Mike Sherman's 'emotional' return to Green Bay
It has been nine years, two months and two weeks since Mike Sherman worked his final game with the Green Bay Packers.
Sherman, the 13th head coach in the illustrious history of the iconic NFL franchise, went out a winner on New Year's Day 2006. The Packers prevailed 23-17 over the visiting Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field.
That didn't ease the sting of the first losing season (4-12) in 14 years for Green Bay, which plummeted from winning the NFC North the previous three years to last place. Ted Thompson, who had replaced Sherman as the team's general manager less than a year earlier, fired Sherman the morning after that 2005 season finale.
Counting the playoffs, Sherman compiled a record of 59-43 in six seasons at the helm, making him the franchise's fifth winningest coach, with three division titles and four playoff appearances. Sherman also juggled the GM duties for four seasons, taking over for retiring legend Ron Wolf in 2001, before then-team president Bob Harlan brought in Thompson.
On Saturday, Sherman will be back in Green Bay. He is the keynote speaker for the annual A Day for Men at the Norbertine Center for Spirituality at St. Norbert Abbey in De Pere.
The daylong conference, which is filled to capacity with 170 attendees, brings men of all ages together for a day of inspiration, education, challenge, community and prayer.
The focus of the conference is "living a life of faith."
"Being a man of integrity coupled with a deep faith has earned (Sherman) the respect of the Norbertines of St. Norbert Abbey," the Rev. James Baraniak said in a statement.
Baraniak is the prior at St. Norbert Abbey and the longtime chaplain for the Packers.
"We know we will be inspired by his depth of religious conviction which has always been the foundation of his impressive character," Baraniak added about Sherman.
RELATED: Q&A with Ted Thompson
In advance of his appearance at A Day for Men, Sherman, 60, granted an interview to Press-Gazette Media this week.
He reflected and shared insights on the highs and lows of his tenure with the Packers as well as how his faith helped him get past professional hardships in recent years. Sherman also was fired after four seasons as head coach at Texas A&M and after two seasons as the offensive coordinator with the Miami Dolphins. The latter dismissal left Sherman without a coaching job at the college or professional level of football last season for the first time in 34 years.
Here's the question-and-answer with Sherman:
PG: How did this come about for being the keynote speaker at A Day for Men this year? Did your relationship with Father Baraniak from your time with the Packers play a part?
Sherman: Judy Turba, the director of (the Norbertine Center for) Spirituality at St. Norbert Abbey, contacted me last spring on Father Baraniak's behalf. Father Jim performed my daughter Sarah's marriage seven years ago, and that has gone extremely well with two incredible grandsons and a faithful son-in-law. This August, we have asked him to put his blessing on another successful marriage involving my son Matt and an unbelievable Green Bay girl from a great family. I figured I owed him one.
PG: What theme(s) or key points do you plan to touch on with the men who will be in attendance at the conference?
Sherman: I'm assuming they want me to speak from my perspective as a man of 60 years, husband of 33 years, father of five and coach who has experienced some extremely memorable as well as difficult moments in his life and career. I will discuss what I have learned on my journey through life. I will speak on my human struggles to keep things in alignment with my Christian values. It will be a talk about some deeply personal things in my life.
PG: How similar, or different, will it be to address a room full of more than 150 men at this conference to/than giving a big pregame talk to a team of more than 50 NFL players or a big squad of college football players on game day? How much of an impact or inspiration would you like to have on these men who will be attending the conference?
Sherman: One major difference between this talk and a pregame speech at Lambeau would be that when we break and leave the building I doubt anyone will be singing "Who Let the Dogs Out?"
Seriously, I'm hoping something they hear will challenge them to move in a positive direction and possibly fix things in their lives that might be holding them back from being "whole" - from being the man God intended them to be. I am an example of someone who has had struggles in this area. They can learn from the mistakes I've made.
PG: What emotions do you have coming back to Green Bay this weekend after nine years since the end of your coaching tenure with the Packers?
Sherman: My time in Green Bay and Wisconsin was very special. My family and I spent eight years here (including two years as a tight ends and offensive line coach in 1997-98), and I have some remarkable memories and relationships because of it. I wouldn't trade that for anything.
It is emotional to come back. To fly into Austin Straubel (International Airport) and see Lambeau Field off in the distance will bring me back to the eons of time I spent in that stadium, whether it be in the office, in the meeting rooms, on the field, the adjourning practice fields or (the Don) Hutson Center.
I've always felt a connection with the people of Green Bay and Wisconsin that went beyond my position of head football coach of the Green Bay Packers. I've always felt people here were genuine in their nature. When people ask my kids where they are from, they still proudly say, "Green Bay, Wisconsin."
