Sherrill played the rivalry game perfectly
If Mack Brown were truly hellbent for a means to stop The Streak, reverse the curse, end the embarrassment and beat Oklahoma, the tormented Texas coach would place a call to the antichrist of college football.
Jackie Sherrill, known to some as the Prince of Darkness and to others by even less laudatory names, is standing by. There might be some soul-selling involved, but Sherrill knows what it takes to beat the hated rival who has you squirming under his boot heel.
Sherrill became the first Pittsburgh coach to beat Penn State in Happy Valley in back-to-back seasons. He became the first Texas A&M coach to beat Texas five years in a row. And he took over a Mississippi State program that had lost the Egg Bowl to Ole Miss seven times in the previous eight years, then won seven of the next 11.
"It is the game you live with 365 days," Sherrill said. "Of course you want to win it."
That should resonate in today's game, where nothing seems quite so vital as getting over on your rival. Nobody is as celebrated as the coach who owns a rivalry (take a bow, Bob Stoops). Nobody is as castigated as the coach being owned (take cover, Mack Brown).
"When you take a job, if you have a brain, you know that you have to beat your rivals," said former Georgia Tech, Alabama and Kentucky coach Bill Curry, who can't quite believe that the burnt-orange lunatic fringe wants Brown out with a 63-18 record in Austin.
Curry had some notable rivalry successes at Alabama (beat Tennessee three straight) and some notable failures (lost to Auburn three straight). The latter helped hasten his departure to Kentucky.
"If you don't win, (the fans) are mad at you all year," he said. "It didn't matter if you beat everyone else, you had to win that one."
"When you coach at Oklahoma, Texas, Ohio State or Michigan, you've got to beat your rival," said former Buckeyes coach John Cooper, who was a career-tarnishing 2-10-1 against the Wolverines. "You've got to beat them, and you can't get embarrassed. Mack knows that at Texas, and I knew that here."
So go ahead, Mack. Dial up The Jackal, now retired and living in Memphis. The prefix is 666&
There may be a price to pay for his advice. You may wind up with $100 bills falling out of the quarterback's socks, NCAA investigators camping out at the Austin Residence Inn and both fan bases steeped in statewide paranoia.
After all, Sherrill was forced out at A&M in 1988, shortly before sanctions came down. He was in charge when State went on probation in 1995. Now the school is awaiting results of a second round of NCAA jurisprudence, after additional allegations of major misconduct on his watch. (The former coach is also responsible for the wretched state of the program Sylvester Croom inherited this season.)
But on the field, the man was pure hell for his rivals. He was at his best on Thanksgiving weekend, when the biggest game rolled around.
When Sherrill arrived at Pitt, Joe Paterno was 10-1 against the city school. His only loss was to the Panthers' 1976 national champions, and his average margin in the 10 wins was 26 points. Paterno still managed to beat Sherrill three out of five -- including a shocking 48-14 upset of then-No. 1 Pitt in 1981 -- but the Panthers won two big ones in 1979 and '80. With that, western Pennsylvania's mother lode of talent was up for grabs.
Some coache shave earned eternal gratitude -- and other eternal condemnation -- from fans for their work in big rivalry games. A rundown of some of the biggies:
(Michigan leads 57-37-6)
Wolverines hero: Fielding H. Yost, 16-3-1
Buckeyes hero: Woody Hayes, 16-11-1.
(Alabama leads 38-29-1)
Crimson Tide hero: Bear Bryant, 19-6
Tigers hero: Pat Dye, who beat Bryant, Ray Perkins and Bill Curry in their last regular-season games as Bama coaches.
(Texas leads 55-38-5)
Sooners hero: Bob Stoops, 4-1 and making it look easy.
Longhorns hero: Darrell Royal, 12-7-1, including 9-1 record in the 1960s.
(Notre Dame leads 42-28-5)
Irish hero: Lou Holtz, 9-1-1, with lone loss in OT.
Trojans hero: John McKay, including three of the most painful defeats of the Ara Parseghian era (1964, '72, '74).
(Miami leads 29-20)
Seminoles hero: Bobby Bowden won 5 in a row, but the 'Noles won 7 straight from 1964-72.
