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Read this, you'll be happy you did

MikeSherman-TexasAM
MikeSherman-TexasAM

After being relieved of his responsibilities as head football coach at Texas A&M, Mike Sherman took it upon himself to send the following letter to hundreds of high school coaches in Texas.

It's a long read; but it's worth your time. Pure class from Sherman.

I want to take this opportunity to thank all of you for allowing my staff and me to come into your high schools, recruit your players and share ideas with you. I am forever grateful for the access and opportunity you’ve offered me over the last four years.

Other than going to practice every day and being on the field with my players, the one thing I am going to miss the most is visiting with high school coaches, listening to you talk about your kids and your programs, and watching practices and off-season workouts. Since this will be my last letter to high school coaches, besides thanking you for the opportunities to visit with you, I wanted to share with you some of the things I learned over the years that might be of help to you down the road. Sometimes I think as football coaches we are so competitive we are reluctant to share ideas. This profession has been good to me. I believe giving back when you can is important. These are my ideas - not suggesting they are for you. They are some of the things I came away with.

I. Core Values

If a player learns anything from me, he’ll learn that you have specific core values to live his life. These ‘core values’ are his guiding light in the decisions he makes not just as a football player, but as a man.

Our ‘core values’ for our team were simple.

Truth and Love. I believe these are essential elements to run a football team, a business, organization, government or family.

A. Truth:

Be who you say you are.

Do what you say you are going to do.

Be truthful to yourself and others.

Be accountable.

No excuses.

Seek the truth.

Demand the truth.

Tell the truth.

Live the truth.

If there is no truth, there is no trust.

If there is no trust, there is no relationship.

If there is no relationship, there is no value or substance to what you are doing.

As coaches we must

Never, never lie or mislead a player.

It’s simple. He has to trust you. You have to trust him. There is no trust when truth isn’t at the forefront.

You cannot fix something unless there is absolute truth.

Never, never let a player get away with lying to you. Go the Nth degree if necessary to confirm what he is telling you is true. He’s got to know you will not accept dishonesty and there are consequences for not being honest. Without absolute truth, there is no relationship. Without relationships there is no chemistry. Without chemistry, you lack a major component towards winning championships.

B. Love:

Love your God.

Love your family and friends.

Love your country.

Love your freedom and those who protect those freedoms.

Love your teammates, coaches and school.

Love the game of football.

Love competition and winning.

Love all things that equate to winning.

Love is a passion that can bring great success to your life and to your team.. It is one emotion that always plays out positively. It is the glue for your team and promotes great chemistry. Watching this year¡¯s Texas H.S. State Championship games, I saw a lot of this on the field and on the sidelines.

I must admit, this is something I’ve learned over time. I have not been a "touchy feely guy" and have been a fairly private person with my words and actions, but once I began to tell players that I loved them I could see it started to make a difference in their lives. I’ve said it to my wife and five kids often but it was not natural for me to say it outside that circle. A lot of my players like yours never hear that word. It took a conscious effort on my part. After disciplining a player I always would say, "you know I love you, right?" Reluctantly they would agree and eventually say it back. When I was dismissed as the HFC, I can’t tell you how many players texted me to tell me "love ya coach." This brought great closure to me because I feel we impacted them in a positive way - even beyond the game of football. This was a great lesson I learned that will stay with me forever.

II. Be Honest But Positive

One thing I’ve learned is that young men respond better to honesty than "blowing smoke" at them. Too many people - parent and friends - tell them they are all this and all that. People tell them they are ¡°great. Everyone is worried about self-esteem so much , no one tells them what is real. Kids today have a false sense of confidence and bravado that when the first time things go bad in their lives or on the field, they can’t handle it. They have to know where they truthfully stand and what they need to do to get better. I do believe this is the best approach. Honesty however, must be buoyed by positive encouragement not negative criticism.

III. Embrace Your Players

Another thing I’ve learned the past four years is that you need to physically embrace your players with a tap on the back, arm around the shoulder, hand shake, hug. They not only need to hear your care about them but feel you care about them. They need to know you love them and care for them beyond just their ability as a football player. They have to feel you are going to be their coach for life, not just until they graduate and they are done playing for you. They have to trust that you will be there for them in the long term.

IV. Be Harder On Your Star Players

To become a great team I believe you must push your star players harder than the rest of the team. You cannot concede your principles because you know these players are the ones who will help you win games. Become more demanding of them, not less. The lesser players will respond to this in a positive way because you do not play favorites. The star players will also benefit from this because they will not be thinking they are something they are not. (See Tom Brady - perfect example.)

V. Be Respectful and Positive Toward the Lesser Talented Kids in Your Program

It’s not necessarily their fault they can’t play as well as you would like. As long as they are part of the program, as long as they are working hard, they deserve your respect as well as respect from your entire staff. Empower them whenever you can. If they earn it, say things like "great job by our scout team today -best in the country." Compliment them on their little accomplishments. They won’t forget you for that. They are the ones in ten years that will come back to visit their Coach.

I promise you, they may not all play in the game on Friday or Saturday, but they share a locker room with every member of the team all year long. If you empower them, you will have a tighter, stronger team. You will have a better locker room, and ultimately, if you don’t have a good locker room, you can’t win.

VI. Have Components of Championship Play

Have specific components for Championship play for offense / defense / special teams. These are your components that you believe are most valuable in your quest to win a Championship. You must reference them three times a week. Do not stray from them. Be committed to them. Constantly reinforce these components.. It’s what you believe and it’s what the staff and players must believe. (See the end of this letter for my components.)

