Adam Herring figured his dad would kill him, and his mom figured he was right. So he waited about four weeks to deliver the news.
Reggie Herring's aversion to tattoos is surpassed only by his dislike for losing football games. Adam had been threatened throughout his life with the consequences of ever coming home sporting one.
So it was with great trepidation that he removed his shirt that day in 2007 to show his parents his souvenir from a night out with his fellow Auburn University football recruits. It was time to face the music for what, in a fleeting moment, seemed like a cool idea.
Blood rushed to Reggie's face. His neck bulged.
"Adam couldn't have gotten a bigger font," Lisa Herring, Reggie's wife, recalled with a laugh.
But then Reggie took a closer look. Inked around the base of Adam's neck was this proverb: He who hesitates is lost.
Standing between fields at Bears training camp in Bourbonnais after practice last week, Reggie pumped his fist in satisfaction as he described Adam's big reveal.
"When he came home with that, I couldn't even be mad," he said, smiling.
The words tattooed on Adam's neck are Reggie's life motto. He learned it from coach Bobby Bowden while playing at Florida State in the late 1970s, and he has applied it at every college and NFL destination on a 33-year coaching journey that led him in January to Halas Hall.
After the worst defensive season in Bears history, the team hired Herring to coach its linebackers. The importance of his role extends beyond rebuilding the defense. Two of the Bears' most valued prospects play linebacker, so Herring, in a way, has a chunk of the team's future in his hands.
This summer at training camp, Herring's passion for football, intense competitiveness, contagious energy and sense of humor have invigorated a linebacking corps determined to restore its reputation.
"He's in his element with the young players," Lisa said. "I don't think he has ever been happier in coaching. He has got such talent in the professional athletes, but the youth he can teach and mold is right up his alley. That's the part of college coaching that he has missed. He's right where he needs to be."
Herring's twang sounded among the Bears linebackers Wednesday as they walked through their responsibilities against various running plays. Upside-down trash cans served as the offensive linemen.
"Stay tight! Right there, Bos. Good," Herring said to Jon Bostic, the second-round draft pick in 2013, whom the Bears expect to be a cornerstone of future success.
"He's blocking the damn can! Do it again!" Herring yelled later when the second string got it wrong.
Herring, 55, can't pinpoint the root of his competitiveness and drive. But if he had to guess, it's the positive reinforcement that resulted from winning as a young athlete.
He was a multisport star in a family that included two brothers and three sisters. His father, Bill, was a chief master sergeant in the Air Force. That required the family to move constantly, which, as it turned out, got Herring acclimated to a downside of life as a coach before he embarked on that career path.
Herring lived in Orlando, Michigan's Upper Peninsula and California before he moved to Titusville, Fla., in the 11th grade. When he joined the Astronaut High School football team, the star quarterback was Cris Collinsworth, who went on to play receiver for the Bengals and now is the analyst for NBC's "Sunday Night Football" telecasts.
"Unfortunately for all of us, it wasn't even close — he was so much the best-looking guy in the school," Collinsworth cracked.
Herring excelled in baseball and basketball, but he shined even brighter in football. His physical presence on both sides of the ball helped him earn a scholarship to play linebacker at Florida State. He also had something extra that stood out to teammates.
"He was Mr. Intensity before that was the cool thing to be," Collinsworth said. "He was born to coach. In football, passion sells. It's hard to go to practice every day. Something hurts all the time or it's hot or the pads stink. Football is a lifestyle of 'something is wrong.'
"With Reggie, every day was sunshine. Every day was the greatest day of his life that he got to walk around the field and play football."
Herring was a team captain at Florida State, led the team in tackles for three seasons and became a member of the school's athletic Hall of Fame in 1989. He was a second-team All-American as a senior.
But while teammates as accomplished as Herring trained for the NFL draft, he never hesitated in pursuing his true ambition.
"I didn't care (about the NFL)," Herring said. "I wanted to get into coaching. I always wanted to coach, and I was beat up, tired."
Long before Adam Herring got a tattoo, he learned the fundamentals of playing linebacker from his dad.
"Everyone can learn different schemes and where you're supposed to be, but it's what you do at the point of attack, whether you're taking on a block or tackling," said Adam, now a special assistant for defense at the University of Texas.
Reggie Herring's emphasis on techniques and fundamentals helps define his coaching style. It's why the Bears sought him to develop players such as Bostic and converted defensive end Shea McClellin — the team's first-round pick in 2012 — as part of a defensive rebuild.
"He's a real football coach who's not trying to trick anybody — it's fundamentals and technique," Bears defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "He's teaching all marketable skills. And when players believe that what you're teaching is going to help them be a better player and is going to help them learn their craft, players believe in you."
That belief seems to have strengthened the connection between Herring and his players through six months on the job. They have responded well to his energetic personality and his methods.
"Extreme passion," McClellin said. "He makes you want to hit people and just love the game of football."
The Bears' experienced linebackers feel similarly. Seven-time Pro Bowl selection Lance Briggs and 10-year veteran D.J. Williams have praised Herring's "old-school" approach.
"He's not telling you X's and O's off a board," Williams said. "He's telling you through life experiences, what he has been through.
"He wants his linebackers to be tough, downhill type of guys. He wants us to be physical. He's going to challenge you every day, and it doesn't matter whether you're a 12-year vet or a rookie. He's going to be harping on you every day because he wants the best out of you."
Said Briggs: "For me, it feels right."
But it's not all whip cracking. Herring's sharp wit keeps players engaged. During meetings, he'll mention Instagram, Twitter and other social elements or trends to which today's players relate. Herring also has a cache of "old-school ball stories," Williams said. "Those aren't built for a tape recorder."
For Herring, preparation is the key to developing this group of linebackers. Being prepared means not having to hesitate.
"As long as you have a blueprint plan for that and you know what you're talking about, you meet together and you become something really good," he said. "Right now I don't see anybody that's fighting it, unless they'd rather sell straw hats in Tahiti."
On the contrary, Bourbonnais was a linebacker's paradise Friday.
The defense flew around the field during team drills. Briggs batted down two passes, one of which was intercepted. In red-zone drills, Bostic tightly covered running back Michael Ford as Ford ran toward the front right pylon. That helped force an incompletion that ended the series in the defense's favor.
Fans at training camp usually cheer for the offense, and they grumbled at the failure to score.
That made Herring smile. He turned to the crowd and cupped his ear with his hand, his competitive juices overflowing. His men had won.
A moment later, he turned and jogged toward the opposite sideline and the next drill. Without hesitation.
Reggie Herring coaching career
1981: Oklahoma State, graduate assistant
1982-85: Oklahoma State, linebackers
1986-91: Auburn, linebackers
1992-93: TCU, defensive coordinator
1994-96: Clemson, linebackers
1997-2001: Clemson, defensive coordinator
2002-03: Texans, linebackers
2004: N.C. State, defensive coordinator/linebackers
2005-07: Arkansas, defensive coordinator/linebackers
2008-10: Cowboys, linebackers
2011-13: Texans, linebackers
2014: Bears, linebackersCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun