You can’t give up on something you love.
You don’t walk away when you feel wanted.
That’s what Michael O’Shea reminds himself every day, when the old thought reappears in his head, his body feels its age and O’Shea knows he’s closer to the end of his life than the beginning.
“I don’t want to leave here and walk right into a nursing home,” O’Shea said to his wife, during a private moment away from his public world.
Then a man who has spent 52 years as an athletic trainer, including 23 seasons at the University of Houston, will feel the power of coach Tom Herman, TDECU Stadium, 12-1, No. 14 in the nation, a conference championship and the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve.
O’Shea will remember when the Cougars’ football program had absolutely nothing. He’ll reflect on all the people in the world who hate waking up daily to do what they get paid for. And a 70-year-old husband and father, who could clock out for good any second he feels like it, knows there’s no way in the world he can give all this up right now.
O’Shea wouldn’t be saving lives, like former Coogs defensive back D.J. Hayden’s. He couldn’t walk into his office each morning and see five decades’ worth of the proof of his professional existence: Baltimore Colts photos, a 1983 University of Miami national championship game ball, a trainer of the year plaque and Air Force mementos. And O’Shea knows Herman’s ongoing takeover needs a little historical perspective to truly be complete.
“I don’t know if I’ve come across anyone that bleeds Cougar red more than O’Shea,” Herman said. “He’s done it all, seen it all and has earned these kids’ trust.”
Could you imagine working every day when you’re 70?
O’Shea can’t picture leaving the job that is his life behind.
Because there was 1-9 in 1993 and 1-10 a year later. There was 0-11 in 2001 and there are memories of O’Shea walking around old, discarded Robertson Stadium, placing numbers on seats just so fans could find where they were sitting on game day. Just a few years ago, it was weekly embarrassments at the Texans’ NFL stadium, with the Coogs barely drawing enough bodies to look like an average high school team.
“If you had seen what we had back when we had nothing here,” O’Shea said. “I don’t want to be selfish. But I don’t want to give it up quite so fast, because it’s finally got to where I want it.”
UH’s trainer locked on to Herman while the rest of the program was figuring out the first-year leader. For many young Coogs, the Paul “Bear” Bryant coach of the year finalist initially was way too intense for their liking. So the athletes whined and complained to O’Shea, hoping that a man old enough to be their grandfather would get Herman to ease up on his relentless attack.
O’Shea dug in.
Do you really want to win?
Then this is how you learn to win.
“I had a great feeling about (Herman) from the first time I met him,” said O’Shea, a Brenham native who followed famed college/NFL coach Howard Schnellenberger from the Colts to Miami and Louisville before arriving in Houston. “I knew what he was doing and I told people, ‘This guy is special.’ ”
When the struggling Coogs beat SMU 39-33 midway through the 1994 season, then-coach Helton told O’Shea he “better appreciate” the close victory. The trainer laughed off the advice.
“Oh, we’re going to win more than one game,” O’Shea said.
UH didn’t and it took 21 more seasons – air-it-out quarterbacks, Dana Dimel to Tony Levine, the Southwest and Conference USA into the American – to achieve a rise that’s been three decades in the making.
What’s the Peach Bowl and football during the holidays mean to Herman’s Cougars?
Look in O’Shea’s eyes and see 70 years of love.
“I can’t give it up,” he said.