April 13, 2009
Jackie Sherrill didn't get the reputation of "walking recruiting violation" by accident: Both Texas A&M and Mississippi State were burned not once but twice by NCAA sanctions under Sherrill, including money for phantom jobs and promises of cash and prizes, some of them made when the programs were already on probation or under investigation. Joe Paterno, good-natured about the vast majority of his colleagues, despised his one-time rival for sequestering recruits and once threatening the Penn State legend and his wife in a late-night phone call when Sherrill was at Pittsburgh. He famously motivated Mississippi State before an upset win over Texas by castrating a bull on the practice field. He provoked Tommy West into an on-air tirade at midfield after a game with Memphis. Sherrill's reputation easily rivals Barry Switzer's as the dirtiest coach of the NCAA-crackdown era, and with sour acrimony in place of the good-natured extroversion that's allowed Switzer to remain a regular analyst and occasional guest star on television.
Before he was fired, Sylvester Croom's raison d'être at Mississippi State was to purge the program of the ill will and foul odor of the end of the Sherrill era, whether or not it meant actually winning any games. So you would think, then, that MSU would issue some kind of informal restraining order against its old boss, or outfit him with one of those collars that delivers an electric shock when he comes within 100 feet of campus, or something, since Sherill's mere presence at an MSU practice might constitute some kind of violation:
At the invitation of new coach Dan Mullen, Sherrill visited State's spring practice session here Friday afternoon - and even before he left, Mississippi State officials were scrambling to see if the school had broken NCAA or Southeastern Conference rules for what Sherrill might have done while he was there.
More than once, Sherrill appeared to interact with and instruct players during the workout. That might have violated NCAA bylaw 11.7.2, which limits schools to one head coach, nine assistants and two graduate assistants working with players.
You don't get as far as Sherrill did in this business without having a few tricks up your sleeve, though, and both the old coach and the new were ready to play them -- isn't the veteran allowed to depart a little, you know, wisdom?
"No, because he was coaching me," Mullen said. "I don't think there's any limitation of coaches that can coach your coaches."
Asked if he was sure that Sherrill did not interact with players, Mullen was emphatic."No, I was coaching the players," Mullen said. "He was sitting there telling me what to tell them."
Reached on his cell phone later as he was returning to his Germantown, Tenn., home, Sherrill said he "wasn't coaching them. I was trying to coach the coaches how to coach them."
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Deny, deflect, but never demure: Coach Sherrill sees you're already learning well, grasshopper. The NCAA will arrive shortly with sirens blaring.
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Hat tip: Richie.