The Status Quo, Sherman, Isn’t Working
By Paul Myerberg // Nov 25, 2011
The bottom line is this: Texas A&M hasn’t had a team this good – this talented, from top to bottom – in more than a decade. A cursory look back at A&M’s recent past yields a few contenders, such as the Dennis Franchione-led team in 2006, which finished 9-4. That was a fine team, one that balanced a steady running game with an uncharacteristically stout defense, but that squad’s talent level pales in comparison to that put forth by the Aggies in 2011. That Mike Sherman compiled a solid percentage of this talent highlights one of his coaching strengths, but this fact also cuts to the heart of the matter: Sherman can reel in the talent, but this fall, he’s proved himself incapable of being the coach A&M needs him to be.
These are fearful days for a program that, in August, anticipated a return to the glory days. And rightfully so: Ryan Tannehill’s strong play in 2010 gave A&M a solid quarterback in a quarterback-heavy league; the Aggies had a one-two backfield punch to rival any team in the country; the offensive line, while young, had the makings of one of the nation’s best; and despite a few losses, the defense was expected to take another step forward in its second season in Tim DeRuyter’s system.
Instead of calling back the glory days of R.C. Slocum and Jackie Sherrill, this season has more closely resembled the stumble-filled Franchione era. It’s fitting, therefore, that Sherman’s tenure continues to be likened to his predecessor’s – it’s also fitting, in a ironic and unsatisfying way, that Sherman has been an even larger disappointment. Few thought that even possible.
Yet here lie the Aggies, knee deep in muck, mire and the resulting mess after last night’s disastrous loss to Texas, and there’s no choice but to turn the spotlight firmly onto Sherman and his future within the program. There’s no escaping one damning fact: given a sports car– this team’s talent and confidence – Sherman drove it right into a ditch.
His four-year mark currently stands at 25-25, two games worse than Franchione’s mark over the same span. After losing to the Longhorns, Sherman’s Big 12 mark stands three games under .500 at 15-18. His teams have lost 11 conference games by double-digits, lost at home to Arkansas State and have gone 1-3 against Texas.
Under his unsteady hand, A&M has been lapped by Oklahoma State. Any gap that has been closed with the Longhorns is clearly more a result of an unexpected lull in Austin, not a rise in competitiveness in College Station. While the results on the field may indicate otherwise, it seems as if A&M is treading water while Baylor’s arrow points upwards.
Sherman ability to identify, recruit and land title-level talent is not in question: he gave running back Christine Michael a shot when Texas wouldn’t and saw a future star in Ryan Swope when others saw a roster-filler, for example. But championships aren’t won on the recruiting trail. Games, and championships, are won between the white lines, and it’s here that Sherman has flashed the sort of game mismanagement that has led to six brutal second half collapses this fall.
Oklahoma State. Arkansas. Missouri. Oklahoma. Kansas State. And worst of all, Texas. It’s a graveyard of games lost in a most devastating fashion – when each seemed nearly impossible to loss, minus Oklahoma. Yet through them all, when A&M needed the sort of guidance it lacked, you could find Sherman in a familiar pose: nose-deep in his play sheet, seemingly in search of a place to hide.
The fear A&M feels isn’t merely that Sherman isn’t the right guy; it’s not the only program with such fears. The trepidation comes from the fact that come next August, A&M will be staring at a schedule that might feature L.S.U., Alabama and Arkansas, and that’s a threesome that will give heartburn to any program.
Is this the coach A&M needs to take on the SEC? Is this the coach A&M deserves as it prepares for life in the nation’s premier conference? Each question is timely. If Sherman doesn’t delegate offensive responsibility so as to free him up for more diligent in-game responsibilities, then yes, A&M needs a coach who can go toe-to-toe with a Saban, Miles or Petrino. The SEC isn’t kind to the overmatched and unprepared.
What does A&M deserve? Let’s put it thusly: if A&M was in the search for a new head coach, you’d see major coaches calling athletic director Bill Byrne personally – if he remains in place – to spell out their qualifications. A&M can tout premier facilities, a premier fan base, a fertile recruiting ground and, come August, a spot in the SEC. On paper, few jobs offer more.
A&M could do better. At this point in the program’s history, A&M should – and must – do better. Old dogs don’t learn new tricks: Sherman can hire an offensive coordinator and merely devote himself to timeouts, clock management and the like, but he won’t turn into Bear Bryant overnight – if ever.
Now’s not a time for the status quo, not when the status quo involves the sort of mediocrity and regret that has defined the 2011 season. The university is salivating at the idea of playing sports in the SEC; the SEC, the teams and coaches, is likewise salivating at the idea of landing an annual shot at the mismanaged Aggies.
Not in decades, especially with the SEC looming, has A&M seemed more removed from national contention. The team has talent but lacks coaching. Sherman has lined up across from some of the nation’s best – Stoops, Snyder, Pinkel and Petrino – and come up sorely lacking. This year’s disaster could snowball into something worse without making a painful admission: things are going wrong. In short, there are many meaningful reasons why A&M needs to alter the direction of its football program.
Unfortunately, here are three why it won’t: one, Byrne handed Sherman a contract extension and raise in July, bumping up his buyout; two, the university itself is in economic straits, as are many other institutions; and three, the school must devote some of its budget to the exit fees associated with leaving the Big 12.
Those three factors outweigh Sherman’s inefficiencies where it counts: the bottom line. All signs point toward his return in 2012, in short, unless the university allocates a significant chunk of change for the purpose of replacing Sherman. A&M would do so if it was serious about saving its fallen football program. Now watch the Aggies stand pat – and watch A&M get pushed around in the SEC.
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Tags: Bill Byrne, Dennis Franchione, Mike Sherman, Texas A&M
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