Coach's job still on the line

Packers must do better at home this year under Sherman

A year ago at this time, Mike Sherman was still the man in Green Bay. Sherman's title was Executive Vice President, General Manager & Head Coach. A lot has changed in a year. Sherman has lost the General Manager part of his title as team President Bob Harlan brought in Ted Thompson to run football operations for the Packers. Though there are reports that Sherman will sign a two-year extension, Thompson has been very deliberate as he evaluates Sherman's status.

Sherman's resume is pretty impressive in many respects. Sherman has a regular season career record of 53-27. That's a .663 winning percentage, which puts him second only behind Vince Lombardi in Packer coaching annals over the same time period. He also is among the top ten head coaches in the NFL over the last 35 years in terms of winning percentage over his first five years. Sherman has also has won three straight divisional championships joining Lombardi, Curly Lambeau and Mike Holmgren as the only head coaches in Packer history to do so. So why then is Sherman's job possibly on the line this year even with an extension?

It really comes down to the lack of success at Lambeau Field. Sherman has a career regular season record of 30-10 at Lambeau. That's pretty good, but it pales in comparison to what Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren did. Lombardi had a career regular season record of 47-13-1 for home games. Holmgren was an incredible 49-7 when the Packers were at home during the regular season. Then there are the home playoff game losses. Lombardi and Holmgren never lost a home playoff game, as they were each 5-0 at Lambeau in the post-season. Sherman, on the other hand, is just 2-2 at home, including the only two playoff losses at home in the team's proud history. To be fair to Sherman, Lombardi and Holmgren both put up very lofty achievements that any coach would have trouble matching. But still, Sherman knows that for him to succeed, and for the Green Bay Packers to succeed, then winning at home must again become second nature.

The Packers have played very well on the road in the regular season during the Sherman tenure, going 23-17 since 2000. Over the last two years the Packers have been 11-5 on the road. The Packers are, however, 0-2 in road games in the playoffs under Sherman. That includes the infamous 4th and 26 game in Philadelphia a couple years back. That game, and the two home playoff losses are the games that have really put Sherman under a microscope. The Packers clearly should have won that game in Philadelphia that day. A win there would have put the Packers in their first NFC title game since 1997. It didn't happen, and some say coaching strategy played a large part in the outcome. But that is water under the bridge now.

Sherman can't go back in time. He can only control the present. Nobody appreciates the history and legacy of the Packers more than Sherman.

"The tradition is a big part of it for me," Sherman says. "Coaching is exciting anywhere, but being here with all the history, tradition, all the following of the fans and all the expectations , it makes it a special place." Sherman then added, " Other places evaluate you for wins and losses. In Green Bay , you're evaluated by how many championships you win."

Sherman has played a large part in transforming what Lambeau Field looks like today. Sherman wanted to make certain that the team's rich history was brought out in the new and improved Lambeau. The coach has reminders everywhere in the facility. Players are constantly reminded of the 20 Packers enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. They also are reminded of the 12 NFL championships that the Packers have won. Sherman even went as far as having Vince Lombardi's old door frame from his old office used as the primary entrance to Sherman's office. Sherman knows the history. He needs history to start repeating itself.

The Packers went 4-4 at Lambeau in 2004 during the regular season. They also lost only the second game in team history at home to the Vikings in the playoffs. Sherman knows that is unacceptable. Sherman must some how get the team to buy into the message of winning at home. Sherman knows it can happen. His 2002 team went 8-0 at Lambeau during the regular season. Unfortunately, the Packers lost a home playoff game to the Falcons that season as the Packers were a shell of themselves due to injury. The Packers must get back to the "we never lose at home" mentality. For that to happen, the team needs has to put its foot on the throat of its opponents late in the game.

The great Reggie White never lost a home playoff game as a Packer. He was 5-0. White was 43-5 at Lambeau as a member of the Packers during the regular season. Before every game, White would tell his teammates in the team huddle just before kick-off to "dominate." They usually did. This season the Packers are offically retiring White's number 92. White's number will be next to four Packer greats, Don Hutson, (14), Tony Canadeo, (3), Bart Starr, (15) and Ray Nitschke (66). Hopefully the karma of this event will transfer to the players. Hopefully, Lambeau will once again become the toughest place to play in the NFL. The theme for the Packers in 2005 should be "Not in our house!" Time will tell, but the success of the Packers at home this year, or lack there of, will probably determine Mike Sherman's future in Green Bay.

Bob Fox is a longtime Packers fan and freelance writer from the Tampa, Fla., area.

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