Websider Exclusive with Jackie Sherrill

Aggies still love him and his players love him even more. Jackie Sherrill visits with Aggie Websider's Dallas Shipp in a one-on-one interview about his relationship with Coach Fran, his induction into the A&M Sports Hall of Fame, what he thinks about the 2007 Aggie squad and what he misses most about coaching at Texas A&M.

He left Aggieland nearly two decades ago, but former Texas A&M head coach Jackie Sherrill can still bring Aggies to their feet. He understands Texas A&M as well as any Former Student, and better than just about any non-Aggie on earth. He didn't just learn the A&M traditions, he lived them.

At the Dallas A&M Club's coaches' night on Monday, he told stories of driving by the stack at night and working on the Aggie Bonfire with students, and the jokes they played on him. He talked about being invited into "the shack" and learning what, "Do you want to wire?" and "Do you want to go home?" really meant. Then he told Chris Harrington that as tough as the senior defensive lineman is, he's not near as tough as a Texas Aggie Redpot.

When he refers to Texas A&M, he doesn't say "A&M" or "the Aggies," he simply says "we."

That's why Aggies still love Sherrill to this day, well, that, and the fact that he's still the only A&M coach to ever win two Cotton Bowls.

That's also why current A&M head coach Dennis Franchione was so smart to bring him back into the program, something R.C. Slocum failed to do.

"I appreciate (Franchione doing that), but I kind of forced myself on him and he didn't have a choice," Sherrill said jokingly during an exclusive one-on-one interview with Aggie Websider between sessions of Big 12 Media Days in San Antonio. "Once he realized that my blood was a pretty deep maroon, he didn't ask any questions."

Over the past three years, Sherrill and Franchione have developed a relationship with one another, mainly because Sherrill has been where Franchione is. He struggled through some tough times and used a win over Texas in 1985 to propel the A&M program into a ten-year period of domination, which Aggies everywhere hope happens again after last year's 12-7 victory in Austin.

"We have developed a good understanding and relationship," Sherrill said. "I think that he appreciates what I say to him because he knows what I say is truthful. I think I get him to laugh when other people can't get him to laugh. I think I say things on purpose to shock him a little bit. I think Fran is a good person."

These days, Sherrill is staying busy while working on two books that will be released in 2008. One about the 12th Man kickoff team that he turned into one of the best kickoff coverage units in the nation, and the other about his life as a coach—on and off the field.

And although he's no longer in an official coaching role, he has worked with several individuals, schools and professional squads to teach the art of special teams.

"I don't know if it's a lost art, but it seems like everybody in the country has lost the ability or has no one to coach punters kickers snappers and holders," Sherrill said. "I've been to 13 schools and a couple of pro teams, and they can coach schemes but they can't coach a punter, kicker, snapper or holder like they can coach a lineman. They don't teach technique or fundamentals anymore."

In addition to working on books and coaching special teams units across the country, Sherrill will host a studio show for Fox Sports Net this fall and provide commentary between games on FSN, which means he is still very much in touch with the college football landscape.

Sherrill, like many sportswriters whose last name isn't Bohls, believes that 2007 could be a special year for the Aggies—mainly because of their maturity on offense.

"When you analyze this team, you only have two guys—(Mike) Goodson and Martellus (Bennett) that haven't been there for four or five years," Sherrill said. "When you average that out, you're going to come to a 4.2 maybe a 4.5 (average years of experience). There's very few teams in the league who can say we have a team that has been in school for four or five years. What that means is that you've been around that coaching staff for those four and a half years, so you have pretty good lines of communication.

"Offensively, A&M has (a lot of talent) at offensive line, running backs, tight ends and quarterbacks," he said. "Our receivers are good receivers but they're not speed receivers. There's a difference between running a 4.5 and a 4.3 or 4.2. When you put all of those together, there's no one in the conference that would be better as a whole."

