Thompson said today after firing Mike Sherman that it is possible for a new coach to win a division championship. While that may be true, it is not often that a new coach with a new staff and new direction can step in and win a division championship, much less a Super Bowl. Since 2000, only three rookie head coaches have led their team to division championships – Jim Haslett (New Orleans, 2000), Bill Callahan (Oakland, 2002) and Jim Mora (Atlanta, 2004). Rookie head coach Nick Saban came close this year as Miami finished with a 9-7 record, but the Dolphins are out of the playoffs.
Sherman led the Packers to three straight division championships, then stumbled to a 4-12 record this season. Injuries played a major role, especially at two very important positions – wide receiver and running back. The team's league-high give-away total of 45 and penalties didn't help, either.
It is a fact that Sherman made some poor in-game decisions this season, and he has been a little too loyal to some players. Still, the Packers were competitive with a young group of players and a roster that has been wiped clear of talent because of injuries for most of the year. Many of Brett Favre's league-high 29 interceptions came at the absolute worst times during games.
The Packers' roster, re-shaped by Thompson, got to a point this season that former general manager Ron Wolf said that Green Bay had nothing more than "NFL Europe-caliber" players on the team.
Sherman, 51, gets the axe mainly because of the team's 4-12 record, the team's worst in 15 years. Still, he did an excellent job at keeping the team from falling apart internally, and his staff was remarkable at preparing younger players, especially at running back. While many of Sherman's critics are breathing a sigh of relief, he deserved at least another season as head coach of the Packers with a re-loaded roster. It's not like the Packers have finished with losing records over the past two or three seasons. In fact, Sherman leaves Green Bay with the fourth best record (59-37, .594) among the team's 13 head coaches.
The defense played extremely well under Jim Bates, and a simple change of special teams and offensive coordinators could have been enough to get the Packers back into the playoffs, beginning in 2006.
Let's face it, the Packers will be longshots to win the division next season with a new coach. With Sherman, their chances at a division title and return to the playoffs would have been much better because of continuity. One of Sherman's strengths is developing team chemistry through the off-season and in training camp. He had a good mix of players that were competitive and seemed to get along.
Unfortunately, the talented players like Ahman Green, Javon Walker, Terrence Murphy, Bubba Franks, Na'il Diggs, Najeh Davenport missed most or major parts of the season because of injuries.
On top of that, Favre struggled with accuracy and simply seemed to lack trust in his line and/or receivers during games this season. That usually resulted in turnovers. Ryan Longwell's sub-par season didn't help matters, either. See the Tampa Bay and Minnesota games.
I agree somewhat with Harry Sydney's reasoning in his PackerReport.com column today for Sherman's dismissal. Sydney explained the coach's shortfalls with making adjustments prior to and during games. Those are excellent points, but you'll never get a perfectly called game out of any coach, just like you'll never see a perfectly officiated game, or a perfectly played game by any individual in sports. Coaches make mistakes, just like players and officials.
Thompson obviously has a plan, though, he wouldn't reveal it to the media today. He has his reasons for dismissing Sherman, and he wouldn't get into that, either. With the move comes immediate pressure on the rookie GM to find the right guy.
"I have quite a bit of experience," Thompson said. "I've never hired a head coach, but I have been involved in some interview processes in the past and this is my role. That's my job, and I take my job very seriously. This is obviously a very important step today. It will be a very important step when we hire the new head coach. I'm confident that we'll find the guy that we're looking for."
Thompson, 52, said that others have told him "You'll know it" when coming across the right coach. It's the same feeling that home buyers get when they step into that perfect house. The same feeling you get prior to meeting your spouse and getting married. Of course, people don't always live in the same house for the rest of their lives, and many marriages end quickly in divorce court.
There is risk involved in Thompson's move. Hopefully, he has a coach or two in mind already. Hopefully that guy and his staff can gel quickly with the players. Hopefully, the Packers will win. But I'm guessing a new coach is part of the rebuilding process under Thompson. If it is, this decision should have been made last year at this time.
By keeping Sherman next season, the offense would be better out of the blocks with Walker and Murphy back in the fold. The defense, behind Bates, would have continued to improve. Special teams has nowhere to go but up. Now there are question marks all over the place on offense, defense and special teams with players and coaches.
Replacing a coaching staff doesn't always translate into immediate success in the win-now National Football League. It usually takes a team a year or two to adjust to its new coaches and vice versa. With the many changes ahead, the division title and playoffs for the Packers probably will take a little longer to reach than if Sherman been retained for at least one more year.
Todd Korth is managing editor of Packer Report and PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.