A lot has changed in Massachusetts since Mike Sherman left the area to pursue a career in football. The Hartford Whalers are no longer the northeast’s hockey team, the Boston Celtics aren’t winning titles every year and the New England Patriots are the best team in football.
It’s a stark contrast to the area he grew up in as child. Sherman claims that everyone he grew up with were Green Bay Packers fans or New York Giant supporters, now Tom Brady jerseys litter the stands on Saturday nights to watch Sherman’s Nauset Regional High School football team.
“My wife and I moved around 11 times throughout my career. It was time to settle down. I’m starting to have grandkids now and we need a place to call home… This has always kind of been home to me,” he said. “We’ve always come on vacation to Cape Cod every summer since I’ve been coaching. This was a natural transition.”
Former NFL and Texas A&M coach Sherman returned to Massachusetts after spending more than 30 years coaching the highest levels of football. Along the way, he made multiple stops at College Station and in Green Bay — the other two places he calls home. Despite the fatigue of his commitment to the sport, it took just a year before Sherman grabbed another clipboard after being let go by the Miami Dolphins at the end of the 2013 season.
Originally, he wanted to coach some skills camps in the area but after a call to Nauset to inquire about using their field, Sherman became the school’s head football coach.
Though he has much more experience on higher levels, Sherman said he wanted to pay things forward and help develop young men.
“I been fortunate enough to live what I preach, in regards to giving back. I’ve had a lot of great opportunities. Why they ended up with me? I don’t know, but I’m very fortunate to have them. I was in the right place at the right time. I’m just trying to give back because I’ve been very blessed in my life… I have a feeling that I have a debt to pay in life and I’m trying to pay that off.”
Coming up as a youth, Sherman said sports were just a natural thing to do for young people. They symbolized hard-work, determination and mental fortitude. Now, he says, many kids want to play for popularity or fame and lack the commitment to develop in the sport.
“I worked hard at stuff, I don’t think I was great at anything. I was passionate about the things I did. Back then, you played everything: football, church basketball, hockey, track and baseball.
Back then, when your parents signed you up for something, you stuck with it until the end of the season. Today, it seems like if a kid doesn’t like something then it’s OK to move on. There’s nothing wrong with not playing football but once you start a season, you need to finish it. I don’t think the kids or the parents have quite the commitment we used to see.”
The Warriors of Nauset finished with a record of 1-10 in Sherman’s first year at the helm but through the lessons he’s learned in his 33 years in the sport, Sherman began to change the culture of the team.
The virtues of integrity, passion and charity are what he’s focused on as a coach and father. He said he challenges his athletes to be who and what they say they are, while encouraging them to do what they love with whom they love. But the key for Sherman is giving back to those less fortunate because that is the best way to leave a positive impact, he says.
“We got some tough-nosed kids,” he said. “They aren’t the biggest, the fastest or the strongest but they are a bunch of tough kids. It’s a challenge trying to get numbers up because this is a soccer area. Baseball is very popular in Cape Cod as evidence by the Cape Cod Baseball League that a lot of college players play in. Football isn’t like what it is in Texas or Ohio… it’s not the only game.”
The Nauset football team is also one of the most composed groups Sherman has coached. He said he is rather impressed with how they’ve dealt with his celebrity in a small town setting.
“The kids don’t get too enamored with anything. To them, I’m just their coach and they can deal with that. They get it,” Sherman said. “Last year, we had NFL Films out here and then there was NBC Sports. We also had webisodes of Sherman’s Warriors but the kids seemed to take that in stride and handled it well.”
Despite missing the relationships built in the NFL or the fanfare of college football, Sherman said the rigors of high school football keep him more than occupied.
“High school’s hardest point is you can’t pick your team. Your team is who is in school and wants to come out for football. So that makes it hard,” he said. “In college, you are able to recruit, and in the NFL, you are able to draft and get free agents. In high school, you have to play with what you got. It’s a tough job, one of the toughest I’ve ever had.”
But the rewards of his coaching efforts have been more gratifying on a personal level since his transition.
“We try and teach these young men to be men. In some cases, these coaches may be the only male influences in their lives. We take that to heart and coaches take time to develop relationships with the kids,” Sherman said. “We’ll continue to do that because we see the bigger picture of things. We all want to win on Friday and Saturday nights, I’m not sure anyone wants to win more. But at the same time, we aren’t going to do it at the expense of teaching our kids the wrong things.”
At this point, Sherman is unsure how many years he has left in the sport. However, he is certain that he wouldn’t be who he is without the game football.
“It’s been my life. It’s molded me as a man,” he said. “The challenges in football are very much replicated in your life: the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the peaks and valleys. They happen in football season, they happen in your life and you must learn to handle it. Football has taught me a lot about life and how to raise my kids.”