Sherrill believes that the A&M defense is a couple of years away from having the depth of the offense, but he's been extremely impressed with the job that Gary Darnell and his staff have done with the defense in such a short amount of time. He also hopes this year's defense builds on last year's success.

"Defensively, we're not in the same position as we are offensively for every position and the depth at every position," he said. "There's no question that (Defensive Coordinator Gary) Darnell, (Assistant Coach/Safeties Coach Bill) Clay and the other defensive coaches have done a great job of improving the defense. Now the question is how far can they close the gap from where they were last year to match the offense? Can the defense win the game in the last two minutes or the last five seconds?

"You'd have to say the offense is mature enough to take a drive downfield and win the game. Is the defense mature enough, do they have enough depth to keep Oklahoma, Texas, Nebraska or Miami from taking the ball and moving down the field and scoring (in the last minutes of a game)?"

Even though he must provide objective analysis as a host on the FSN studio set, Sherrill has been an Aggie through and through since arriving at A&M in 1982, and he'll continue to be, even joking with Franchione that he would make sure he "says the right things" on his show this fall.

The former A&M coach will return to Aggieland in September as a 2007 inductee into the Texas A&M Sports Hall of Fame, which is an honor that Sherrill set as a goal when he came to A&M.

"In my life I've always said that there are certain goals that I want, and that was one of the goals years ago that I wanted to achieve," Sherrill said. "It means more than just going in, because I get to receive the award with one of my former players that I recruited (fellow 2007 inductee Richmond Webb), and that's special."

There's no doubt, Sherrill will once again bring the fans to their feet at the induction ceremony, and again the following day when he's introduced to the crowd at the place where the love affair all started more than 25 years ago—on the grass of Kyle Field.


QUOTABLES:
Is A&M capable of reaching the national championship level and how many years off does he think it could be?

You have everything at A&M that it takes. Franchione has built this offense and it's taken him four years (to bring in the talent he needed), this is the fifth year, so the depth and everything is there. Next year, (the question is) how much will the offense go down unless he plays a lot of young players. Defensively they're not there yet. It's going to take at least another two years in recruiting to get the players. The biggest factor on defense is speed. But like I said, the coaches, Darnell and Clay and those guys have done a great job. Anytime you can take a team from almost last and improve them. The most important stat defensively is third down conversions and when you're leading the Big 12 in 3rd down conversions, that's impressive.

What are the similarities and differences between Bucky Richardson and Stephen McGee?
I think Stephen McGee is a very tough kid, but I think Bucky when I say tough, Stephen is going to throw his body, but I don't know if Stephen would go out and get into a street fight. I'm not saying that's what Bucky did, but I don't think Bucky would avoid one if he was pushed hard enough. I think Stephen would do everything he could ot walk away and move on. Both of them because of their toughness that they've shown on the field, they have their offensive teammates playing harder for them. I like Stephen McGee but I had the opportunity to recruit and coach Bucky. Bucky's first play in college football, he goes 84 yards for a touchdown against Brett Favre as a little freshman who hadn't played a snap.

What would have happened if Kevin Murray had returned for his SR season?
We would have probably won it again and we would have had a shot at (the national title) I think he would have given us a big enough boost to beat a couple of teams that we didn't beat to put is in that position.

What do you miss most about coaching at Texas A&M
I miss the players. Coaching really is about players. Coaches get an awful lot of credit but a coach doesn't catch a pass or score a touchdown or makes the tackle or a block. Coach's responsibility is to put the players in position and then get out of the way and let them play. What's amazing to me, is having an opportunity to see how successful a lot of these guys have become in their everyday life, as a family man, as a business man, it's impressive.

Did you really send the trainers out to see if lightening would strike them before sending the players out to practice?
No, we had Billy Pickard, who was our trainer and equipment manager. I think over the years he had a little more knowledge than other people and I'd send him out there to check. Coach Bryant used to have a guy in the airplane that would fly over and tilt his wings one way or the other to let him know if it was okay or not okay to go to practice.


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