Matt Herring: A Father's Hand

Ken Rodriguez is a San Antonio native who covered his first Spurs game in 1981 for The Daily Texan, the University of Texas student newspaper. He spent 26 years in the newspaper business -- 21 of them covering sports -- before joining the marketing department at Our Lady of the Lake University in 2009. His column will appear every Wednesday.

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photo courtesy of Matt Herring

Matt Herring owes a lot to his YMCA basketball coach. He owes a lot to the man who taught him how to backpack, rock climb, zipline, rappel and ride motorcycles. In fact, he owes everything to the guy who first showed him around the weight room.

“I never would be here,” says Herring, the Spurs strength and conditioning coach, “if it wasn’t for my dad’s influence. I would never have thought about doing this work if he hadn’t sparked in me a love for basketball.”

Mike Herring raised two sons -- Matt and his older brother, Mark -- in Austin with a love for indoor sports and outdoor adventure. As a land purchaser for Texas Parks and Wildlife, Mike took Matt and Mark hiking through state parks. He led them into caves -- “one time we went into a huge batcave,” Matt says -- and guided them through forests.

When Mike received a writing assignment from Texas Parks and Wildlife Magazine, he took his boys camping to gather information for the story. “We went on many trips to Big Bend National Park,” Matt says.

In his youth, Matt watched from the side of the road as his father ran in the annual Statesman Capitol 10,000. One day, Matt asked if he could run, too. “I was in fifth grade,” he says. “He trained me and we ran the race. We completed it in an hour.”

Mike has his own memories, most of them warm, one of them scary. “We had a nice backyard with big trees,” Mike recalls. “When Matt was probably 10, I put up a zipline that was about 10 feet off the ground. When Matt hit the end, he did a flip and landed on his head. It scared me to death. But Matt is athletic and didn’t get injured. He got up laughing.”

There were lots of good times. The father took his youngest son canoeing and skateboarding and to BMX competitions. Dad showed the boys how to ride motorcycles, and Mark became a motorcycle police officer in Austin (and later a detective).

Matt’s greatest love, though, was basketball. On a hoop in the family driveway, Mike taught him how to shoot. “I finally got to the point,” Matt says, “where I could beat him.”

When Mike joined a gym, Matt rejoiced. The kid would get to practice on a real court.
The gym membership, it turned out, opened a new world for Matt. There, under the supervision of his father, he learned how to lift weights.

“That was the beginning,” Matt says. “I didn’t think of it in terms of athletic or physical development. It was just fun. It was my father’s encouragement and involvement that fostered my love for weight training.”

Matt played basketball in high school; Mark wrestled. After college, Matt taught middle school and then began post-graduate work, studying exercise sports science and kinesiology at the University of Texas.

“That’s when I started to learn about the performance side of strength and conditioning,” Matt says. “It wasn’t all Muscle and Fitness magazine stuff.”

At UT, Matt worked under basketball strength and conditioning coach Todd Wright, who helped him get his first job at Oklahoma State. After two years at OSU, Matt became the strength and conditioning coach for the Florida basketball program. During his seven years in Gainesville, the Gators won two national championships.

Out of nowhere, the Spurs called. Legendary strength coach Mike Brungardt was retiring. Would Matt be interested?

A phone call to dad followed. “I told him it was a good idea and a good career move,” says Mike, who now lives in Sweetwater.

When Matt arrived last year, the NBA lockout left him with no one to train. Mike loved it. He got to motorcycle with Matt up and down country roads.

“I’ve got a picture I keep on my mantle of me and my brother sitting on dad’s motorcycle,” Matt says. “I’m probably 6 or 7, my brother is 9 or 10, and we’re grinning ear to ear, giving a big thumbs up.”

That’s one family treasure. Another is his mother, Sallie Herring. She kept every basketball box score when Matt was growing up and created a scrapbook that chronicled his journey from high school through his NCAA championships at Florida.

A third treasure is growing up before him. Matt and his wife, Cindy, have a 7-year-old daughter, Laney, who is treading a familiar path.

Laney, an aspiring dancer, accompanied Matt to the Spurs practice facility one day and asked him to write an age-appropriate workout for her. “It was that or go with mom to a hair appointment,” Matt says.

Dad designed a simple workout. Laney followed it to the letter. “She got a drink of water and then did the whole workout again,” Matt says. “She said, ‘Daddy, I know the exercises now. I don’t need your help.’”

A little girl follows her dad and grandpa must smile. The gym is in the family blood.