Sherrill no stranger to winning, controversy

Published 12:00 am Thursday, October 11, 2001

Sports Editor

Jackie Sherrill’s seen his share of success and disappointment in 23 years of coaching.

The 57-year-old head coach of the Mississippi State Bulldogs is fourth on the NCAA’s list of winningest active coaches, behind only Joe Paterno (322), Bobby Bowden (317) and Lou Holtz (229). Sherrill has 173 wins as a head coach.

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He’s won 67 of those at State in 11 years and taken the Bulldogs, a program which sat out the decade of the 80s and allowed itself to become the poster boy for hard knocks in the SEC, to six bowl games during his tenure. He molded the Bulldogs into winners with a smashmouth football attitude, learned under Paul "Bear" Bryant while at Alabama as both a player and a graduate assistant in 1966.

But Sherrill has also seen his share of controversy.

His Texas A&M program of the late 80s was a success on the field, but NCAA allegations of misconduct cost Sherrill his job in 1988 and the Aggies a few years of probation in the wake of his departure

Mississippi State took a chance on Sherrill, himself a native of Biloxi, and hired him in 1991. His second game of the year that season was against No. 13 Texas and prior to the contest he assembled his players together to watch the castrating of steer.

The somewhat drastic motivational tactics appeared to work, as his first Bulldogs’ team beat the Longhorns, 13-6 and concluded the season 7-4, the program’s first winning season since 1981.

There’s been six more since.

In the last two years, however, the Bulldogs have somehow exited the month of October the clear-cut favorite to win the SEC Western Division crown, but ended the season with losses that kept them out of the Georgia Dome and a chance to play for a championship.

In ’99, State won their first eight, but fell to both Alabama and Arkansas on the road in two of the last three games in the season. Last year, the Bulldogs shocked No. 3 Florida 47-35 in Starkville, beat No. 15 Auburn, also at home, but lost the next week to unranked LSU and finished the year out with two straight losses to the Razorbacks and Ole Miss.

2001 hasn’t been as kind.

Sherrill and the Bulldogs find themselves behind an 0-3 SEC eightball early in the season, after losing games to South Carolina, Auburn and the top-ranked Gators.

Picked by many to win the west, what should be a celebratory occasion in Starkville this weekend as the Bulldogs host Troy State for homecoming, has suddenly become a must-win situation.

It’s simple for Sherrill really. In the three losses this year, his team hasn’t executed.

"We need to execute and by that I mean no pre-snap or silly penalties," he said. "We have to throw catchable balls and we have to catch those passes. We have to make sure we’re in the right place at the right time."

Saturday’s game will feature two football teams hungry for a win. The Trojans beat Nicholls State two week’s ago, following two losses to No. 4 Nebraska and Middle Tennessee State, and fell to then-ranked No. 1 Miami 38-7 last weekend.

Sherrill compared Troy State’s offense to the one Terry Bowden fielded as head coach of Auburn in ’96 and ’97.

"Their offense is very similar to the offense (quarterback) Dameyune Craig ran at Auburn," he said. "They are a throwing team. Their main formation is four wideouts and their tailback, Demontray Carter, transferred from Auburn. He’s got good speed and he’s bigger now. Their quarterback, Brock Nutter, is athletic and he does a good job moving around."

Sherrill should know Carter. He played on Auburn’s 1997 SEC West Champion team as a freshman.

Sherrill’s been impressed with what he’s seen of the Trojans in their match-ups against Nebraska and Miami.

"Troy State played Nebraska very well in the first part of the game," he said. "They had a couple of turnovers that hurt them though. Their defense held Miami to 101 yards rushing, when they put eight men on the line of scrimmage."

Kickoff for Saturday’s game is at 1:30 p.m.