At Nauset, Sherman returning to a strong passion

NORTH EASTHAM, Mass. -- For years, Mike Sherman has been casting off from the outer shores of Cape Cod, fishing under the shadows of Nauset Lighthouse for stripers, blues or anything else that will nibble on his line.

As a longtime vacationer, the 60-year-old Sherman is quite familiar with the amenities Cape Cod has to offer. But he’s about to become much more acquainted with the area -- in particular, the local football scene.

Nauset Regional High School, which sits less than a half-mile from Sherman’s fishing spot, garnered national attention over the weekend when athletic director Keith Kenyon announced the hiring of the former Green Bay Packers and Texas A&M head coach as the new head coach of the football program.

Sherman, a Northborough native and Algonquin Regional High School grad, got his start in the business at the schoolboy level. After playing as an offensive lineman at Central Connecticut State, Sherman served as an assistant coach at Stamford (Conn.) High (1978) and Worcester Academy (1979-80) before taking a graduate assistant job at the University of Pittsburgh, sparking a three-decade journey that took him though the Pac-10, Big 12, SEC and finally the NFL.

Through it all, Sherman has always maintained high respect for high school coaches.

“High school coaches really don’t get the credit for the influence they have and jobs that they do,” Sherman said. “I’ve always felt strongly for high school coaches, and they have a tremendous opportunity and responsibility to influence young players.”

There was no shortage of coaching opportunities for Sherman, from professional- to college-level jobs, but Nauset was the perfect fit for a number of reasons, particularly his family.

He and his wife, Karen, have moved 11 times over Sherman’s career, and that lifestyle was no longer appetizing. Over the winter, Sherman built a house in West Dennis, roughly 30 minutes from Nauset High School, but still had that irresistible itch to be back on the field.

“The bottom line was realizing that I wanted to be coaching and I wanted to be on the Cape, and Nauset worked perfectly,” Sherman said.

One thing briefly held Sherman back from accepting the job: himself. Worried he wouldn’t be fully committed, Sherman took four months to ponder the thought before he realized it was the perfect fit.

“It was more if I was 100 percent devoted the same way I was at the college level, and that’s a big-time commitment,” Sherman said. “There is really only one way to do the job, and it does take some time. I just had to come to the realization I was not going to go the other direction.”

“Over the last four months and meeting with him face to face, I feel like Nauset football became secondary,” Kenyon said of his relationship with Sherman. “We developed a friendship; we spent a lot of time together; and I’m looking forward to working with him.”

After he was let go as offensive coordinator of the Dolphins following the 2013 season, Sherman spent 2014 doing consulting work for the NFL and college teams. But that wasn’t satisfying enough.

“I was traveling around to different schools, just watching other teams with spring ball, and I just didn’t want to be on the sidelines anymore,” Sherman said. “I liked helping teams and players, but it didn’t get much flowing and didn’t hold me accountable.”

One of Sherman’s biggest draws to the high school gridiron was the absence of professional egos. There will be none of the hot tempers of future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre, whom Sherman coached from 2000 to 2005 in Green Bay. Nor is he ordering 24-hour surveillance on Heisman-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel, whom Sherman recruited to Texas A&M before he was let go in 2011.

Now at Nauset, Sherman is working purely for the enjoyment of the game, something he said he believes gets lost on the big stage.

“The thing about high school is, you know, at the college at pro level, money plays big business,” Sherman said. “And here, these coaches are doing it for nothing -- the love of the game -- and it’s remarkable the time they dedicate to their jobs.”

Sherman has held nearly every position football has to offer at just about every level, but head coach of a high school team is one of the few that has eluded him over the years. With his love of the high school game, it was a great fit for semiretirement.

“I’ve always had a tremendous respect for high school coaches. I’ve been at every position at every level -- head coach, general manager, vice president -- but I’ve never been a head high school coach,” Sherman said.

On Wednesday afternoon, Sherman met his prospective players for the first time in the high school’s auditorium, where he assigned individually numbered team handbooks while jotting down the name of each player in attendance.

“A lot stood out,” junior receiver Kino Gray said of the meeting. “The way he brought everyone together and the way he projects his voice, he made it feel like we were all attentive.”

The biggest change Sherman is bringing to the Nauset team is a new offense. In recent years Nauset has garnered attention as the only high school program in Massachusetts -- and one of just a few dozen nationally -- to run a true “single wing” offense, a century-old relic mastered by Pop Warner and Knute Rockne, known for its direct snaps, unbalanced lines, spinning fullbacks and sometimes quarterback-less personnel.

The Warriors had won just four games in four years before Kenyon installed the offense five seasons ago. With the single wing, the Warriors have been consistently competitive, going 31-24 over that time and making their first two state playoff appearances in school history.

Sherman, however, is one to spread the field and throw the ball, something which could take some getting used to. Nauset installs its unique offense at the lowest ranks of the youth level, all the way up to the varsity squad. But Sherman is ready to take on the challenge.

“I think the single wing has been good for Keith and the program,” Sherman explained. “But I enjoy being able to throw the football, and I have a passion for that, and I’ll do what it takes to develop quarterbacks.”

Kenyon added: “What I’m really looking forward to is watching Mike. I know his offensive mind is unbelievable, and I can’t wait to watch him attack defenses. We’ve run the unbalanced run offense and had great success, and it will be fun to watch Mike spread it out.”

The Warriors’ biggest rival, Dennis-Yarmouth, has had its way with Nauset over the past decade. The Dolphins have typically dominated the “Chowder Bowl,” the annual Thanksgiving Day rivalry game between the two teams, winning the past 12 in a row.

The only Nauset victory during that span came during a regular-season meeting in September 2013, when the Warriors slipped past the Dolphins 21-20 on a last-second touchdown on fourth-and-16.

Dolphins coach Paul Funk thinks the hiring is good for Cape football and it brings an added dimension to the Atlantic Coast League, which has dwindled from 10 teams down to just five over the past decade. But he isn’t worried about losing the upper hand.

“The kids are the ones who are on the field and playing,” Funk said. “It’s been 25 years since I’ve took a snap and probably longer since Mike has been on the field, so it’s more about the kids than anything else.”