Sherman on thin ice

One of the big questions this off-season surrounding 1265 Lombardi Ave. is the future of Mike Sherman. The head coach is entering the final season of his current contract, but despite the success he has had in the last five years, he is sitting firmly on the hot seat.

Sherman is without question an excellent X's and O's football coach. He can rattle off defensive sets and how to attack them in the blink of an eye. He knows the playbook inside out. In fact, he proved to be very good at calling offensive plays from the sideline over the latter part of last season in place of offensive coordinator Tom Rossley.

However, if there is one area of Sherman's coaching that needs work, it's how he communicates with his assistants and players on the team. If new general manager Ted Thompson is going to retain Sherman beyond 2005, the coach will have to prove that he can build a successful chemistry and open line of communication within the team, a key cog in regular- and post-season victories.

That more than anything might determine Thompson's decision on Sherman. Thompson should realize in training camp or early in the season if he can co-exist with Sherman as the head coach of the Packers beyond the 2005 season.

Unlike Javon Walker, Sherman, to his credit, isn't dwelling on getting a new contract. Through this off-season and the recent post-draft mini-camp, the coach has been very professional in his new-old role with the team, and somewhat carefree. Of course he can stick his chest out over a 55-30 regular season record, and three straight NFC North Division titles. Since 1970, only Chuck Knox, George Seifert, Joe Gibbs and Mike Ditka have posted a better record over their first five seasons as an NFL coach. The Packers, under Sherman, have advanced to the playoffs four straight seasons.

But Sherman, who is getting paid $3.2 million this season, doesn't seem too worried about his future.

"I put (the contract issue) aside in a drawer and let other people take care of that," Sherman said during the post-draft mini-camp. "I'm not concerned about it. It is what it is. They can take care of that if they want to take care of it and we go from there.

"I've seen coaches and I've seen players consumed by those issues and they become less of what they are, because they are consumed by them. I'm not going to let that happen to me. I have too much on my plate in getting this team ready to go and win a Super Bowl. I am certainly not going to be concerned about that part of my job. That will take care of itself."

One thing that Thompson will have to conclude in his assessment of Sherman is if he has the attention of the team. At times in Sherman's Green Bay tenure, there has been a feeling and indications that not everyone on the team has bought into Sherman's program. Cornerback Mike McKenzie and his wish to be traded out of Green Bay is the clearest example. Cletidus Hunt has pretty much checked out since signing a multi-year contract a few years ago. Some would say that Joe Johnson never checked in when he was in Green Bay.

Some of Sherman's ex-assistants, like Jeff Jagodzinski and Johnny Roland, have grumbled this off-season that their opinions weren't valued by Sherman. Ray Sherman could have returned as receivers coach, but opted to sign with the Tennessee Titans in the same role.

Those are some obvious, well-documented examples. And there could be more discontent within the team that has never been made public.

And for any discontent among players, which is inevitable when you're dealing with big egos, there have been times when the team has responded well to Sherman's motivation. On the heels of a four-game losing streak last year, Sherman's speech to the team on the night before their 38-10 romp over the Detroit Lions in Detroit surely ignited the Packers. Sherman also had the team well prepared on Christmas Eve when it edged the Minnesota Vikings in the Metrodome to clinch the division title.

For all of his success during the regular season, Sherman has never led the Packers past the divisional round of the playoffs. The Packers flopped at home against the Vikings in the first round of the playoffs last January.

Some agitated Packers fans felt Sherman should have been fired after the team's loss to the Vikings. Many more demanded that he be released from his duties as general manager, which Packers president Bob Harlan did within a week of Randy Moss's fake "moon" to fans in the south end zone.

If Sherman is going to hang around Green Bay, he'll have to get a more consistent, total commitment from the entire team, its coaches and other personnel. The Javon Walker holdout will only serve as a distraction for Sherman. Hopefully, Walker will come to his senses and report to training camp in time. Why have the New England Patriots won Super Bowls in three of the last four years? Chemistry between the Patriots' players and coaching has meant everything.

An NFL off-season isn't all about playing golf and attending banquets anymore. The time that a team and its coaches spend together in its 14-week off-season workout program, mini-camps and training camp is more than to work on X's and O's of the playbook. It's a chemistry-building period. If a team has the right mix of players and coaches, it can usually overcome the adversity it will face during an NFL season. If not, the losses and dissension will take over.

Sherman has seven new assistant coaches and others in different roles. He seemed a little more animated than usual in the post-draft mini-camp. Maybe defensive coordinator Jim Bates' high-octane coaching style is rubbing off a little on Sherman and his staff. That's a good thing.

It could be argued that the Packers lost to the Vikings in the playoffs because they simply got out-coached. Sherman didn't have his team ready to play, and it responded by getting flattened by its arch-rival to the west.

Sherman has to get a better grip on the Packers, and it starts now. Thompson will verify at some point during the season if the coach has done enough to continue on in Green Bay.

Note: Todd Korth is managing editor of Packer Report and packerreport.com. E-mail him at packrepted@aol.com.


Packer Report Top Stories