Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Is It Time To Give Mike Sherman His Due?

The past few months I've been watching some of the big events at Lambeau Field...Fan Fest, the Draft Party. And they always have dignitaries at these things..Packers past and present. And for some reason, I had to wonder: you never see Mike Sherman at any of these things. And it made me ask a rather stark question.

Will Mike Sherman ever be invited (or welcomed) back at Lambeau Field?

I remember last year that Sherman came back into Green Bay for a lecture at his daughter's college, and even then I wondered if someone would find their way into the auditorium just to catcall him about BJ Sander. There were so many people who ran him out of town on a rail, that you expect him to never be able to come back.

Yet, there's Mark Chmura at the Atrium, drawing laughs and requests for autographs during the draft.

Mike Sherman didn't sit in any hot tubs with teenage girls. He didn't assault a gal in the stairwell at the Top Shelf. He didn't take steroids, hold the team hostage, or hold out for a better salary the day before training camp.

He just came to work and did the best job he knew how to do. For many of us, that wasn't enough. And in the end, he left Green Bay chased by torches and pitchforks, his tenure to be ridiculed for years.

Now, before you jump all over me, I am the farthest thing from some Sherman Defender. I was probably one of his biggest critics for failing to make halftime adjustments, for believing too much in his gameplan and schemes, and for standing back and letting Brett Favre win or lose the game with risky plays.

There was no one decrying the 2004 draft louder than I, and no one insisting louder that he have the GM role removed from his job title.

That was then, an emotional time marked with fans who had grown used to deep playoff runs, for whom division titles, winning seasons, and just making the playoffs was not enough.

And Sherman took the fall for it. But you know what? There's a place in this world to respect a guy for just being a good guy. Mike Sherman, for all his faults, was a good guy.

Another good guy was Lindy Infante. When 1991 finished up, there were few people clamoring for his return. But even then, I appreciated that great 1989 season he brought us. And, I really respected that the day after he was fired, he showed up to do the last "Lindy Infante Show", bringing his wife as his special guest to say goodbye to the fans.

Class act. I'd love to see Lindy at Fan Fest, ask for his autograph, and thank him for the season of the Cardiac Pack.

I wonder when Sherman would be welcomed back in the same way. Let's dismiss his tenure as general manager. That horse been beaten to death, ad nauseum. How good of a coach was Mike Sherman...especially if he hadn't been foolishly burdened with the dual role of GM/HC by Bob Harlan?

In his first season, he turned around a country club atmosphere created by Ray Rhodes and finished with four straight wins to end up 9-7 (sounds eerily familiar to another Mike we know, doesn't it?).

He then followed that up in 2001 with the first of two 12-4 seasons and four division titles. Over those next four years he would compile a regular season record of 44-20.

Some people chose to diminish those results by stating that he had simply taken the reins of the 1998 team that Holmgren brought to the playoffs just two years earlier. But only a fraction of the active players actually remained on the roster after just two years, and many stalwarts of the Holmgren era (Reggie White, Gilbert Brown, George Koonce, Mark Chmura, Robert Brooks) were gone. Others, such as Gilbert Brown, LeRoy Butler, Frank Winters, and Dorsey Levens, were only shadows of their former selves.

Sherman built a new foundation that year with a new young running back named Ahman Green, started two rookie offensive tackles named Clifton and Taucher, and put together a mismash of defensive players that managed to rank in the middle of the NFL. By the next season, the defense was 5th in the NFL in points allowed.

We all can sit around the bar table and tell stories of what happened from 4th-and-26 on. But until that time, Sherman did a lot of things that even Mike Holmgren did not accomplish.

For one, he established perhaps the finest offensive line the Packers had seen since the days of Lombardi. Certainly, the five-some of Tauscher, Rivera, Flanagan, Wahle, and Clifton had all been drafted by Ron Wolf, but Sherman was able to put that talent together on the field and had them producing at a dominating level. There's a reason Sherman was an offensive line coach. He knew what he was doing with the talent he had.

He was able to establish a dominating ground game with Ahman Green. Even when Holmgren had Edgar Bennett and Dorsey Levens, they really gained the majority of their yards in the second half of games, eating up minutes to protect a lead that was achieved primarily through the passing game. The running game under Sherman in those years was the only time in Brett Favre's lengthy career that the offense didn't seemingly rest completely on his arm. Green set a Packer record for most rushing yards in 2003.

