Can Sherman win in Aggieland

Successful NFL coaches have tried to replicate that success in the college ranks, but it hasn't always worked. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop takes a look at the successes and failures of previous NFL coaches' attempts and takes a look at what might help Sherman join the likes of Pete Carrol rather than Bill Callahan.

From 1985-2002, Texas A&M football did not register one losing season. Thus, a generation of Aggie fans did not know what it meant to lose. As a student from 1983-1989 standing on the east side of Kyle Field, I witnessed the historic 42-10 victory of Texas that sent A&M to the Cotton Bowl (it was a big deal back then!). I attended three straight Cotton Bowls and watched the likes of Kevin Murray, Rod Bernstine, Domingo Bryant, and Roger Vick collect three straight SWC championships.

As a young former student now on the west side of Kyle Field, winning had become second nature as the Aggies won another three straight SWC crowns from 1991-1993 and navigated a 10-0-1 season in 1994. During a stretch in the 1990's, Texas A&M did not lose at Kyle Field for almost five years. The Aggies had definitely established themselves as the dominant program in the state of Texas and the region.

But as the 1990's closed out and after an improbable Big 12 Championship upset of Kansas State, the program began a slow decline toward mediocrity and after a 6-6 record in 2002, R.C. Slocum was relieved of his head coaching duties and Dennis Franchione was tabbed to be the architect of the program's revival. Well, that didn't quite happen, as the program actually suffered further and enduring the school's first losing seasons since the early 1980's.

So that leaves us at the present, and Texas A&M is just two days away from officially opening the Mike Sherman era when his team takes the field against Arkansas State Saturday night at 6:00 pm.

Obviously, the question on everybody's mind is whether he can resurrect a program that has clearly fallen behind regional foes Oklahoma, LSU, and Texas over the past decade. Each has won a national championship over the past 10 years, and when your primary recruiting rivals can walk into a living room and show off championship hardware, it serves as a significant challenge for Sherman and his band of Aggies trying to recapture that glory on the field.

So can a former NFL head coach win at the college level? That has been the big question in recent years as major college programs look to the professional ranks to find that lightening in a bottle to jumpstart a school's football fortunes. Well, history shows that success at the professional level doesn't guarantee success in college. While the NFL concentrates on X's and O's, in college you have the added dimension of recruiting and attracting players to your program and then the element of motivating, developing, and mentoring young boys of 18 into men in four years.

The success model is obviously Pete Carroll, who resurrected the USC Trojan program. After dominance on the west coast throughout the 1970's and 1980's, the Trojans slowly sunk into mediocrity and turned to the former New York Jets head coach. Carroll quickly and easily made the transition, going into the homes of recruits and selling his vision and plan for success. And who is going to argue with his blueprint. USC has been arguably the most dominant college football program this decade, registering a 76-14 record and multiple national championship trophies on the mantle.

However, other high profile NFL coaches have not fared as well. Bill Callahan led Oakland to a Super Bowl in 2002, and two years later he was asked to resurrect the downtrodden Nebraska football program. Four years later and a 15-17 Big 12 record, the experiment failed when Callahan was fired after last season.

Charlie Weis left New England to take over the struggling Notre Dame program, and after initial success with Bob Davie's players, the whispers from South Bend are getting louder. A 22-15 record and a home loss to Navy is not what the Fighting Irish fan base envisioned when Weis took the reins of the program. Likewise, veteran NFL coach Dave Wannestedt took over at Pittsburgh three seasons ago, and a 16-19 record has fans already looking for the next savior candidate.

So there's been one big success and several failures when colleges tap the NFL for a head coach. Where will Mike Sherman fall on this list in 3-4 years? Will he be a Pete Carroll, or a Dave Wannestedt? That's the million dollar question. But let's look at the failures to see why those situations didn't work out for the Huskers, Irish, and Panthers when it worked out just fine for USC.

First and foremost, you have to look at recruiting and the talent base. USC is squarely in the middle of prime recruiting territory in California, a talent-rich state only rivaled by Texas and Florida. Pete Carroll has all the talent he needs within a three-hour radius of Los Angeles. That's a luxury that Callahan at Nebraska did not have. He was forced to recruit in Texas, California, and Florida and sell prospects on coming to frigid Lincoln, Nebraska to build a pro-style offense in a program that was known for its option and ground game. At Notre Dame, Weis may have the national exposure and the talent base to recruit, but the academic standards and the rigidity of the Notre Dame administration makes it difficult to recruit and bring in marginal academic players. Wannestedt at Pittsburgh must overcome the urban setting and the perception of Pittsburgh as the step-child to Penn State that plays in a weaker conference. That has been a limiting factor.

So then you look at Mike Sherman and Texas A&M, long known as the sleeping giant of college football because the university is squarely in the middle of the most fertile recruiting area in the country. Over 250 D-1 recruits live within a three-hour drive of College Station. The Aggies are situated in a classic college town just a couple of hours from three metropolitan areas, perfect for any prospect who wants to get away from home but remain close enough so his parents can watch his home games. A&M is in a major BCS conference with the financial resources of any major college football program. All of the ingredients are in place to be successful. Sherman does not have the limitations that Callahan, Wannestedt, and Weis dealt with at Pitt, Nebraska, and Notre Dame.

But, the challenges for Sherman are there. He must find a way to compete and recruit against the big three – Texas, OU, LSU. He must change the mindset of the players that have become complacent with losing. He must set the bar higher in terms of expectations and performance not only during the season, but during offseason workouts.

Finally, he must bring excitement back to the Texas A&M football program from the players to the athletic administration to the students and the former students.

The journey begins Saturday. It will be an interesting ride.

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