Hurricanes hero: A variety of FSU kickers.
(Tennessee leads 19-15)
Gators hero: Steve Spurrier, 8-4 and brutally quick with verbal needle.
Vols hero: Gen. robert Neyland, 6-0.
(Georgia leads 55-36-5)
Bulldogs hero: Vince Dooley, 18-6.
Yellow Jackets hero: Bobby Dodd, 12-10, including 8-game winning streak from 1949-56.
(Nebraska leads 44-16-2)
Buffaloes hero: Bill McCartney, who outlawed the color red at CU football facility when he took the job in 1982, then finally ended an 18-year losing streak to the Huskers in 1986.
Huskers hero: Tom Osborne, 21-3-1, including 6 wins by 30 points or more.
(Ole Miss leads 57-37-6)
Rebels hero: John Vaught, 19-2-4, including 18-year run without a loss.
Bulldogs hero: From 1911-25 State won 13 straight with seven different coaches.
(Utah leads 50-31-4)
Cougars hero: LaVell Edwards, 22-7 and ended Utah's dominance in series by winning his first six and 15 of his first 16 against Utah.
Utes hero: Ike Armstrong, 18-1-3 from 1925-49.
(Army leads 49-48-7)
Midshipman hero: George Welsh, 7-1-1, including his first four.
Black Knights hero: Earl "Red" Blaik, 8-8-2, but after 0-3 start, when 5-1-1, including three wins over Navy to complete perfect national championship seasons.
-- Pat Forde
After a period of time, Paterno came to loathe Sherrill. In 1979 he famously said that he didn't want to leave college football to the Barry Switzers and Jackie Sherrills of the world. (Paterno subsequently apologized to Switzer but wrote in his book, "I don't give a damn about what Sherrill felt.")
Sherrill says Paterno made the remark at a dinner party and it then became public. He said he discussed it with Paterno on the field before the '79 game, and when the two parted company Sherrill told him, "You're gonna get a knot put on your head today." Pitt won 29-14.
(All rivalries do not last for life, however. Sherrill said he and his wife are going to be the Paternos' house guests for Penn State's Nov. 6 home game against Northwestern. "Coach Paterno is not only a good person, but a great football coach," Sherrill said. "He likes my wife a lot better than he likes me.")
In 1982 Sherrill left Pitt for a scandalous salary at Texas A&M. At the time he was college football's first seven-figure coach. After two seasons of blowout losses to the Longhorns, he started earning his money.
Sherrill helped push Texas coach Fred Akers out the door with three straight emphatic victories, by 25, 32 and 13 points. Then he made life miserable for David McWilliams by beating him twice. Along the way came three straight Southwest Conference championships.
"A&M winning the conference three straight years, it made a big difference to them," Sherrill said. "It was probably the only period in Texas history that they were chasing A&M, and they didn't like it. I wasn't very well-liked in the state of Texas because we turned that series around and dominated Texas. If Texas loses to A&M, it hurts a lot worse than if A&M loses to Texas.
"For A&M, that was like taking the burden off people's backs. It was like being an eagle locked up in a cage, and getting to go fly again."
Whatever simile you choose, Sherrill had the Horns hooked. He kept it up at Mississippi State, beating Texas his first two years in 1991 and '92 -- including the year when he pulled the all-time twisted motivational play and had a steer castrated on the State practice field.
Meanwhile, Sherrill also was turning around recent Egg Bowl history. He took State to its first bowl game in a decade after a 24-9 victory over the school he insisted upon calling "Mississippi" at every mention. He used that instead of its pet nickname, Ole Miss, and it infuriated Rebels fans.
Sherrill rarely resisted the chance to jab at the higher-status school in Oxford, and the result was predictable. He remembers one Egg Bowl in Oxford, when bottles came whistling out of the stands near his two sons, who were on the sideline with him.
"It's nasty," Sherrill said of the Ole Miss-State rivalry. "It's not as diverse a state, so those games are bigger. And with college athletics on the Internet, it's become more vicious. People say things they can't be held accountable for. The rivalries are much bigger today."
And the biggest one this week is Oklahoma-Texas. Which is why Mack Brown might want to keep the Prince of Darkness' phone number handy.
Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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