And, he managed to assemble perhaps the most talented receiving corps that Favre had been able to work with up until that time. Again, Wolf brought in the talent, but Sherman finally got it together by 2004: the tandem of Javon Walker, Donald Driver, and Robert Ferguson was perhaps the best in the NFL.

Sherman developed some of the best players still on the Packer roster today: Aaron Kampman, Nick Barnett, Al Harris, Cullen Jenkins, and Donald Driver.

He was the first coach in Green Bay to surprise his players during training camp with a trip to a local bowling alley or paintball course instead of a second practice that day. He knew how important camaraderie was.

And, as stated before, he added four division titles to the rafters of Lambeau Field. Some will diminish that achievement by stating it was only because we were in the weakest division in the NFL. Yet, what does that say about a 6-10 team that competing in the same division as the only winless team in NFL history?

We all know that what came after these achievements, though. A series of one-and-done playoff visits culminating in a heartbreaking failure against Philadelphia in 2003. From that point on, it seemed like the GM portion of Sherman's dual role overshadowed anything else he did, and certainly, the decisions he made as GM were worthy of criticism.

The dual role gives absolute power to the man in that role, and there are precious few that can handle it successfully. Sherman seemed to listen less to his scouting department, starting to micromanage his assistants, and had favorites he protected on the roster and on his staff. He put more and more pressure on himself to do it all himself in face of mounting criticism. He seemed to border on paranoia at times, because the dual role brought all the blame back to one guy.

When Thompson finally fired Sherman in January of 2006, it seemed that much of Packer Nation celebrated spitefully. Sherman the GM certainly had deserved some of the criticism, but did Sherman the coach?

I don't bring this up in any way to make any comparisons, positive or negative, to today's GM and head coach, just for Sherman to be judged on his own merits.

No one is asking for a street to be named in Sherman's honor. No one is asking for him to be rubber-stamped into the Ring of Honor or the Hall of Fame. And no one is erecting a statue of him next to Curly and Vince outside the Atrium doors.

But for all his warts and flaws and perceived crimes against the Packers, doesn't he deserve to be welcomed back by Packer fans as one of the many honored greats of the past: a coach who did nothing less than string together four consecutive division titles, a feat only surpassed by Mike Holmgren? Isn't it time he can sit at a table for hours on end while green-and-gold-clad fans wait hours in line for his autograph, just to reminisce with him about the time he stood up to Warren Sapp or the "He did WHAT?!" Minnesota Viking game in 2001?

There are times that I wonder what Sherman's legacy would have been if he had declined that dual role offered to him by Bob Harlan. I'm guessing that, sometimes, Mike Sherman wonders about that, too.

Here's hoping that time heals all wounds.


Graham said...

Great post. I agree about Sherman as a coach. I'm sure Sherman does too. He did do a pretty good job. I would not be shocked to see Sherman at fan fest someday when he is done coaching. I'm suprised that sweent Lin has not be to the Fan Fest. Sure he was not a great coach but he was well liked and as you said a class act. Lets get him there someday.

Graham said...

At the end of the day Sherman was not a super bowl winning type coach. That is why he was replaced.

C.D. Angeli said...

As I said, no one is trying to make Sherman out to be Mike Holmgren. But he did some good things along the way, despite being placed in (and taking) a position that should have never been.

I just think its time to quit making him out to be the continual bad guy, because he wasn't.

crichar3 said...

I think this post is very fair to Mike Sherman and I appreciate the thoughtful balance employed in its construction.

I believe there are four coaches in team history who completed their tenure on the sunny side of .500: Lambeau, Lombardi, Holmgren and Sherman -- not bad company for Mike the Lesser.

I think it is a shame that his achievements weren't better appreciated during his time in GB. Personally, I couldn't care less if Lindy Infante ever returned to Fan Fest -- one winning season (albeit a fun and exciting one) doesn't give me many warm and fuzzies. But five straight winning years, four consecutive playoff appearances and three division titles is worthy of praise, particularly when that run was all but unprecedented in the NFL during that time. (I think PHL and GB were the only two teams to make the post-season in those four straight years.)

