Exclusive Q&A with Mike Sherman

Mike Sherman is entering his second season as head coach of the Green Bay Packers. He also began as the team's general manager June 1 when Ron Wolf retired. Sherman will be entering his fourth season overall with the Packers and 22nd season overall as a coach. He took a timeout with Packer Report managing editor Todd Korth a day after the team concluded its June minicamp to talk about his new role, the team and training camp:


Do you feel anymore pressure on you this year than last year because of the added general manager duties?

"When you're head coach of the Packers that is about as much pressure as one person can have anyway. The fact that I'm doing both things now, I don't feel anymore pressure. Obviously, there's more responsibility, more things to do, but from a pressure standpoint I don't feel a whole lot different from last year."

Do you ever wonder if it's too much too soon?

"I really haven't thought about that. There's no time to question that. I really and truly, if Ron (Wolf) was able to stay, to continue in this role because I have the utmost respect for his ability. But when he said he wasn't staying, I went to Plan B and I feel this is the best thing for the Packers at this present time."

How will you go about making the cold, hard decisions on a player's fate that the GM has to make despite a rapport that you might build with a player?

"I don't have a problem dealing with those hard issues. I just feel that I'll always be honest with the players. If you're dealing with honesty and truthfulness, I think those decisions, even though they're hard, they're easier to swallow because you've been honest and upfront with people. Those decisions are a lot more difficult communicating to the individual when you haven't been totally honest with them.

"The players understand that this is a business. Because we're together so much, it becomes more than you're normal business. You develop relationships with players, but along the same lines, I have a job to do, and I have to do it a certain way. And they have a job to do. That's the bottom line."

Do players look or speak to you differently now than when you were just the coach?

"I don't think so. I think players are always a little apprehensive to a certain degree when they look at the head coach. Whether you're the general manager or not, you're still a part of management. You're still a part of making decisions for the football team, so whether you're the general manager or the head coach, you're in a decision-making decision and you affect their careers whether you're both general manager and head coach, or just the head coach. I don't think they look at it a whole lot differently."

How do you respond to critics of Mark Hatley who point to the Bears' record the last four years and say Hatley's drafts are a large reason for it?

"The draft he had last year, which took the field this past season, he had some excellent, excellent young players on that team that he drafted that I felt were extraordinary football players. I think if you really look at what he's done over history, you would be very, very impressed. I think there's a couple picks there as with every general manager or someone in that position, you always wish you could ... hindsight is a very easy way to look at things. All I know is when he was with Marty Schottenheimer, whom I have the utmost respect for, and he was doing that job as he's doing right now, he did a fantastic job with the Kansas City Chiefs. It was to the point that Marty Schottenheimer, who is one of the elder statesmen of coaches in the profession right now, really wanted (Hatley) to come and join him with the Redskins. I also don't think the final chapter has been written on the talent that he acquired with the Chicago Bears."

How did you go about earning the respect of players and coaches last year?

"First and foremost, I think they knew I had a plan and I was willing to work hard with that plan. I was fairly consistent in dealing with the players. I think the true test of a coach is when you hit tough times, like we did early in the season when we were 0-2, and toward the end of the season when we were 5-7, that you don't turn around point fingers. I think players see that and respond to that. I didn't all of a sudden change the plan because we had some bumps in the road. I believed in what we were doing. We fixed things as we went, and didn't just let them fix themselves.

"There was a plan that I had, and we stayed with the plan. Part of that was when things went bad, to fix them and not to panic. I think that players saw that we didn't panic when we hit the tough roads and we didn't blame them. We worked together as a team."

When do you feel you earned that respect?

"I don't know. I think that's something you try to earn every single day when you come to work. You're evaluated on that on how you handle situations that you're presented with. If I don't handle them well this year, I could lose respect. Hopefully, I'll handle them right and gain respect. How you react to adversity probably affects how people respect you more than anything."

Do you have a good feel right now on the chemistry of this team, or is that developed more in training camp?

"I think we have a step up from where we were last year. We have good guys on this team. When we bring in new players, it's their job to jump in the boat with the players that are already here, and try to add to our team and our chemistry. I feel like we're headed where we were last year.

"But I also, as I tell the coaches, realize that every year it's a challenge to start over again and return the chemistry and develop that again to the point that the players trust the coaches, the coaches trust the players, and there's loyalty and respect in that locker room. That's my ultimate goal.

"I think if you deal with the person, the football part of it works itself out. When you deal with people and motivate them, in the football games you know you're going out there and taking you're best shot every week. Sometimes you're best shot is good enough, and sometimes it's not. As long as I know we're taking our best shot every week, I can sleep at night."

When last year did the team's chemistry jell?

"It was pretty serious around here. We didn't really crack a smile until about the third minicamp when we went bowling. In the preseason, I have a number of different things that we do before meetings to try to bring out the humor in life with our players, whether it's playing different types of games, or putting things up on the video (screen), trying to get them to laugh. I think players have to be able to laugh at each other and themselves. There's a certain amount of chemistry that evolves from a group of guys sitting in a room and laughing at themselves. I think maintaining a sense of humor part of chemistry.

