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Monday, November 26, 2007
Sherman succeeds Franchione as Texas A&M coach

Associated Press

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Texas A&M turned to a former assistant to lead the program back to prominence.

Former Green Bay Packers coach Mike Sherman was hired at A&M Monday, three days after Dennis Franchione resigned.

Maisel: The Right Stuff?

Stop me if you've heard this before: a fallen Big 12 power believes the key to righting itself is by hiring a fired NFL head coach with a college background.

That's about where the comparison between Texas A&M head coach Mike Sherman and former Nebraska head coach Bill Callahan stops. There are more reasons to believe Sherman will be a good fit in College Station. Chief among them is that Sherman spent seven seasons coaching the Aggies' offensive line for R.C. Slocum (1989-93, 1995-96).

Sherman left behind a lot of believers in College Station, including Slocum, who has worked as a fundraiser since being fired after the 2002 season.

(Ask deposed coach Dennis Franchione about trying to coach while two former Aggies coaches lurked -- Gene Stallings is on the school's board of regents.)

As Franchione and Callahan both proved, how a coach fits within a university can be critical. Sherman passes that test. The speed with which Texas A&M athletic director Bill Byrne moved to hire Sherman indicates the conviction that he and the university administration held that Sherman is the right man for the job. They better feel good about it, not only because Texas A&M is stuck in the middle of the Big 12, but also because they will take some heat for blatantly ignoring minority candidates.

Sherman went 59-43 in six seasons as head coach of the Green Bay Packers, who fired him for not winning enough. There's a comparison he shares with Franchione, forced out after five seasons at Texas A&M for not winning enough (32-28).

-- Ivan Maisel, ESPN.com

Sherman, an assistant head coach with the Houston Texans for two seasons, will return to the school where he was the offensive line coach from 1989-93 and in 1995-96 under R.C. Slocum.

"It's like coming back home," Sherman said. "I told my wife, you can unpack the boxes on this move. I've moved about 10 times in my career. You can put up the pictures and throw the boxes away, because we're going to be here awhile."

Sherman signed a seven-year contract that will pay him $1.8 million a year.

"I've had opportunities at other jobs I didn't take," Sherman said. "I've been a head coach. I know what it's going to take to be a head coach. I understand the commitment and sacrifice my family's going to have to make. So I'm not going to delve into something unless I feel like we have a legitimate chance to win championships."

The formal announcement came with plenty of symbolism.

Current and former players packed an auditorium to see Sherman introduced. John David Crow, the 1957 Heisman Trophy winner for A&M, shook hands with Sherman after the news conference, and Slocum and Sherman posed for pictures.

Franchione alienated himself from many of the program's old guard, and athletic director Bill Byrne said he hoped to rebuild some of those connections by bringing Sherman back.

"We have a wonderful, rich tradition here," Byrne said. "I wanted to make sure that whoever we had come in here would be able to bridge the issues we had previously and build on strengths we had in the past. Mike can certainly do that."

Slocum and Franchione had an icy relationship and Slocum didn't pass up a chance to bring up A&M's successes before Franchione arrived.

"If you look at the history of this school, in the decade of the 1990s, we won almost 77 percent of our games," Slocum said. "I also happen to think our best days are ahead of us. There is an expectation that we take it a notch higher than what it's been."

Franchione, who earned about $2 million annually, took a contract buyout and stepped down Friday, less than an hour after Texas A&M upset rival Texas 38-30. Defensive coordinator Gary Darnell was made the interim coach Saturday and will lead the Aggies (7-5, 4-4 Big 12) through their bowl game.

On Monday, players were still stinging from Franchione's resignation, especially junior quarterback Stephen McGee. He canceled a weekend hunting trip and visited with Franchione at his home Saturday.

"He's been the coach now for four years, so you can imagine the relationship I've built with him over this time," McGee said. "When you lose a guy like that, you can't just show up on Monday, you've got a new coach and, 'Here we go.' It's going to take some time for me to move on."

