Coach's fate with team on the line

Special teams coach Frank Novak is expected to meet with Packers head coach and general manager Mike Sherman today regarding his future with the Packers. It is likely that Novak may retire or be asked to retire in the wake of Green Bay's poor performance in the last two seasons on special teams.<p>

Sherman said Wednesday at his season-ending press conference that he has given his off-season assignments to his 17 assistant coaches, but declined to comment on Novak's status with the team other than to say he will be meeting with him today.

Novak, 64, came to the Packers in 2000 when Sherman took over as head coach. While the team's kickoff and punt coverage units have been adequate in the last two years, the return units have failed to boost the Packers. Green Bay had the worst punt return unit in the NFL this year, averaging just 4.2 yards per return. The Packers were 26th overall in kickoff returns with a 20.4 yard return average. In 2001, the Packers finished 28th in the league in punt returns and 30th in kickoff returns.

The New York Jets averaged a league-best 16.0 yards per punt return this season, and Philadelphia led the NFL on kickoff returns with a 24.9-yard average per return. Both teams are still competing in the playoffs.

"Our return units, you've got to put that on me as a general manager," said Sherman. "I never quite found the guy. That's my job to find him. I couldn't invent him. We looked as a staff, and he just wasn't out there. Darrien Gordon came in and did a nice job catching the ball for us. I felt like when we got going ... 'I remember sitting and watching the Saints game against Tampa and saw the return game being such a significant factor in them winning that football game. I just felt like we had to get some return yardage."

Gordon led the NFC in punt returns in 2001 but averaged just 5.1 yards on 35 punt returns. The Packers tried untested J.J. Moses for two games but his inability to make correct decisions on fielding the ball cost him his job. Moses tried to field a ball that was rolling toward the end zone against San Francisco that was nearly recovered by the 49ers on the 1. He also chased down to rolling balls off punts against Buffalo and nearly turned the ball over.

The Packers brought in veteran Eric Metcalf for the final game of the season and the playoffs, but Metcalf didn't have any better success. On two occasions, Metcalf's blockers allowed opponents to drive them into Metcalf, which is legal, while Metcalf was signaling for a fair catch.

"I feel like Eric Metcalf, if he had been with me longer, I thought he would have done a nice job for us," Sherman said.

The coach and GM said that the Packers need to block better on its return units next season in order to be successful. He said he plans on seeking a returner who can make the first defender "miss."

"I thought we could have done better than that," Sherman said. "We can and will be better at that next season."

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