VII. Delegate to Your Assistant Coaches

I believe I tried to do too much at times. Step back so you can be more objective about problems that arise. You can fix them better from this perspective as a Head Football Coach.

This is difficult for me since I love to coach every play. I tried to fix every problem and player. I think I would have been more helpful in other phases if I wasn’t so consumed. I tried on occasion to step away, but certain issues arose that brought me back to it.

VIII. Break Down Barriers

When I got to campus at Texas A&M, I felt there were barriers between our student body and our athletes. I felt our players had an overly high opinion of themselves but the students had a low opinion of our athletes. I have adamantly explained to our kids that they are "special" on Saturday when we play the game as well as when they practice and prepare to play. But during the week, walking across campus, they are students just like everyone else and should act and engage themselves that way. We were able to include the student body and faculty in a lot of football functions. This helped us eliminate the barriers.

I wanted our faculty and student body to embrace our players and wanted our players to embrace them as well. I believe we accomplished this. I believe when players play for something bigger then themselves, they player better.

IX. Never Throw a Player Under the Bus

I see this all too often at the college level. The Head Football Coach has to assume all responsibility publicly for the player’s performance. Privately it is different. Hold them accountable one on one and in team meetings in front of their peers.

X. Players Have to Play for You

The only way this happens is if they ultimately believe in you and trust in you. Other than pure talent, there is no greater component towards winning than this. Schemes, practice plans, game plans, off season, concepts, philosophy and ideas mean nothing if you can’t get the players to play for you. This is key. Relationships with players have to be at the forefront of who you are as a coach.

XI. Peer Pressure is a Valuable Tool

Although I will not throw a player under the bus publicly, I will call him out in a team meeting when he displays behavior contrary to what we want to accomplish as a team, whether it be on or off the field. As long as you are consistent with this to all players, it will be very effective.

XII. Battalions

One of the best things I did was break our locker room down into 6 battalions. The seniors drafted players to their battalions (locker room section). Battalions are about accountability. As a player, you are accountable to yourself, but you are also accountable to your battalion. When a player steps out of line, the player is punished, usually a difficult conditioning run, but if it happens a second time, the entire battalion runs. Stepping out of line usually revolved about class and study hall attendance, but it wasn’t limited to that. The seniors who understood the purpose of battalions drafted not based upon talent, but based upon accountability. One of our very best players talent wise was the last player drafted this past year. He had no idea his teammates viewed him this way. He was embarrassed and disappointed that he was viewed this way. It changed him instantly and dramatically. He didn’t want to be that guy.

The lesson I learned about battalions is that players will sometimes let themselves down, but very few are willing to let their team mates down.

XIII. Fundamentals Fundamentals Fundamentals

There were times this past season I felt our fundamentals were not at the level I wanted them. I talked about this weekly to coaches but I felt it was an area we could and should have been better at. Sometimes players forget what got them to be the players they are.

Sometimes coaches get too tied up in the scheme and they sacrifice fundamentals in the process. There has to be a consistent commitment to this from beginning to end of season. It’s still a game of blocking and tackling, throwing and catching. That will never change. If you do those things well, you will win regardless of what scheme you run.

XIV. Never Pass Up an Opportunity to Practice Tackling

Whether in pads or in shorts, your team can always practice the techniques of proper form tackling. Breaking down, coming to balance, bending knees and keeping eyes with a form fit can be practiced every day and in every drill. With pads or without - always coach the proper angle and fit on a tackle.

XV. Hiring Staff

When hiring a staff, always take your time and get the right fit and what you want. Not everyone should be the same personality or talent. You need different personalities, different strengths, but all on the same page from what you as Head Football Coach want to accomplish. You are only as good as those around you. Take your time here. Very critical to get the right fit, staff talent and chemistry is key. It carries over to the players.

XVI. Dismissing a Staff Member

If someone is not doing their job the way you want it done, it is imperative you tell them immediately. I think it is unfair to fire someone without letting them know they are not meeting your expectations first. I believe you give a staff member three opportunities to fix what needs to be fixed. You hired him, you fix him. You owe him that . If you can’t, you owe it to the rest of the staff and team to make a change.

I tell the staff every pre-season what my expectations are. I tell them I will be up front and honest with them about their performance. I tell them if during the season I don’t like something, you’d better fix it.

It’s important to separate the professional criticism from the personal. You may like the person but you may not like how he is doing his job. When relieving someone of their duties, never let it get personal. This was always the toughest part of being a head coach. Your obligation is to the overall team and you cannot allow poor performance keep you from getting there. If you have been up front and honest with the coach, he can have no qualms about the direction you eventually decide to go.

XVII. Take Care of the Person and the Football Player Will Come Out

I tell our coaches this all the time. The players have to know you care before they will care about what you want them to do. Be involved in their lives. Ask questions about their families and girlfriends. Know their likes and dislikes. They have to know your care and are concerned about them as men first, players second. They have to know you care about their lives outside of and after football.

XVIII. Never Let the Negative Criticism Get to You

As Head Football Coach, you must assume total responsibility for your players and coaches performance. In order to handle this responsibility you must keep your head above the fray. Do not let things on the outside influence you. Be the leader you were hired to be.

Never let other people define you. You and you alone define the coach and the man that you are. No matter what happens, they can’t take that away from you. Hold true to your principles regardless of the circumstances or consequences.. Your players are watching how you react to these situations. In times of adversity are you who you say you are? Anybody can make it work when you are winning and everyone is happy. More importantly , your own family watches you and will learn a lot about their husband and dad in these adverse situations..

XIX. The Burst