Sherman exacts timely changes at Texas A&M
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- There is no room for tardiness anywhere around the Texas A&M football program anymore.
New A&M coach Mike Sherman has made his concept of team unity and time his primary early lesson. To help facilitate his group's understanding of those dynamics, Sherman has installed 25 digital clocks around the team's sprawling football complex in a coordinated effort to emphasize punctuality.
"If you have 110 players in a meeting and one player is late, for one minute, that's 110 minutes you've wasted," Sherman said. "I hit them over the head a lot with time, how your clock is constantly ticking as a football player and as a student.
"The players have to be accountable. And to me, being on time is a matter of respect -- respecting your teammates and your coaches. You don't walk in late."
"The Shermanator" has emphasized personal discipline around his program -- waking his new players up before the crack of dawn to get them working in some excruciating pre-spring conditioning drills. That dedication to promptness continued throughout spring practice.
"I know I've got my watch set 13 minutes early so I can make it on time," tight end Jamie McCoy said. "If you aren't here on time, you'll be locked out and your stuff will be cleaned out of your locker until you go talk to the coach."
Defensive tackle Kellen Heard failed to heed the coaches' early warnings after one early workout session. But he learned his lesson.
"It's tough if you aren't here by your time ... the next thing you know you're pushing two-by-fours for 800 yards," Heard said. "Once you do it, you'll never want to do that again. But Coach is making it like it's in the pros. It's not like college is a kiddy store around here anymore."
In this decade -- the first three years under R.C. Slocum and the past five under Dennis Franchione -- the Aggies are 7-24 in games after Halloween (includes bowl games).
Sherman's influence on the program has been quick and immediate. It marks a return to college for him after working in the NFL since his last stint at A&M as the offensive line coach on R.C. Slocum's teams that dominated the Southwest Conference in the mid-1990s.
From there, he left to coach in the NFL, including a six-season stint as the Green Bay Packers coach before he was fired in 2005. Sherman then worked as the Houston Texans' offensive line coach and most recently as their offensive coordinator before he was hired three days after Dennis Franchione resigned in November 2007.
"The kids haven't changed any -- it's the people around them who have changed over the last 12 years," Sherman said. "The parents are different, the coaches are different sometimes, the teachers are different and they treat kids differently. But the kids are the same, in my mind. And they'll do exactly what you ask them, if you make them accountable."
The new accountability is a marked change from the somewhat lax standards under Franchione, who let players lift weights around their class schedules.
"Transition is always hard," Sherman said. "I asked them to give a leap of faith, because they need to trust us and believe in us, and we haven't done anything here yet. We don't have them all on the boat just yet, but I think we're getting closer and closer every day."
He inherits a program with a struggling recent history. Since winning back-to-back South Division titles in 1997-98 under Slocum and earning a three-way tie for the second place in 1999, the Aggies have finished no higher than third in the South since then. And since Sherman left A&M after the 1996 season, the Aggies have lost seven of their past eight bowl games.
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The new coach's biggest early transformation has been with his offense. He installed a pro-style offense -- a marked change from Franchione's run-heavy philosophy.
That old offensive thinking made A&M look woefully out of place with the predominance of spread offenses sprouting across the country. It helped account for the Aggies (7-6) ranking ninth in scoring in the Big 12 and last in the conference in passing last season.
Returning starting quarterback Stephen McGee was expected to be behind after undergoing surgery on his left shoulder after the Aggies' Alamo Bowl loss to Penn State. But McGee has recovered more quickly than expected and is locked in a tight battle with Jerrod Johnson for the starting quarterback job.
The zone-read play that was so prevalent under Franchione has been mothballed from the Aggies' playbook.
"I enjoy the challenge of getting into that playbook," said McGee, who graduated last season. "It's like I have two graduate courses this spring -- marketing and going through Coach Sherman's playbook. But now that I've gotten into it, the marketing class is tougher."
Johnson, an elusive 6-5, 229-pounder who was compared to Vince Young during his recruitment, might be better suited to a spread philosophy. But Sherman left open the idea that the competition will continue during summer camp until the starter for the Aug. 30 opener against Arkansas State is chosen.
"Somebody said, 'You have a quarterback controversy,'" Sherman said. "But how can we have a quarterback controversy when both guys are competing and both are really rising to the challenge? I don't see any controversy. We're very fortunate to have guys like that."
The other big personnel decision of the spring came after 285-pound tailback Jorvorskie Lane was moved to fullback. Sherman then installed Mike Goodson into the likely role as his featured running back.
Lane has battled weight issues during most of his college career. A&M coaches envision him becoming a dominant blocker, a battering-ram short-yardage back and a receiving threat at his new position.
Goodson has electrifying talent and has averaged 5.6 yards per carry in his first two seasons at A&M. But he never emerged as more than a spot back under Franchione; he had more than 15 carries in only one game during his college career.
"He's a very dangerous weapon and I'm glad he's on our team," Sherman said. "He's certainly a guy who needs the ball in his hands. I think he's proved that."
Several Aggies defensive players say that new coordinator Joe Kines has emphasized a defensive philosophy that will be more proactive than the read-and-react defense of Gary Darnell.
But the biggest change starts at the top with A&M's new coach, who said his staff will have their work cut out this summer to return A&M to its previous glory.
"We'll need every day," Sherman said. "We're still a work in progress. We took some baby steps, we made some leaps and we took a couple of steps back.
"But at the end of spring practice, we're better."
Tim Griffin is a college football writer for ESPN.com. Send your questions and comments to Tim at email@example.com.