Former players from Pittsburgh, Texas A&M and Mississippi State - three of the four colleges he was head coach at - spoke, reminiscing about what Coach Sherrill meant to them.
Current and future NFL Hall of Famers, Tony Dorsett (Pitt) and Dan Marino (Pitt) were in attendance, as were other NFL players, current and former, like Randy Thomas (MSU), Hugh Green (Pitt), Mark May (Pitt), JJ Johnson (MSU), Robert Hicks (MSU), Shawn Byrdsong (MSU) and Greg Favors (MSU), among others.
There were numerous coaches in attendance, including current and former coaches. Coaches like former Pitt and Tennessee head coach Johnny Majors, former Texas A&M head coach R.C. Slocum, former MSU assistant coaches Melvin Smith, Glenn Davis, John Hendrick, Curley Hallman and John Blake, as well as many of his former players who are now head coaches or assistant coaches on the college and high school levels.
The two Mississippi State University presidents that Coach Sherrill worked under, Dr. Donald Zacharias and Dr. Charles Lee, were in attendance as was the MSU athletic director that he worked for during his entire MSU career.
While they mingled together catching up on the past, I visited with a few of them to find out what Coach Sherrill meant to them individually.
MSU President Dr. Charles Lee
"I first met Coach Sherrill when I got to Texas A&M and watched him move Texas A&M to the national level in terms of football. He revived some fortunes that had been dormant for many decades. He found ways to engage the traditions at A&M to get the students and alumni very much involved. He came (to Mississippi State) and did the same thing. He did the same thing for us that he did for Texas A&M, which was move us to the national scene in terms of television, in terms of broader set of expectations for our football program.
"I think he will be remembered in the history books by the wins he had and his staying power over his career.
"I wish for him, Peggy and their family the very best in retirement."
MSU Athletic Director Larry Templeton
"The one thing that Jackie convinced the Mississippi State family of is we can win and win on a consistent basis. We didn't have to take a back seat to anybody in the Southeastern Conference; that we could be one of the players at the next level. When you look around and see what we have been able to accomplish facility-wise, he also goes out as the winningest coach in the history of Mississippi State, carried us to as many bowl games as we have ever been to prior to him coming here, carried us to the SEC Championship Game in 1998. But, probably, moreso than that is the pride in which the Mississippi State family has in the Maroon and White."
Do you think the Mississippi State coaching job became a job a lot of coaches wanted because he proved you can win here?
"Oh yeah, this search was entirely different from the last search. This was a job a lot of people were seeking. And there was a great deal of interest in it. It was certainly a much easier sell than it was when we went and hired him 14 years ago."
Former MSU football player Kevin Sluder
"Coach Sherrill gave me a chance when other schools passed up on me. I wasn't really recruited that highly coming out of Florida. The Florida schools didn't really look at me. The Alabama's and Auburn's said I was too small. And Coach Sherrill gave me the opportunity to play in the SEC, which was my dream. I took advantage of it. We had a good group of guys and had a lot of success."
Was there something special about him that you will always remember?
"He was just a different guy. He loved his players, loved his coaches and all the people around him; it didn't matter if you were a walk-on, a 5th stringer."
Former MSU football player and South Panola HS assistant coach Michael Fair
"Without Coach Sherrill, I would have never had a chance to play college football. I was not being recruited very highly. Coach (Melvin) Smith, who was here at the time, and Coach (Ricky) Black, who was also here at the time, and Coach Sherrill; they all took a chance on me and I made the most of it."
Is there a special memory that you remember about Coach Sherrill?
"When I first got here, he said, 'Fair, I don't know why you are here; you are too slow to play defense and too small to play offense, so I don't know what we are going to do; just make the most of it.' And I did."
As an assistant high school coach, what did he teach you that you use?
"A lot of stuff, a lot of little things. His hard work and determination and motivation. He always got us ready to play."
