Print and Go Back ESPN.com: College Football [Print without images]

Thursday, December 1, 2011
Updated: December 3, 11:42 AM ET
Texas A&M pulls plug on Mike Sherman

By Ivan Maisel
ESPN.com

As if it wouldn't be difficult enough.

Mike Sherman
Mike Sherman is out of a job after going .500 in four years.

As if moving to the SEC, where national championships are expected; where the toughest, most resourceful and resilient head coaches work; where it's easy to believe that universities exist for the benefit of the football program; as if all of that wouldn't make the move from the Big 12 Conference difficult enough for Texas A&M.

On Thursday night, the university fired coach Mike Sherman after four seasons in which he went 25-25, including 6-6 this season. You can make the case that four seasons is long enough to determine whether a man can coach. After all, Kansas fired Turner Gill in half that time.

But saying that Sherman is a .500 coach doesn't tell the story of how he built this team up over the last three seasons. Until this season, Sherman's Aggies had improved from year to year: from 4-8 in 2008, his first season, to 6-7, 9-4, and now, 6-6.

Yeah, you don't have to be Walter Camp to figure out that the Aggies underachieved. The 2011 season has been tough to stomach. Texas A&M lost five games this season by a total of 17 points. Two of the losses came in overtime.

From that, the Aggies' brain trust extrapolated that Sherman no longer had the ability to coach its team. Texas A&M will start over, and while it's entirely possible that the next coach can come into College Station, look at the talent on his field and say, "Yeah, here we go," the more likely scenario is that the Aggies will take a real step backward.

Sherman went 4-8 in his first season replacing Dennis Franchione, who, in 2003, went 4-8 in his first season replacing R.C. Slocum.

At least Sherman and Franchione took over teams that played in the same conference as the year before. The next guy not only has to learn the ins and outs of his new team, he and his staff must learn 12 others. They must learn four new SEC road trips. They must learn the pace and power of playing in the SEC. Ask Nebraska how easy it is to make a change to a new conference.

When Texas A&M hired Sherman, it made a lot of sense. Here's a former Aggies assistant, returning to College Station after a stint as an NFL head coach. Franchione made sense, too. The Aggies stole him from Alabama. Texas A&M long has had the desire and ability to attract good coaches. Thirty years ago, it nearly stole Bo Schembechler away from Michigan.

Texas A&M offered Schembechler a 10-year deal worth a staggering amount of money: about $2.25 million. That's about half of what Urban Meyer will get annually from Ohio State, but back then, it was big bucks, especially for a coach making $60,000 a year at Michigan. Schembechler turned down the offer. Instead, Texas A&M hired Jackie Sherrill away from Pittsburgh. He took the Aggies to three consecutive Cotton Bowls (1985-87). He left with the Aggies in NCAA trouble. He also went 5-6 in his first season and 16-16-1 in his first three seasons. Would he survive today?

There is a lot of excitement at Texas A&M these days. The Aggies are stepping away from their traditional athletic home. They are moving to a more prestigious, more financially stable conference. But excitement doesn't always translate into progress. The last three coaches have been fired for being mediocre while Mack Brown turned Texas into a national power.

The Aggies are running to the SEC, where Brown, who's fighting a little mediocrity of his own, doesn't coach. By firing Sherman, Texas A&M guaranteed that it will start next season with a greater handicap than if it had kept him.

It is true that sometimes you have to take a step backward in order to move forward. Maybe Texas A&M believes it has done so. It believed that when it suffered through Sherman's first season, and through Franchione's first season as well. As it turned out, neither coach ended the suffering quickly enough to satisfy his employer.

The next guy may be Kevin Sumlin, an Aggies assistant coach under R.C. Slocum a decade or so ago. Sumlin is one of two undefeated coaches this season. His No. 6 Houston Cougars are 12-0 as they prepare to play No. 24 Southern Miss (10-2) in the Conference USA championship game.

The next head coach will come to College Station with a lot of promise. When he arrives, he will be given a lot of expectations. The Aggies want to hit the SEC ground running. By firing Sherman, all Texas A&M did was hit the ground.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.