Big 12 teams turn to their roots for new football coaches

Tuesday, November 27, 2007 | 1:24 a.m. CST; updated 10:28 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

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.

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. He’ll remain with the Texans (5-6) for the remainder of the season.

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.

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.”

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 coach 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.”

NU SEARCHING FOR COACH: The number of black coaches leading major-college football programs wouldn’t increase if Buffalo’s Turner Gill returns to Nebraska.

Still, Gill’s hiring would be a sign of progress, the head of the Black Coaches and Administrators says.

That’s because Nebraska is a Bowl Championship Series school in the Big 12.

“It’s a key job because it’s visible,” BCA executive director Floyd Keith said Monday.

Including Gill, there are only six black coaches at 119 major-college football schools: Mississippi State’s Sylvester Croom, UCLA’s Karl Dorrell, Washington’s Tyrone Willingham, Kansas State’s Ron Prince and Miami’s Randy Shannon.

Four years ago, Keith criticized Nebraska for its 40-day search that resulted in the hiring of Bill Callahan, saying former athletic director Steve Pederson didn’t seriously consider minority candidates.

Recently, Nebraska’s interim athletic director and former coach Tom Osborne was given permission to interview Gill. It wasn’t immediately known whether they met Monday. Gill has not returned phone messages from The Associated Press, and he was scheduled to be on a recruiting trip until Wednesday.

Osborne already has interviewed LSU defensive coordinator Bo Pelini, according to media reports. Pederson interviewed Gill and Pelini before Callahan’s hiring in 2004.

Gill would be a perfect fit for the Cornhuskers, Keith said, because he played at Nebraska and served as a longtime assistant with the Cornhuskers. Now he’s had two years of head coaching experience at Buffalo.

While Gill was the quarterback at Nebraska from 1981-83, the Cornhuskers never lost a Big Eight Conference game. He was a finalist for the ’83 Heisman Trophy.

In December 2005, Gill agreed to a five-year contract to coach Buffalo, which won just 10 games in its first seven years in the Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly known as Division I-A. After the Bulls went 2-10 in 2006, Gill led them to a 5-3 finish in the Mid-America Conference, and a first-place tie in the East Division, this season. Buffalo was 5-7 overall.

Gill was lauded as one of the nation’s top recruiters when he was an assistant coach at Nebraska from 1992-2004, during which the Cornhuskers won three national titles. In 2005, he was the player development director and an offensive assistant with the Green Bay Packers.

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