Packers fans need to remove the rod from their collective asses about Mike Sherman and appreciate the success they had under his leadership rather than sit around and bitch that it wasn't good enough. Packers fans are better than that kind of spoiled, whinny, entitled silliness.

Thanks again for giving Sherman is due.

IPB said...

Opinions are like noses, everyone has one. While we did have pretty good success during 2000-2005, I claim the first few years were due to the Ron Wolf drafts that had occurred up to that time. We also had one pretty darn good Offensive Line Coach in Larry Beightol. Beightol is responsible for coaxing Mike Wahle to play Guard, as opposed to Tackle where he thought his real place was. Without Wahle at LG, the QB's job just got a lot harder - as we can attest to with Ross Verba, I mean Daryn Colledge in there now (and yes, I know Verba played LT). The thing that got us into those Playoffs also happened to be the great Defense we were still hanging onto. Remember we had Gravedigger until 2003, when SHERMAN summarily pearl harbor'd the guy. YOu have to admit that Gilbert & Grady were quite a tendem team in the middle. Lemme ask - has anyone seen Gilbert Brown at any of these Fan Fests, either? Sherman wouldn't even let Gravedigger come back at the start of 2004, just to say goodbye to the fans. You cannot wash away some of this guy's antics and call it all warm & fuzzy. From my perspective, Sherman was taken along for the ride, moreso than anything else. All he had to do (like Trent Dilfer) was not screw things up. He had Favre calling (and changing) the plays on Offense. He had Ed Donatel keeping the Defense in the top ten until Sherman axed him over something that Donatel didn't even do. Remember, that was Sherman. We did have five years wasted of getting that SuperBowl without Reggie White. Sherman's play-calling did leave a lot to be desired, being very predictable (run it twice and pass, constantly). Only Favre being there stopped the downhill slide for the first few seasons. In 2004, against Carolina, Favre brought us back to almost win, except at the last minute, he took the ball out of Brett's hands and tried to run it, falling straight into John Fox's game prep.

Still, can we also give him credit for 6 INT's in St.Louis, as he was calling the plays, not Tom Rossley. How about the loss of the Lambeau Mystique? What about the fiasco in 2003, when he over-ruled Ed Donatel on the defensive strategy causing the infamous 4th&26..? Not to mention the next time we did get the ball back still with a chance to pull it together, bam, another pass play when simply running it for first down after first down, would have done the trick - Ahman Green was running it down the Eagles' throat, correct? I don't blame Sherman for the fact that Batman tripped over the leg of one of our own guys - it was the right play at the time.

For my take, if the Packers were going to give someone the dual hat(s) to wear, it simply should have been Mike Holmgren, period. And, I've read a few articles about what was going on inside the Locker Room in 1999, so Ray Rhodes wasn't the real cause, in my opinion, for the 8-8 Season. Although his mere stature did lead many of the players to suddenly consider him less of a man. I guess that happens, although Denny Green never had that issue, it seemed. It has been offered that there was an instigator to that certain amount of disrespect afforded to Rhodes, from one certain player. I tend to believe it has merit. The Players weren't exactly scared of Mike Sherman, either. How often did you ever see Sherman & Favre converse along the sidelines during games? One Asst was actually seen running a "memo" to the QB during 2004 (I think it was, maybe it was 2003). But, they did respect quite a few of the Asst Staff. I never got the impression they thought much of Rossley, either, but who knows. He was always up in the booth away from the field, except during practice sessions.

I'm only naming a few of the issues on the coaching side that have left Sherman where he is currently with most fans. I do think everyone would be more accepting of Lindy Infante, though. And, a fellow Packerfan who has actually met and talked for a bit with Lindy, updates us that Lindy has many fond memories of Green Bay. I would say it's only a matter of time before people see his mug again. I agree, the 1989 Cardiac Pack was a hoot to live thru. With some pretty good draft selections and a couple of surprises in the bag amongst those, it did keep getting better. If not for Tim Harris' drinking problem, I think they might have thought more of keeping him, even if he was due a higher payday. We had guys like Ken Ruettgers, Frankie Winters and a few others that made things interesting. And, Tim Harris with his six-shooters was pretty damn crazy. I have the Yearbook from that Season. Infante's GM, Tom Braatz (was it?) did okay as a draft regimen. I thought the DC was fairly good, too, although he was no Fritz Shurmur. Majik Man (Virginia) was a surprise to the whole NFL, let alone Packerfans. The Era is still fondly remembered for being when the Packerfans were finally awakened from their years of slumber. One could almost make the premise that only a GM (with better drafting skills) was what was needed and Infante would have only gotten things more turned around. Infante ended up down here with the Colts for awhile-who also had the wrong GM, with lackluster drafting skills back in them days.

