College a different challenge for ex-pro coaches

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For Mike Sherman, being hired as Texas A&M;’s football coach was like coming back home.

The former Green Bay Packers coach and most recently Houston Texans offensive coordinator worked as an assistant in College Station from 1989 to 1993 and from 1995 through the spring of 1997. Since then, things have changed - the Aggies were a Southwest Conference power back then but now are in the more competitive Big 12. That and other issues left the program in disrepair, and Sherman was summoned to fix it.

Sure, coaches can go home again, but the hard part is winning.

In the opening game, before a big home crowd that grew more sullen as the day dragged on, Sherman’s team lost to lightly regarded Arkansas State 18-14.

“On the list of disastrous college football openers Saturday, A&M;’s ranked near the top,” a columnist wrote in the Dallas Morning News.

Things haven’t improved much. The Aggies are 2-5 with four home losses and Texas and Oklahoma still to come. Some boosters already are getting antsy. Fortunately for Sherman, whose Packers went 59-43 and made the playoffs four times in six years, he has a seven-year contract and a patient athletic director.

Sherman also has the challenge of adjusting from the single-mindedness of the NFL to the diverse college environment. It’s a different world even for someone like Sherman, who had multiple duties when he doubled as the Packers’ general manager for three years.

“You’re dealing with students and you’re dealing with alumni - all the things that go with this job that you don’t have to deal with being an NFL head coach,” he said.

The transition is not as publicized or considered as difficult as going from college to the pros. The recent NFL failures of anointed college geniuses Steve Spurrier, Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino - all safely back on campus now - were so spectacular that the league has soured on hiring college coaches for the foreseeable future.

The NFL is the pinnacle, where “coaches are at the top of our industry,” Southern Methodist coach June Jones said.

Armed with lofty credentials and deep insight, coaching college players should be a snap. That’s the theory, at least. In reality, the college environment entails its own set of issues and problems.

“I’m still getting acclimated,” said Sylvester Croom, who was an NFL assistant for 17 years before he was hired as Mississippi State’s coach in 2004.

One change often cited by former NFL coaches is the NCAA limit on the amount of time players can practice and attend meetings. In the NFL, football is a full-time job.

“You have to make adjustments in what you can and cannot get taught,” Sherman said.

Even subtle differences mean a lot, from the spacing of the hash marks to the phenomenon of “helicopter parents,” i.e. the ones who constantly hover over a program.

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