Talladega football head coach Robert Herring learned from one of the best in the business. Herring grew up watching his dad on the sideline, played for his dad and coached for his dad at Oxford, which helped lead to his own journey as a head coach that began last season. After many years as an assistant coach, Herring took the helm for the Tigers in April 2013.
Herring’s brother Ryan also grew up around the game, playing free safety at Oxford and now serving as the head coach at Oxford. One thing both of them developed through the years is a love for the game.
“There are a lot of coaches’ kids that don’t become coaches because they see the same thing we see: when you’re winning, everybody is your best friend, but when you’re losing, you can’t find a fan in the stand,” Robert Herring Jr. said. “You’re only as good as your last game. You can go 11-1 and if you lose the state championship, that’s the game people talk about. It’s just something you’ve got to have a passion for. You’ve got to love doing it. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong business.”
Robert Herring Sr. took over as head coach at Oxford in 1985, managing to qualify for the playoffs in all 14 seasons he was at the school. The Yellow Jackets won the AHSAA 5A state championship in 1988, 1989, and 1993. In 1988 and 1993, Herring’s teams finished with perfect 14-0 records. Herring Jr. was the backup quarterback during the two back-to-back state championships in 1988 and 1989. Many of the talented athletes from the 1989 team graduated that school year. The team struggled in 1990 during Herring Jr.’s senior season, in which he earned the starting quarterback position.
“For me personally, I loved playing for him,” Herring Jr. said. “It was a deal where you know for two years you have to sit there and watch the quarterback in front of you. It was Jason Jack, and he didn’t make many mistakes. You thought it was going to be that easy for you, but you get out there and you realize that’s how much better he was, or at least that’s how much better he was than me. He did things that I just couldn’t do. He would see stuff I couldn’t see. But I enjoyed playing for (my dad); I loved it.”
Oxford set a then-school record in 1988 for most points in a season with 362, and then shattered it in 1989 with 441 points (which was broken in 2011), so there was clearly plenty of offensive talent.
Before his sons decided to take the route of coaching football as a career, Herring Sr. offered a reality check in case they had any doubts.
“I told them it’s going to be a tough life,” Herring Sr. said. “It’s not from 8-5; it’s a seven-day-a-week job during the season. In the summer, you’ve got to take care of the field, the stadium, the dressing room and all of that stuff. There’s something to do all of the time, but it’s real rewarding. I think the biggest reward is when a player comes back and thanks you for what you did for him or what you taught him. It’s nice.”
Herring Sr. attended most of Talladega’s home games last season. When the Tigers were on the road, he was likely at Lamar Field to cheer on Ryan and the Yellow Jackets.
Herring Jr. feels fortunate to exchange ideas with a respected football mind in the form of his dad.
“He helps me out and my brother,” Herring Jr. said. “We’ll call him several times during the year. I call him several times a week and say ‘Hey, this is what they’re doing. What would you do in this situation?’”
Herring Sr. only offers advice if his sons ask for it and even then, he tries to offer it as a suggestion of what he might do if he faced with a similar dilemma.
“Both of them have good work habits,” Herring Sr. “That’s what I would wish for them. I felt like when they were coming up they learned how to be on time and they always wanted to be a head football coach, both of them. Both of them played various sports, but they both wanted to be head football coaches and that thrilled me. I help them when they ask for it, but they know what they want to do and they’ve been around it so long and have studied and go to clinics.”
Herring Jr. returned to Oxford in 1995 and served as quarterbacks coach through the 1999 season after Herring Sr. had gone on to become the head coach at Newnan in Georgia. More than anything else, Herring Jr. said working under his dad taught him the importance of responsibility. Sunday often included attending church, eating lunch, and heading to the school. Once at the school, the coaches did planning, watched film with players, worked on correcting mistakes, worked on lifting in the weight room, and worked on drills on the field. After a break to go back to church for the evening services, they returned to the school and often stayed there into the late hours of the night. Then, they went home, went to bed, only to wake up and start school again Monday.
“You’re going to get out of it what you put into it,” Herring Jr. said. “That’s what we’ve told our guys here. ‘Guys, do you want to stay 3-7 or 1-9 or 2-8 or do you want to try to be a 7-3 team or an 8-2 team?’ It’s the effort you put into it, showing up here in the summertime when you’re supposed to, not missing days. Every day you’re not here getting better, somebody else is. That’s our thing we preach to them. These shirts we have, AIE: attitude is everything. There’s a lot of things these kids can’t control as far as what’s going on in their life right as a 16, 17, 18 year-old kid, but the one thing they can control every day is when they wake up and look in that mirror and say ‘What kind of attitude am I going to have today? Am I going to go to school and be a good student or am I going to go to school and slack off today?’ We tell them ‘Every day you slack off, somebody from TCC or Sylacauga is getting better.’”
Herring Sr. finished his career with more than 300 wins. He was elected into the Alabama High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 2001. After being chosen by his peers as Calhoun County Coach of the Year in 1986, 1988, 1991, 1993, and 1998, he was inducted into the Calhoun Co. Hall of Fame in 2012. For all his success, he learned early on to be a father first and a coach second.
“I realized that if I wanted to really get along with my boys real good, we didn’t talk much football at home,” he said. “If they wanted to ask me something or they wanted to go out and throw the ball, I would. I never made them. I feel like what we did at school was enough.”