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Saturday, January 15, 2005

As The World Turns (Sherman and Thompson)

by LosAngelis
For PackerChatters

Well, Bob Harlan did it. All of the whining and wailing and gnashing of teeth done by fans around the world finally paid off, and Mike Sherman was relieved of his General Manager duties. Enter Ted Thompson, a former uppit-up with the Packers during the Glory Years Part Duex, as the new GM, with the power to hire and fire the GM.

Our resident expert, Patty, has blasted the move. I also worry that perhaps this may not be the best possible move for the Packers, but now that it is done, I'm going to try and see if we can make the best of it. With all due respect to Patty, I'm offering my view on why this may not be as horrible of a move as some may think.

First of all, we did not do a "Donatell". Fans screamed for someone's head after 4th and 26, and Mike Sherman the GM quickly countered by cutting his defensive coordinator, Ed Donatell, who at the very least was more competent than his offensive counterpart. The problem was that there was no plan in place upon firing to replace him, and so began the search for a successor. Mike Sherman, the GM, decided to stay loyal and in-house, and promoted Bob Slowik, which in a year's time has not proven to be much better at bringing marginal talent together. In fact, some might suggest we've taken a step backwards. Or two.

Instead of disrespectfully dismissing Mike from his GM position, a quality person was brought in, hopefully with a level of respect and communication with the new "Head Coach". Ted Thompson has managed drafts and been in charge of pro personnel. He may not be the "best" man for the job, but one would find it hard to argue he's not a good candidate.

Secondly, this may be as much a boon for Sherman as it is a negative. Remember, his mentor and "walks on water" former boss, Mike Holmgren, was also asked to relinquish his GM duties. This is not much a slap in the face as some might want to believe. It comes down to simple leadership theory. Think school.

There are some teachers in the world who are able to manage their teaching duties AND be a full time principal at the same time. It's not very common, and to be honest, the number of people who can pull of this combination of jobs is very rare. Why?

The principal generally takes on the role of the "bad guy", the one who needs to make the big decisions, deal with parents, etc. The teacher should be enabled by the principal to deal with the students without those ugly clouds over their head, the anger over how things may have been handled in the past. The teacher gets to create an environment, the principal gets to make tough decisions.

But in a combination, the person has to play both roles, and if they don't strike a healthy balance, both jobs may suffer. The teacher may be viewed more as a "Boss" rather than a teacher, and it takes a rare person who makes it work.

Same theory. Some rare individuals can strike the balance in coaching and general managing. However, a lot of quotes over the season suggest that Sherman wasn't getting the respect he should be getting from his players.

Bubba Franks publicly moaning about playing time.

Mike Wahle publicly moaning about not getting enough respect.

Al Harris publicly moaning about being taken off the #1 receiver.

And, of course, Mike McKenzie's whole drawn-out affair. I congratulate Sherman on how he handled that situation. Yes, we could have gotten something more for him, perhaps, or avoided the whole business by taking care of it sooner, but the bigger problem might be that McMoney was upset with Sherman the General Manager, and took it out on Sherman the Head Coach.

All in all, the coach is the one who sets the tempo, is the leader of the troops into battle, the inspirer. It's hard to do that when you're also the "boss".

Perhaps this move will allow Sherman the Coach to play to his strengths again. Sherman got a lot of positive karma his first year for taking his groups bowling in training camp, benching Antonio Freeman, and all in all, improving the team from the Rhodes fiasco.

Sherman has had room to improve as a coach. But, in some ways, I think he's improved this year over last.

One of the biggest criticisms I had on Sherman was his inability to adjust during a game, that leads were squandered after halftime while he started blankly at his charts and graphs and waiting for an answer to jump out at him.

This year, there were less problems with decision-making, as the problems seemed to focus more on execution and discipline. He took a team from 1-4 to a division championship, a team that looked like it was held together by spit and wire. He took over play-calling duties, and was an obvious difference and improvement over Tom Rossley. He delivered some great last-second comebacks, and some good almosts.

He also delivered some total fall-flat performances. By focusing on the coaching, he can devote more time to doing exactly that: working on fundamentals of tackling, blocking, making his charts and graphs become great plays on the field. He can take control of the play calling during games full-time, or at least, have Thompson bring in someone who can do it better.

Sherman is a good coach, and he is fixing some of his problems. By allowing him to be that coach, I think we can see a lot of improvement on the field.

A lot of criticism of Sherman has come with his drafts and other decisions. As many have noted, he's probably shooting a good 50% at least on his choices, from contract extensions to trading up for picks. However, he has a 66.7% winning percentage as a coach. We'd be fools to not mention his mistakes. Cletidus Hunt. BJ Sander. Not drafting to keep KGB on the sideline on obvious running downs.

He does have successes. Javon Walker and Robert Ferguson. Developing Ahman Green. Bringing in the fullback of the future, but recognizing the leadership of the grizzly ol' vet who's been there before. Nick Barnett and Al Harris.

But, we all know those decisions pale in comparison to a Hunt or a Sander. The glare from those decisions demand a scapegoat. It's always been very painful (and heated) to turn blame for personnel decisions on the head of a beloved coach. The pressure of this constant media and fan criticism has had to get to Mike at some point.

Perhaps we should be happy that we've had a GM who's been around 50%, who's developed trading picks up for desired players into an art form. I know that Patty respects that strategy very much. When it works, great, but when it doesn't, we all look for someone to blame.

It's the way of Green Bay, and really, the way of any team with fervent support. Brett Favre can throw for 4000 yards and throw 30+ TDs and lead a team to an NFC championship, but when he throws an interception, we know who comes out of the woodwork to say the sky is falling.

It's no different with the general manager.

The good point is, now, when we trade up to draft a long snapper, we no longer have to direct any blame, anger, or frustration at the coach. We can direct it towards a faceless suit in the front office, and allow the coach to do his job.

Yes, Thompson will be a bit faceless. I hear names like John Schnieder and John Dorsey mentioned often, but as far as I'm concerned, John Schnieder used to play Bo Duke on "Dukes of Hazzard", and I still remember John Dorsey lining up at linebacker with Brian Noble.

Sherman gets to coach. It's what he does best, and I am going to have faith in him.

Mike Sherman may still choose to leave. The chances that Thompson will fire Mike Sherman are pretty slim. Sherman has coached a team to three straight division championships. Perhaps in a weak division, but a .667 winning percentage isn't anything to spit at in a league where a team snapped up our outcast defensive coordinator and promptly made a top-10 defense with him.

If Sherman leaves, undoubtedly, Favre will go with him. It will be the end of an era, in many ways. And finally, our expectations will drop enough that we can actually enjoy a winning season again without constantly complaining that we aren't as good as we were in the Super Bowl years.

If Sherman stays, I predict we will see a man with a fervent passion to prove himself, a man who has been able to coach while GMing at the same time, and now will be able to put in 150% of his energy into his team. Furthermore, he is the coach, the leader, the inspirer, the field general...not the boss who decides whether you stay or go.

To Patty, who is very frustrated with this move, I say: "Be patient, and don't give up quite yet." I may indeed have to admit someday that she was right. My hope is, for all our sakes, that this move will be one that we will remember as one that changed the direction of our franchise for the best.

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