PG: Have you come back to this area in recent years? If so, how often, and what brought you back for those visits?
Sherman: I've only been back a couple times. Two of my children attended St. Norbert College, which has caused me to return.
PG: Obviously, it's been a considerable amount of time since your separation from the Packers and you went on to have other prominent coaching opportunities in the NFL and college, but do you still have any lingering feelings about how that part of your coaching life ended?
Sherman: No. Nothing lingering on how it ended. It did take some time to process it, however. I think that is understandable when you consider the time and effort and passion that goes into being the head coach of this unique franchise. I didn't agree with the decision at the time, but it wasn't mine to make. I don't fault Ted Thompson for making the change when he did and hiring his own coach. He has done an outstanding job of putting a quality team together over the last nine years. Packer fans should be proud of the job he has done and the leadership he has demonstrated.
PG: Do you ever look back to that time and have any regrets, or consider what you might have been able to do differently to prolong your tenure with the Packers?
Sherman: I have a couple. One regret is that I should have spent more time with my wife (Karen) and kids during my tenure here. Unfortunately, life offers no do-overs. I needed more balance in my life.
Another regret I have is that I would have liked to have worked longer with Ron Wolf. I had much respect for him and would have ultimately benefited from his experience and knowledge. I couldn't be happier for him and his family to see him being recognized by the (Pro Football) Hall of Fame (as a recently elected inductee) for what he accomplished in his career and most notably with the Packers.
Finally, I am proud of our 55 wins in my first five years but regret we never got to the Super Bowl.
RELATED: Ron Wolf elected to Hall of Fame
PG: What memories do you still carry from those seasons as the Packers head coach while also handling the dual role as general manager from 2001-04?
Sherman: The dual role as a head coach and GM, as well as overseeing the Packer offense, was quite a challenge to say the least. I wouldn't have admitted that back then, but I do now. In spite of that, I thought we were managing it well until we lost Mark Hatley (the team's vice president of football operations) in (July) 2004 to a heart attack (at age 54). Things picked up for me after that. I didn't agree with Bob Harlan's decision at the time (after the 2004 season) to make a GM change, but, in hindsight, I know now it was the right thing to do.
PG: Any season, games or plays that stick out for you more than others? And why?
Sherman: The 2003 season sticks out to me the most. There were some extremely memorable games in that season and one I'd like to forget. Specifically, the four-game run (of victories) at the end of the (regular) season, plus the two playoff games.
As far as games go, the Monday night 41-7 victory in Oakland (on Dec. 22, 2003) after (quarterback Brett Favre's) dad passed was one of those memorable games. Brett threw four touchdowns by halftime after I told him in pregame that I'd call a lot of runs for Ahman Green and take the game out of his hands. The players played at a level outside their own abilities making plays for him. It was a great testimony of how his teammates respected him and played for him.
The Denver home game at the end of the (2003 regular) season, which we won 31-3, was unique. We were playing for a playoff spot, but certain things had to happen. I had instructed the scoreboard people to not show scores that affected our playoff chances. I wanted the players focused on the field. The buzz in the stadium in the fourth quarter of that game in response to (division rival) Minnesota possibly getting beat by Arizona was eerily special. The fans and the players quietly found out that the Vikings were losing, and the stadium was slowly erupting with a buzz, which was out of synch with what was transpiring on the field. When the Cardinals finally won (to allow the Packers to win the division title over the Vikings for a playoff berth), the fans and the players went crazy. I was so focused on what was happening on the field and just concerned with beating the Broncos. I was the last to know we were headed to the playoffs. It was one of those "had to be there" moments in Lambeau Field - difficult to explain.
The (ensuing) Seattle home playoff overtime win against my friend and mentor Mike Holmgren, which ended with an interception return for a touchdown by Al Harris, was as emotional an end to a game as I've ever experienced.
The finale of that season unfortunately ended in Philly with a memory I'd rather forget. It was the second round of playoffs. That game (a 20-17 overtime loss with the infamous fourth-and-26 pass completion by the Eagles) will forever haunt me.
There were other great games. The 2004 Christmas Eve game beating the Vikings on the last drive, winning for the second time (against them) and capturing the division on the road (two nights) before the great Reggie White passed away. That was memorable on a lot of fronts but mainly because I had talked in-depth to Reggie on the phone just before leaving to go play that game. I will forever cherish that conversation.
The greatest play has to be Antonio Freeman's Monday night roll-off-the-back-while-lying-on-the-ground 43-yard touchdown catch in OT against the Minnesota Vikings, a game that we won 26-20 at the midway point of the 2000 season. Never seen one like that, never will again. Funny how many of my best memories were against the Minnesota Vikings.
