Reggie Herring

Reggie Herring during Bears training camp practice. (Zbigniew Bzdak / Chicago Tribune / July 25, 2014)

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."

'Mr. Intensity'

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.