door policy for local high school coaches. In the summer, high school guys could come to Berkeley and work with Cal coaches. Herzog took advantage of the open door and met Tosh Lupoi.
Lupoi played for De La Salle High School, was a defensive lineman at Cal and at the time 23 and a Bears graduate assistant. Herzog found what so many people since had learned about Lupoi, someone smart and generous and real. No phony baloney. No attitude. Approachable as a warm bath. Thus began the friendship. When Lupoi went to Washington in 2011 as a recruiter, outside linebackers and defensive line coach, their relationship went to another level.
Herzog made Lupoi aware of Elijah Qualls, Casa’s battering-ram fullback and a stone wall on the defensive line. With every Pac-12 school except Stanford heavily pursuing Qualls, Washington and Lupoi won the recruiting battle. Lupoi was hired by Saban in 2014, first as a defensive analyst. A year later, Lupoi’s now the linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator at Alabama.
While Lupoi’s star is rising like a Space Shuttle launch, Herzog began working part-time for XOS Digital, a subscription service available to any American university’s football program.