How Mike Sherman Went from Coaching Favre to Coaching an 0-8 High School Team

Greg CouchNational ColumnistNovember 6, 2015

CHARLOTTE, NC - SEPTEMBER 13:  Brett Favre and heqad coach Mike Sherman of the Green Bay Packers smile as they walk off the field after the game against the Carolina Panthers on September 13, 2004 at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina.  The Packers won 24-14.  (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

For decades, Mike Sherman's world was about Super Bowls and super-sized TV contracts, super-fancy offices and super-expensive stadium renovations, super-rich boosters and super-big egos.

He was head coach and general manager of the Packers and had Hall of Famer Brett Favre as his quarterback. He was head coach at Texas A&M and had top-10 draft pick Ryan Tannehill as his quarterback.

For decades, Sherman was the big time.

And now?

Now, his quarterback (and defensive back) is 155-pound Travis Van Vleck, who will probably go on to greatness someday, but not in football.

Now, Sherman says, "It's a little noisy, holding meetings on a school bus on the way to games."

Yes, that is Sherman's new world. He's now a first-year head coach at Nauset Regional High School in Eastham, Massachusetts.

Mike Sherman at practice with Sherman Merrill (2) and James Tooker (32)
Mike Sherman at practice with Sherman Merrill (2) and James Tooker (32)Bill Johnson / Afteritclicks Photography

I'd love to tell you that this is a story ready for Hollywood, that he excited a community just with his presence, took an underdog group and showed it the way to victory from a big-timer's knowledge mixed with inner caring.

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Actually, most of that is true. Except for the victory part. Nauset is 0-8.

"We have a lot of young, young kids, and we've lost a fair amount of linemen to injury and one who decided to do something else," Sherman says.

You don't often lose players in the NFL because they "decided to do something else." The natural question is: How is Sherman taking this? Is he crestfallen?

Not at all.

"It's still frustrating when we don't win. I want to win games for the kids. Want to see them have success," Sherman says. "We try to teach lessons about perseverance. Even when you lose, you can grow and develop, even if you don't recognize it now.

"I always tell them everything you do on the field matters in your life: how you pay attention to detail, what kind of effort you give. Everything matters. Everything plays out in season, plays out in life. Hopefully, even if you don't see it now, it will help you to become successful and develop a game plan in life."

Our definition of success needs to include what Sherman is doing. It's not all about how much money or spotlight you get. He is giving back.

Sherman was fired as the Miami Dolphins offensive coordinator after the 2013 season, figured he was in solid financial shape and wanted to finally give his wife, Karen, and kids a set place to live after a coach's life of bouncing to different jobs and cities.

So they settled on Cape Cod, where they have family.

It was never Sherman's plan to coach high school. He didn't need the job. But he accepted an offer to coach for $6,000 a year, partly because he wanted to help kids and partly because all good coaches have a disease when it comes to coaching. They just can't get it out of their blood.

Sherman wanted to hold a football camp and approached Nauset athletic director Keith Kenyon about the possibility of using the school's field. Kenyon was also the head football coach, but he was giving that up to become the assistant principal.

"I just figured at that point, what do I have to lose?" Kenyon said. "When you've got an NFL coach and former Division I college coach on the line, you've got to throw the Hail Mary."

That meant mentioning to Sherman that the head-coaching job was open. Sherman said he wasn't interested. Months passed and Kenyon waited patiently, looking for any chance to sell Sherman on the job. Sherman said he wanted to make sure he'd commit 100 percent, as it's only fair to the kids. And then, finally…

Sherman checked the ego—though he doesn't seem to have one—at the door and took the job.

Kenyon said the team won just three games last year and lost 44 seniors over the past two seasons. What was left for Sherman was an overly young roster. Still, Sherman has struggled to accept the losing.

Kenyon, who stayed on at Sherman's request to coach special teams, reminded him that at the high school level, players suddenly develop.

"I told him that next year, he won't even recognize some of the players," Kenyon said.

The point is, Kenyon said, Sherman will have this team winning soon.