The 52-year-old Sherman hasn't coached in college since leaving A&M to become an assistant in Green Bay in 1996.

Mike Sherman
Mike Sherman has been given the task of putting Texas A&M among the elite teams in the Big 12.

Byrne said Sherman was the only coach interviewed for the vacancy. The two talked on the phone shortly after A&M's win Friday.

Sherman met with the Aggies on Monday morning. He has yet to start assembling his staff.

"I want to get it in place as quickly as possible, but not at the expense of making a bad decision," Sherman said. "These are decisions that you want to last a long time and you want them to be the right ones."

Sherman sat down individually with McGee later on Monday.

"He knew the relationship I had with Coach Fran," McGee said. "He understood my loyalty and knew this time was really tough on me. He respected that and certainly I appreciate him acknowledging that, reaching out and taking the time. I know he's extremely busy. For him to do that meant a lot to me."

Sherman became the Packers' head coach in 2000, and Green Bay went 59-43 and won three NFC North titles in his six seasons. The Packers also produced two of the four highest-scoring seasons in franchise history under Sherman.

Sherman joined former A&M quarterback Gary Kubiak's Texans staff after he was fired by Green Bay last year. He became the offensive coordinator this season, after Troy Calhoun left to coach Air Force.

"I'm a former Aggie and it means the world to me that he's going to be the guy there leading that program," Kubiak said.

Sherman will finish the season with the Texans before moving into his job with the Aggies full time.

"We're all going to miss him, but we're all very proud of him," Kubiak said. "The coaching staff and everybody who worked here is better off because they had the chance to work with him."

A&M went 32-28 in five seasons under Franchione and couldn't gain ground on the Big 12's elite teams, going 3-12 against Oklahoma, Texas and Texas Tech. The Aggies haven't won the Big 12 since 1998.

Sherman called the program "a sleeping giant" and vowed to turn things around.

"There is no doubt in my mind what can be accomplished here," he said. "I know a lot of coaches would say the same thing. But I know the landscape here. I know the recruiting base. I know what needs to be done."

This season began to spiral downward after Franchione's personal assistant was caught sending out a newsletter with inside information about the team to boosters for a fee. Byrne fired the assistant, admonished Franchione and ordered the coach to shut down his personal Web site.

Byrne said the school completed an internal investigation into the newsletter -- called the "VIP Connection" -- and found that Franchione "did not intentionally, knowingly, or directly participate in actions that were inappropriate or in violation of rules or policies."

Byrne said he never knew about the newsletters and acknowledged that Franchione may have breached his contract by not reporting the income he received from them. Byrne also said the newsletters may have violated NCAA and Big 12 rules.

A&M's impatient fan base was already fed up with Franchione. The Aggies finished with losing records in two of his first three seasons. And while other Big 12 programs employed fast-paced, pass-oriented offenses, A&M switched to an old-fashioned option scheme.

The Aggies rank last in the Big 12 and 101st nationally in passing offense, averaging 187 yards per game.

They're hoping Sherman can bring some of the Packers' offensive fireworks to College Station.

In 2003, the Packers scored 442 points, just 14 shy of the franchise record. The next season, Green Bay set team records for total yards (6,357) and passing yards (4,449).

Few coaches have made successful transitions recently from the pros to college.

Former Raiders coach Bill Callahan was fired Saturday after four mediocre years at Nebraska. Former Bears and Dolphins coach Dave Wannstedt has struggled at Pittsburgh.

Former Cowboys coach Chan Gailey was fired Monday after six seasons at Georgia Tech. After two strong seasons under former Patriots offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, Notre Dame set a school record for losses this year.

Pete Carroll is one of the coaches who has had success at both levels. He guided New England to the AFC East title in 1997 and has led Southern Cal to two national championships since taking over the program in 2000.

Sherman said the main difference between college and the pros is the limitations on practice time -- which reduces how much a coach can teach his players.

"Those are things we'll have to navigate through," he said, "but I feel confident we'll be able to do that."