Former MSU football player and NFL player Robert Hicks
"Coach Sherrill meant a lot to me. The thing I love the most about Coach Sherrill is his attitude. From the first day I met him when he came into my living room and talked to my mother and father about selling them on me going to Mississippi State, I liked his attitude. I also appreciate the fact that he was right by my side when I got in trouble here at Mississippi State. He talked to me and led me to the right path. Everything I have today is because of Coach Sherrill."
What did he do to help you become an NFL player?
"Just practicing hard. We practiced hard all the time. Building a work ethic was the best thing for me. A lot of coaches don't build a good work ethic."
Is there any one thing that you remember about him while you were here?
"I loved his pre-game speeches. He always had a gimmick. It might be keys or anything. He always had a little gimmick to get you riled up for the game."
Former MSU football player and Benedict College assistant coach Kendall Roberson
"Coach Sherrill was a guy who was a father figure in your life. If you had any problems you could always go to him and he would try to correct it. He always told us if you told him the truth, he would get you out of any situation as long as we told him the truth. Coach Sherrill is why I am successful in life."
Was there on special moment that you remember about Coach Sherrill during your career at Mississippi State?
"When I was trying to get my 6th year to come back (to MSU) and I had given up hope that I was going to get it, he told me to be confident, pray about it and I would get it because he was going to make sure I got it."
Former Pittsburgh football player, former MSU assistant coach and current head football coach at Benedict College John Hendrick
"I spent 15 years of my life either working or playing for him. Coach was a mentor to me, he was a friend. I was just telling someone today, all those nights that he and I were on home visits late at night coming from those small towns, he would give me advice for when I became a head coach. Just being around him and the way he trained me really helped me as a head coach this year."
What are some things you learned from him that you use as a head coach?
"Treat people the right way. Hire good people, surround yourself with good assistants and let them do their jobs and you just manage it. And that is what I am doing."
Is there one moment that really stands out in your mind about Coach Sherrill.
"The one that stands out more than any other was in 1986, when I was at a crossroads in my career. He called me up and said. 'I don't have a full-time position here at Texas A&M, but you are a good, young coach and you need to stay in this business. I want you to come out here, spend a week and I would like you to be on my staff.' And he kept me in the business."
Former MSU football player Raymond Gee
"Coach Sherrill is a great guy. When I was here, he didn't have anything but positive things to say. One thing I always remember is he stressed the four D's. That was discipline, desire, determination and dedication. He said if you always have those things, you will go a long way."
Former MSU football player and current NFL player Randy Thomas
"Before I even got (to Mississippi State), he really stuck with me by keeping up with me even when I was in junior college. He was honest with me. It was a great opportunity to play for him."
What one thing did he teach you that you will never forget?
"Take care of your mom. My mom loves him like he is a member of the family. He knows my mom personally and he always wants to know about her."
Former MSU football player and former NFL player JJ Johnson
"Coach Sherrill took a one on one relationship with me because he understands that some players need special attention. In my case, sometimes I needed to go talk to Coach Sherrill about personal things. He would sit there and listen to you. He was the kind the guy who wouldn't say this or say that. He would just sit down and listen to you. Sometimes it means a lot to just have someone who would just listen."
Former Pitt football player and NFL Hall of Famer Tony Dorsett (Tony was one of those who were asked to speak to the crowd. Here are a few things he said.-Gene)
"I thank you for the lives you touched, myself included. When I was at the University of Pittsburgh and thinking about dropping out, you and my mom had a conversation with me that kept me at the university.
"He taught me mental toughness and how to be tough in this game. When I came to the University of Pittsburgh, I was 150 pounds. I was getting my little butt waxed out on the football field. I would come to the sidelines ranting and raving saying that I am not going back out there. Coach Sherrill would come up to me with those deep set eyes and say, 'Hawk, we need you.' Coach, I just want to thank you for helping me understand what mental toughness is all about. That is one of the reasons that I had the college career that I had and am in the pro football Hall of Fame."
Gene Swindoll is the owner of Gene's Page, the unofficial source for Mississippi State sports on the internet. The URL for Gene's Page is http://mississippistate.theinsiders.com. You can contact him by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.