PG: You coached an impending Pro Football Hall of Famer in Brett Favre and then inherited a future Hall of Famer in Aaron Rodgers for his first NFL season. What was it like to have both of those quarterbacks on your watch, and what comparisons can you make between the two of them now that Aaron has established himself as one of the sport's top players? Could you have predicted greatness for Aaron that first season in 2005 with him sitting behind Brett?
Sherman: Brett was unique and always will be. The energy and passion he brought to the game was electric. He made those around him better.
Aaron has been fun to watch from afar. He looks like a doctor performing surgery on the field. The game appears to play in slow motion for him.
Both have demonstrated an extremely competitive spirit, amazing talent and exceptional skill level. Both have worked extremely hard to accomplish what they've done in the NFL. To compare them to each other is unfair. Their body of work is their own individual masterpiece. To make comparisons as to who is the greater is like comparing da Vinci's Mona Lisa to Michelangelo's David. They have their own identities. Their greatness is unique to them and them alone.
It's exciting to see Brett come back to Lambeau this year (to be inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame and have his No. 4 retired July 18). The Green Bay fans and he had a unique relationship. The time is right to re-establish that again.
PG: What have you thought about the job your successor, Mike McCarthy, has done the last nine seasons in continuing the winning legacy with the Packers, in which you played an integral part?
Sherman: Mike has done a phenomenal job. The consistency of success he has maintained during his tenure in Green Bay is extraordinary. The Green Bay Packers have continued to be among the elites of the National Football League under his watch. He and his staff just methodically go about their business and win game after game, season after season. I am not sure people realize how hard that really is to do.
PG: You continued after your time with the Packers to lead the Texas A&M football program at the college level and then return to the NFL as the offensive coordinator with the Dolphins. What were those experiences like for you?
Sherman: None of those stops ended the way I would have liked them to, but I felt upon leaving each team that we were a better overall team when we left than when we first got there. I can live with that.
PG: How humbling was it for you to be let go first by the Packers, then Texas A&M and the Dolphins in recent years?
Sherman: Anytime that type of adversity hits you, it challenges you as a professional but more importantly as a man. In football and in life in general, adversity is always right around the corner at every step waiting to kick you in the butt. It's how you handle it that ultimately defines you. That is a topic I will discuss at (Saturday's) conference.
PG: As a devout man of faith and family, how much did you lean on those aspects of your life to get through the professional setbacks?
Sherman: Whenever I have tried to go it alone, I have suffered. It is through meaningful relationships with God, family, colleagues, players, friends that have moved me forward. It is these healthy relationships that keep me balanced with the proper perspective.
Along the same lines, acknowledging the fact that some things are out of one's control helps you to move on after disappointments. You may not be able to control how the ball bounces in your career or life, but you can control how you respond to it. It's easy to handle the wins in life. It's how you handle the disappointments you are dealt that define you.
PG: What was last year like for you being out of football as a coach for the first time in more than three decades? What did you do to occupy the time, especially during the fall and winter months when football was being played?
Sherman: I always felt that the saying "things happen for a reason" was just a way to handle the crappy things that happen in your life. Last year, however, after 33 years of going at it nonstop, not working was a blessing. Immediately after (being dismissed by) Miami, I almost took another job in NFL, but I felt my family needed me to take a break. After a year off and putting up with me, I think my wife Karen is now ready for me to go back to work … and soon!
This past summer, Karen and my youngest daughter Selena and I moved from Weston, Florida, to our home on Cape Cod. Upon our move there, Karen told me she has opened her last box. I said (jokingly), "Does that include the stuff that comes daily in the mail from Nordstrom and Talbots? My youngest son Ben moved to a college 20 miles north of Boston. We see each other often, which has been good. He wants to be a coach.
I spent part of my time this past year watching NFL and college tape. I also traveled around visiting different places in the ambiguous role of consultant. I visited the (NFL) office in New York a couple times. I am in the process of putting the pieces together for a book. I've visited with some local business people about some projects on Cape Cod. I've spent some time clinic-ing high school coaches. At the end of the day, however, I always come back to watching game tapes and editing my play books, which drives my wife crazy - (he added good-naturedly) maybe that's why I do it!
PG: What is next for you? Do you have aspirations to get back into coaching, whether at the NFL or college level?
Sherman: I do see myself getting back. I am still passionate about it. I relish the relationships and memories developed plus the lessons learned throughout the course of a season. There is no profession quite like it.
-- firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ToddMcMahon23