I don't hold any real grudges towards Mike Sherman. Yet, I don't have any driving need to run into the guy, either, just yet. I notice the Media doesn't give much space towards the guy either. They do bring up Holmgren (because of Reggie White and SB31).

In the end, Sherman was a very predictable play-caller, who played more Prevent Football than anything else. Much like what Mike McCarthy just gave us in 2008. 2007 has to go to Favre changing the plays at the Line of Scrimmage more often that Rodgers was ever allowed to do, at all when he took over. And, the win/loss columns showed it. Still, with 7 games lost by a margin of 4 pts or less? That's how little we need to correct things in 2009.

I would offer that Green Bay needs to fess up a lot more over how Gilbert Brown was disrespected on the way out, than they need to worry about whether Mike Sherman is asked to come back for a visit.

PS: You'll notice I tried not to refer to any of his GM mistakes. Although it does directly affect what he had in personnel to work with, winning games. It took about two/three seasons for the Ron Wolf selections to wear out and it finally became Sherman's team. It's the same for any GM.

I hear what you're saying, L.A. I just think you need to temper his real coaching prowess into the opinion a bit more. From this armchair, the winning was due to tenure of the team and some damn fine assistant staff along the sidelines. Can you imagine how horrrendous it might have gotten with us NOT having Brett Favre behind Center? I won't pay the Offensive Coordinator much respect, either. Him, I really don't think much of.

C.D. Angeli said...

Thanks IPB...and I know where you are coming from. I find it kind of funny, looking around the internet for some of the responses to this kind of article, and some catch my drift, and others (perhaps like yourself) still have that laundry list of things he did wrong.

And it is worth considering. In all reality, how many coaches leave their team and city under the best of circumstances? Lambeau, Lombardi, and Holmgren all left with somewhat of a dark cloud over their head and left behind a bitter taste in some fans' mouths. The parting of ways is never easy.

When it comes down to it, he didn't win a Super Bowl, and that is the measuring stick that Holmgren gave us. Honestly, though...I think if he hadn't been given that dual role, you would have seen a different coach, particularly from 2003 on.

crichar3 said...

"When it comes down to it, he didn't win a Super Bowl, and that is the measuring stick that Holmgren gave us. Honestly, though...I think if he hadn't been given that dual role, you would have seen a different coach, particularly from 2003 on."

I think that is pretty much the bottom line and explains a lot of the irritation some fans have about Sherman. While I agree that he was probably out of his depth as GM, I don't believe feelings about the job he did in that arena should taint his success as coach. So I would tend to agree that, had Ron Wolf stayed on, or even if Mark Hatley had lived, Sherman's run as coach may well have been even more successful.

Anonymous said...

©˙Sorry to chime in so late, but I believe that Sherman was made GM in addition to coach so that a new GM would not be hired to replace Wolf and come in and fire Sherman. (Since GMs generally get to hire coaches.) If Wolf had retired and a new GM had come in and gotten rid of Sherman in, say, the spring of 2001, then the Packers would have been on their fourth HC in four years. That kind of instability damages organizations. Maybe they saw making Sherman GM as the lesser evil, I don't know. Pretty clearly he didn't get the job on the merits. I believe too that Favre had a lot of influence over Sherman, both as coach and as GM. But it was private influence, not visible to the public. I suspect this is one of the things Thompson discovered when he took the job, and he decided it had to change. Hence Sherman departed, and Favre became unhappy and given to public recommendations on personnel moves. It is not at all clear that McCarthy is a superior coach to Sherman. If Sherman had good o-lines, that's due in part to his wisdom in retaining Larry Beightol, who came in with Rhodes. I would favor bringing Beightol back but I don't see it happening. --ilscrittore@hotmail.com