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August 31, 2009

Sherman making progress with Texas A&M

In November 2007, many Aggie fans were left scratching their heads at the hiring of Mike Sherman as head coach just days after former A&M coach Dennis Franchione resigned. I too was extremely skeptical about the hire.

My skepticism had nothing to do with Sherman's coaching ability. Anyone with his type of success at the game's highest level in the NFL is worthy of anyone's head coaching position. The faults I found in the hire had much more to do with recruiting, which had changed greatly since Sherman last coached in a college game in 1996.

After a 4-8 season in his first year at the helm in College Station, fans, media and football pundits alike are already looking to Aggieland for a coaching seat that could seemingly be on fire should the Aggies stumble once again in 2009. If I hadn't been around the Aggies for each practice in August camp and spring drills over the past two years I would probably be right there with them.

I, however, couldn't have been more wrong. And those saying that Sherman should be on the hot seat are dead wrong too.

First, Sherman has succeeded on the recruiting trail despite the 4-8 season and butting heads with powerhouses Texas, Oklahoma and LSU on many recruits. After being behind the eight-ball in both the classes of 2008 and 2009, Sherman was able to bring in a number of players that fits his system and those players have already made an impact for the Aggies.

Players like Trent Hunter, Terrence Frederick, Tony Jerod-Eddie and Eddie Brown are already mainstays on the field and leaders in the locker room. Running back Cyrus Gray and receiver Jeff Fuller are figuring to be major contributors in 2009.

True freshmen are already making their mark as well, such as receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu - who should start - as well as running back Christine Michael who has proved to be a player that will get plenty of carries this season. And then there is cornerback Dustin Harris, who could start in the season opener and will be a menace in the return game, and linebackers Sean Porter and Jonathan Stewart who will provide quality depth at what was a razor-thin linebacking corps in 2008.

But what Sherman has done in the class of 2010 has been truly spectacular. Despite the 4-8 season, going head-to-head with the Longhorns, Sooners and Tigers, Sherman has what is presently the seventh-rated class in the nation according to Rivals.com. Out of 20 commits in 2010, Sherman has managed to gain verbal commitments from seven Rivals.com four-star prospects, two of which are in the Rivals100 with three more being in the Rivals250.

That begs the question of how did he do it?

First of all, Sherman was smart enough to hire top recruiters on his staff such as defensive backs coaches Charles McMillian and Van Malone along with running backs coach Randy Jordan. Former SMU head coach Tom Rossley has been in the recruiting game for many years during his long career as well as defensive line coach Buddy Wyatt.

Second, Sherman has been innovative on the recruiting trail. Deciding to have small invitation-only junior days in the spring around A&M weekend practices provided one-on-one time for prospects and their families with the coaches as well as an inside look into the Aggie program. It paid huge dividends.

Third, Sherman has a plan mapped out to get A&M back to the top of the uber tough Big 12 South. He's showed that plan to recruits, and they've bought into it.

And on the practice fields, it's evident that Sherman's plan is in motion.

Not only did Sherman hire some solid recruiters on his staff, but also very good coaches. Some, like Malone and Jordan, have played extensively in the NFL. Others are notably great football minds like Rossley, defensive coordinator Joe Kines and offensive coordinator Nolan Cromwell.

The combination has proved to be successful so far on the practice field, even if the scoreboard doesn't show it quite yet.

Sherman is building the A&M program from the ground up, and it's apparent to me after watching the team morph in front of my eyes. While national title contenders like Oklahoma, Texas, Florida and USC routinely have position battles between fourth-year juniors and fifth-year seniors with plenty of Division I playing experience, the Aggies are finally creating those position battles but they're between sophomores, redshirt freshmen and true freshmen with little to no college playing experience.

In order to get to that level you have to have the talent, and even more talent behind it to push the top talent to greater heights. It's what has made the top programs in college football great, and it's what is making the Aggies improve.

Sure, A&M still has areas of major concern like the offensive line, the defensive line, linebackers and the secondary. But they aren't even close to the dire situation Sherman inherited and fans saw during the 2008 season. Sherman is developing players with an extensive offseason program and hands-on coaching from himself and his staff, which in turn creates competition in practice. Competition in practice makes for a better team on game day.

It's the science to creating a football program no matter the level it's played, and believe me Sherman is building a program in College Station from nothing because he inherited a shell of once was a great college football program.

The shame is that many might not see the improvement that those of us in the media see since we're there every day of the week. The Aggies might win six games and get to a bowl game in 2009, which would be a major accomplishment in a Big 12 South that might be the best it's ever been. Then again A&M may not. But what Sherman is doing in his recruiting and his coaching on the practice field is building a foundation of a great program to come.

In today's instant gratification society, fans, boosters and the guys who control all the money in college athletic programs might look at an Aggie team that just falls shy of a bowl game as a failure. Some might even still be on the level that believes it's a failure if A&M doesn't win eight, nine or 10 games this season.

Many fans and media alike will be calling for Sherman's head if that were to happen this season.

I, however, won't be one of them.


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