It took Dick Tomey less than a day to evaluate the state of the Texas Longhorns football program of his good friend Mack Brown.
"You can tell a lot about a situation by the environment in the football department and what I see here is consideration, closeness and concern," Tomey said. "That goes for everybody from the lowest-paid people to the highest. It doesn't matter if you are talking about coaching or the corporate world, the environment you create will determine your success."
Tomey, who served as a head coach for 24 years, first at Hawai'i and later at Arizona, is one of a handful of people (and one of those is the late Paul "Bear" Bryant) who is the winningest coach in the history of two different schools. He now lives in Honolulu and was one of the featured speakers at annual UT Coaches Clinic.
His message was simple.
"This game is not complicated," he said. "People are complicated."
In football, the secret to success, according to Tomey, is to understand people.
"People don't fail because they aren't technically sound," he told a gathering of more than 500 high school coaches in the Friday morning session. "People fail because they disconnect in the human connection.
"Ours is a rare game," he continued. "In basketball, you have 12 players and three coaches. In football, we have a lot of different players and all of them have different personalities. For example, the wide receiver is a totally different personality than the offensive guard."
Tomey said you know going in that as uncomplicated as the game may be, few people really understand it.
"I once was watching our fine Arizona basketball team play and this lady came up to me and said, 'you're the football coach, aren't you?' he recollected. "I told her I was, and she continued. 'I am from England and have been here in Tucson for four years and I love watching all of the teams play. I go to the football games and the basketball games and the baseball games. There is one thing I would like to ask you. When I go to the basketball and baseball games, people yell at the officials. When I go to your games, they yell at you. I don't understand that.'"
It deals with an understanding of the game, Tomey said.
"In basketball and baseball, people assign the responsibility to the players," he said. "They know if a player double-dribbles or strikes out because chances are they've done that. Most people have never played quarterback or offensive guard. There is so much going on in football. They just assign the responsibility to the coach."
That is where that the technical side of the game gives way to the human factor according to Tomey.
"You have to maximize the human connection between you, your staff and your team," he said. "In everything, people need something to do, somebody to love and hope for the future."
Time after time, in his years with the highly successful Arizona program that became known for its "Desert Swarm" defense, Tomey was able to weave his personal connection premise into victories and triumphs, both on and off the field.
"When I was at Hawai'i, we had a young man who took his own life," Tomey said. "One of our coaches had seen him three or four hours before. He spoke to the young man with the usual 'how are you doing?' greeting and the young man said 'fine.'If only we were not taught as youngsters that men can't show emotion, he might be alive today. He might have said, 'you know, I am really struggling,' and a conversation might have begun that would have saved his life."
In an age of the Internet and tremendous changes in technology that span from video to countless electronic advances, Tomey urged the coaches to reach out.
"Technology is both crazy and wonderful, but we have to be careful that it doesn't rob us of personal communication," he said. "There is no wrong answer to the question, 'how do you feel?'"
Football, Tomey said, hasn't changed through the years. The fundamentals of the game remain the same.
"The same thing is to win games," he said "Win the turnover battle and the kicking game. What is important is that we understand the personal side. Diversity, for example, is the strength of our game. Race matters, because it is the strength of what we do. It is the best example of people coming together where nothing matters except that they care about each other and can work together."
In the end, Tomey said, it will be attitude — not scheme or plan — that will win games.
"The best team doesn't always win," he said. "The team that plays the best does and your players have to know that you care about them. Nothing can replace the strength of the human touch. People need hugs and I am not talking about superficial pats, I am talking about genuine wrap-around hugs. Never underestimate the power of the human touch."
Brown had set the tone for Tomey's inspirational speech, when he introduced him. The session the night before had featured a panel of coaches who had won Texas State Championships and each of their stories had been laced with ways of overcoming failures to achieve great success.
"In the last two years we've lost two games each year and I take responsibility for that," Brown said. "In those games, I believe the other team played harder than we did and we are going to find a way to fix that."
That is why, when the championship coaches speak at the annual coaches clinic in the summer, Brown requires his staff to attend. It also is why, for the sake of the 500 coaches gathered in Austin and for his own staff, he brings in speakers to discuss the schemes and the technical side of the game.
Most of all, it is why, as Brown said as he introduced Tomey,"we look for three things when we recruit kids: character, production and ability."
A team, said Tomey, is a reflection of its head coach. What Brown has created at UT is a reflection of himself: trust and hugs, a huge dose of asking "how are you?" and caring enough to really listen to the answer.