"It's a seven-month season. If everything is a total, total grind, you lose their attention and their love for the game. You have to make it so they like being here because it's very easy with the grind and the stress to get tired of it. That's when you lose chemistry and guys start nipping at each other and start causing problems."

Is that something that you've learned throughout your years of coaching, or is that something that you wanted to try on your own?

"Being an observer for all these years, players want to play the game, but they like to play and they like to laugh. I think if you get them to laugh, they play better. I think it's an important component for building chemistry when people can laugh at themselves.

"I remember Reggie White and Brett Favre, on buses and in the locker rooms, just giving each other a hard time and everybody laughing. This was during the Super Bowl years. Guys were just getting on each other and enjoying each other's company. I think those are the moments, like when players retire, that is what they miss the most. Moreso even than the game sometimes. It's the camaraderie that exists in football because you're together so much. I guess I recognized those things throughout my career, but also during the Super Bowl years of watching Reggie, Brett and people laughing at each other and enjoying each other's company. That allows people to be comfortable. I think comfort breeds confidence and confidence breeds success. There has to be a comfort level amongst your teammates to really go out and play your best."

What position or positions are you most concerned with at this time?

"We had a high regard for Matt Hasselbeck. In order to get a top 10 pick like Jamal Reynolds, we realized that we had to give something up to get something and we gave up a backup quarterback. We have two new quarterbacks who weren't with us last year. There's some concern there because of the newness of the people at that position.

"Obviously in the defensive line with the injuries that we sustained there I have some concern with getting those guys back on the field. A player like Santana Dotson, who was having a spectacular year last year before he got hurt, he can make a difference. Steve Warren, I have some concern when we're going to get him back into the mix.

"Then some injuries that have developed – a pulled hamstring by Tyrone Davis, the groin (injury) to Tyrone Williams, Robert Ferguson's back, David Martin's hamstring ... those little things that add up. We think they will be healed by the time we start the season. If one of them lingers, or we don't get it fixed just right, it can cause your plans to change."

What do you hope to accomplish in training camp this year?

"First and foremost, I want us to become a confident football team. We haven't taken the field with a swagger that we used to take. We started to a little bit in the last four games, but we were fighting and scratching and clawing through those games. I would like us to be a confident football team. I think at some point during the preseason, we have to develop that confidence in ourselves. We are the Green Bay Packers and we have worked hard. Someone has to win these games, so why not us? Instead of letting things fall to us, let's reach out and grab it.

"I also don't want us to beat ourselves. We lost seven games last year and we gave away a number of those games. Hopefully we don't shoot ourselves in the foot like we did last year at times."

Upcoming season
What has to happen this year in order to improve on the 9-7 record of last year?

"Part of what happened last year is we were playing with so much youth. We had four rookie starters and those guys have a year of maturity. We also have brought back injured players like Rondell Mealey, Anthony Lucas, Dorsey Levens, Earl Dotson, Corey Bradford. They've been injected into our team, so hopefully that will help us become a better team. It also will cause us to have more competition across the board. I think that makes for a better camp and raises the bar, so to speak on what our expectation level can be."

Do you plan on calling the plays, or share those duties with Tom Rossley?

"Last year I intended to call the plays, but when we started the first preseason game, I let Tom call the plays and he did an outstanding job. I let him do it the last (preseason game) against Cleveland. I think we work very well together. I realized at that point that we share the same philosophies and I can help him during the games offensively. As we got going into the season and Brett's arm started to get better, and we got players back, we were a lot more aggressive that we had been earlier in the season. We weren't as aggressive as we would like to have been, but we were playing with such youth and inexperience and different people in there because of injuries, we were very conservative, so to speak.

"I think the fact that we took two drives in overtime (against Minnesota and Tampa Bay) right down the field very aggressively, it was a good statement for us. I think we had 18 drives last year of 80 yards or more, which resulted in 17 touchdowns and one field goal. We had some pretty good drives last season."

Is the coaching staff a lot more comfortable with each other now than last year at this time?

"We're definitely better prepared as a staff. We really only lost one coach and two quality control guys. A fair amount of continuity exists from last year to this year. Again, the more you're together the more of a comfort level you can expect. I thought they did a marvelous job last year, but I think they'll do an even better job this year, as well as myself."

Do you feel your schedule is tougher this year?

"Last year we played the AFC East with Miami, Buffalo and the Jets. I thought it was fairly competitive schedule and we didn't fare very well against those teams. This year, playing the two Super Bowl (teams) and the winner, obviously, and just our division, which from a winning percentage standpoint, it was the winningest division in football, it's always going to be competitive. Our division is tough. You look at the Bears ... every team had a winning record except the Bears, but the Bears beat us, they beat Detroit and they beat Tampa."

Is Tampa Bay the team to beat in the Central?

"That's what everybody says. The only team I worry about is the Green Bay Packers. As long as the Green Bay Packers don't beat themselves, I think they will be a contender."

If all is well, how far can this team go?

"I don't like to get into those type of predictions. Last year I pretty much said that we would get better every week and I thought that we did. I think we're a better football team today than we were a year ago. We've raised the bar higher. Our expectation level is higher. I believe our desire to be in the playoffs is at an extreme high right now, so if the ball bounces right and things happen, I think that we can have a very fine football team."

Packer Report Top Stories