Monday, January 05, 2004



Holmgren vs. Sherman

How 'bout those Packers? People who know me well know that when I say that, it means I want to change the subject. It has become quite a parody actually, but I do it to be funny. But this time I mean it literally. Yesterday's game was about as thrilling as it gets. It was really a chess match back and forth. I'm impressed with the job Mike Sherman has done during his tenure at Green Bay. In fact, in observing the curt handshake that Mike Holmgren gave Sherman at the end of the game, I sensed a little jealousy. Holmgren, as any Packer fans reading know, left Green Bay in 1999 to become Head Coach, General Manager AND Executive VP of the Seattle Seahawks. The general consensus was that he couldn't handle all three jobs effectively, and so he was stripped of his GM title last year. As a result, the common wisdom goes, he was able to concentrate on coaching more and less on the responsibilities of GM.

Mike Sherman was Holmgren's Tight Ends' coach in 1998, Holmgren's last year with Green Bay. In 1999, Sherman left with Holmgren to become offensive coordinator at Seattle. Meanwhile, Ron Wolf, the Packer GM during Holmgren's tenure, settled on Ray Rhodes as head coach but fired him at the end of the '99 season when we went 8-8 after seven consecutive winning seasons under Holmgren.

After a long search, Wolf brought in Sherman as the head coach, and then in 2001, Wolf retired and Sherman took over the GM job at that point while retaining his head coaching job. Wouldn't Holmgren have chomped at the bit for that one? But I think both Wolf and Team President Bob Harlan knew something about Sherman and Holmgren that we don't and what has happened to both of them since 2001 bear this out. Since Sherman became the Packers' head coach, we have had winning seasons each year, and our record actually improved during the years Sherman became the GM. Not so for Holmgren in Seattle. In the first year he took over there, they went to playoffs, but had not been there since until this season, the first year where he was simply the head coach again.

So what went right for Sherman that went wrong for Holmgren? For one, Sherman retained Ron Wolf as a paid consultant to the team. Also, Sherman brought in Mark Hatley as his VP of football operations, but my thinking is that Sherman gives Hatley a lot more responsibility than Holmgren did for his VPs. I think the key to Sherman's success so far is his ability to delegate. I also think Andrew Brandt has done a spectacular job in negotiating with current players and their agents and I think his work is key to Sherman's ability at keeping our best players in the fold. One of the first things I remembered about Sherman's first year as GM was how he managed to keep keep key players from leaving the team.

Sherman has made his mistakes, most notably bringing in Joe Johnson, a defensive end that has played maybe less than ten games since signing with us and giving him a huge contract. Another bust was Terry Glenn. But for one, Johnson and Glenn are the exception and not the rule. For every Joe Johnson and Terry Glenn, there is a Grady Jackson (aquired midseason this year). Grady's acquisition turned our run defense around this year.

Who were the players that Sherman were able to keep? William Henderson, for one. He was on the '96 team. So was Gilbert Brown. And let's not forget kicker Ryan Longwell, who surpassed Don Hutson's record for most points scored for Green Bay this year.

Now, one can argue that the highest impact players of the Packers to this day are players Wolf, and not Sherman, drafted. Of course we know about Brett Favre. But Ahman Green is also one of them. Then again, Javon Walker is a rising star and he was one of Sherman's draftees. Sherman also did what Wolf should have done years ago, which was to get rid of Ty Williams. His replacement at corner? Al Harris, the man responsible for the big play that won us the game yesterday. The point? I think Sherman has done almost as well, if not better in some cases, as Wolf did.

More evidence that Holmgren was not good at delegating can be supported by the Ahman Green trade. Who did Holmgren get in return? Fred Vinson, a corner who I believe is out of the league now and a draft pick in one of the lower rounds. Holmgren gave up Green to Wolf because Green was in Holmgren's doghouse due to fumbleitis. Here is a clear case where Holmgren's emotions as a coach maybe could have used a filter for a GM, because where Holmgren gave up Green, had Wolf been there, he would have told Holmgren to be patient with him. But since Holmgren had all the power, off Green went to Green Bay and Wolf got the best of him. Maybe that explained the sour grapes he had during yesterday's "conference" and argument (where he got booed by Packer fans) over whether or not Green fumbled the ball in the fourth quarter.

I'm rambling now. My larger point is this: If Sherman can get us a Super Bowl win, he will be remembered more fondly than Holmgren in the long run because of his proven ability to do it as a coach and GM. However, until that happens, Holmgren will be #2 in the memory of most current Packer fans, behind Lombardi in terms of reverence. I do think it's a possibility this year, though the Philly game will be tough. If not, I do think we will get better next year and continue to do well for years to come, because Sherman knows how to manage the cap and the Packers have good talent evaluators to keep developing new young players. I'll bet that's why Favre changed his mind about retiring. To me, Sherman has the leadership qualities to take the Packers to the Super Bowl, and I have a lot of respect for the man.

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