Mike Sherman with assistant coaches Jesse Peno and Keith Kenyon.
Mike Sherman with assistant coaches Jesse Peno and Keith Kenyon.Bill Johnson / Afteritclicks Photography

He's already learning and making adjustments. Early this season, he had his team do a walk-through on campus before a night game. Then, the team got on the bus and was nearly late because of something Sherman hadn't planned for: rush-hour traffic.

"We were running a little late when I remembered," he said. "I don't think I've been on a bus the last 30 years without a police escort going to a stadium. It was a little bit of a realization that I was at where I'm at. There's no police escort to games and not 80,000 people in the stands. But I was never wrapped up in those things anyway. When my wife and I decided to live here, and we knew we were going back to high school…you have to check your ego at the door.

"I'm going back 30-plus years to before I went off to be a college coach. It's not a major transition, really, but still when you walk out on the football field and the footballs aren't laid out perfectly and the field's not laid out quite right and the goalposts are a little crooked and you're kicking the ball into the woods, well, that is a little different than what you're used to."

Mike Sherman with Jake Colson.
Mike Sherman with Jake Colson.Bill Johnson / Afteritclicks Photography

Sherman acknowledged that losing is just as tough now as ever—in some ways, even more so because he's dealing with kids. In talking with Sherman, there is the sense that he's searching for something. He still has the same passion for this as always, he said.

Two weeks ago, I talked with Dennis Erickson, former coach of the San Francisco 49ers and two-time NCAA national champion at Miami. He said that at that top level, he felt the job wasn't even about coaching, but instead about public relations and being a CEO. He is now the running backs coach at Utah, where he feels that while he's at a lower level of a job, he has returned to the purity of coaching.

"That's what's rewarding about coaching," Erickson said. "The situations with young people, regardless of their background, just helping them be successful. … In my first head-coaching job, at Billings Central High School, I got just as much enjoyment out of that as when we were winning the national championship.

"The pressure to win is so unbelievable at some places it kind of ruins the fun. Now, I'm back around to why I really got into coaching."

Sherman has a different attitude.

"I always felt that you could impact people even with players making millions of dollars," he said. "Maybe they look at you a little differently because they see you as management. But it never scared me off as far as trying to develop a guy's talent and asking about his character."

But Sherman, who's 60, said he has gotten a quick reminder that you have to go about it differently with kids.

"They're impacted differently in different ways," he said. "It's something new every day. Kids miss practice with a dental appointment or an eye exam; I'm not used to dealing with those types of things.

"You compliment a young man's performance, and it makes his day, makes his week. Conversely, if you don't present it the right way, you can bury somebody as well. They're very impressionable. With the millennium generation, when things don't go well they kind of panic a little bit. They're multitaskers and can handle a lot of things at once. But they don't handle adversity real well. Still, there are a lot of positives when you see a kid do something for the first time."

Sherman said his style has always been to be direct, call good things good and bad things bad. Now, he's trying to soften up when he talks about the bad. Maybe he refers to things as growing or learning experiences.

And he admitted to backing off one promise. In the NFL, players stay till they get the job done. At high school, players need to be home for dinner and homework. Sherman vowed to never interfere with that. Now, he said, he finds himself holding some longer practices than he expected.

Sherman doesn't watch many NFL games anymore because it makes him antsy. And, to be honest, the high level of play reminds him of the things he was able to try as a coach but can't now. But that's OK, he said. He's not yearning to leave Nauset and might stay as long as he thinks he can be helpful.

Bill Johnson / Afteritclicks Photography

"There are a lot of issues these kids have to deal with that I never had to deal with," he said. "We have to help them get through that.

"A friend of mine told me this: One time there was a [high school] coach in West Texas and someone asked him 'Coach, how's your team going to be?' He said, 'In about 15, 20 years, I'll tell you how the team was.'"

In Sherman's new world without Favre or police escorts, the goal is to help kids 20 years down the line.

A win Friday wouldn't hurt, though.

 

Greg Couch covers college football for Bleacher Report.

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