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Ever wonder what it’s like being Mike Sherman on game day? You’re sitting in the press box high above the field. You are calling every offensive play. You’ve got seconds to make your decisions. Everything is moving so quickly. You have to think ahead; you can’t look back. You’ve got an entire playbook to choose from, so many factors to consider and the success of an offense resting in your hands.
It’s easy to criticize Mike Sherman for a play gone bad, a decision turned sour. You’ve done it. I’ve done it. Comes with the job. But it’s also important to understand what he does and how he does it, how there is no time to second-guess himself, how the pressure he faces during a three-hour period on Sunday afternoon is literally off the charts.
Why, this is a man who doesn’t sleep the night after a game – I mean not for one precious second — who keeps his eyes wide open and his mind on overdrive, replaying every call, wondering what he could have done differently, asking himself over and over if he served the Miami Dolphins well earlier that day.
I sat down with Mike Sherman earlier this week in the lunch room at the Dolphins training facility. Practice had just ended. His play chart was sitting on the table. A few minutes earlier, he had held his weekly press conference and the questions were predictable: What about the offensive line? The running backs? How can you get this offense back on track? Any personnel changes expected?
As usual, Sherman – who looks more like a college professor than a football coach — answered with a calm, confident tone. He is so easy to like, so easy to respect. The day after the loss to New Orleans, after a crucial third-and-one play was stuffed for no gain, Sherman whispered to the media: “That play will haunt me.” You don’t often hear that kind of admission.
But on this day, I wanted to go beyond the obvious questions. I wanted to look deeper into this man and the enormity of his job. I wanted to know what none of us can really appreciate, how he handles those intense, wild hours when he is firing off play calls in about 10 quickly evaporating seconds.
AC: So what is it like up there, having so little time to make important calls and then having to do it over and over again?
MS: You are so focused in the moment; you can’t think about anything else. You have to be able to think ahead. As you are calling a first down play, somewhere in your mind you are asking: What am I going to do if it’s second-and-10 or second-and-short? It’s constant.
AC: Do you have people talking in your ear and what type of resources do you use in front of you?
MS: I have a game plan with plays on it. I have a notebook. People don’t talk to me during the play. Usually there are conversations between series. We’ll talk about situations as a group. But during the context of calling plays, nobody is saying anything to me. I’ve got to stay focused.
AC: Is there time to change your mind?
MS: Normally not. We had to call a timeout recently because I did change my mind and that involved changing our personnel grouping, which isn’t something you like to do at the last moment.
AC: This must be a mentally exhausting experience?
MS: It is. At the end of the game, you are totally drained. You are playing a chess game in your head and you know that every single call you make impacts the outcome of the game. You are constantly processing information. But I have to be honest with you: It’s the players who have to take the call and execute it on the field. That’s really the hard part. I’ll take player execution over a great call any day.
AC: Television replays showed you burying your hands in your face after Ryan Tannehill threw an interception in New Orleans. Is it very emotional up there?
MS: It can be. It can be very emotional. If we miss an opportunity I wouldn’t say that is a calm moment. But you can’t waste time being emotionally attached to the previous play, even though that’s hard to do. There is no time to revel and no time to beat yourself up. You have to move on to the next one. But I just hate to have a missed opportunity.
AC: How much do you talk to Joe Philbin during the game?
MS: I think Joe Philbin is a great game manager. He is constantly on the head phones and keeping me alert of situations that might come up. He is always two or three steps ahead. He’ll tell me to have a fourth down call ready. He has a pulse on what is going to happen and he’s usually right. I have so much respect for him.
AC: Did being a head coach help prepare you for this?
MS: When I was a head coach, I called the plays. So in some cases it’s good. But in some cases you don’t want to think like a head coach because all I need to be concerned about is scoring points.
AC: Do you think the average person has any real understanding of what you do for three hours on a Sunday afternoon?
MS: I think they’d be a little surprised if they were in my position and had to make a call in less than 10 seconds after the previous play. By the time I get the play to the quarterback coach and he gives it to the quarterback, you don’t have much time. The clock runs awfully fast in NFL games.
AC: How quickly after a game do you starting second-guessing yourself?
MS: Driving home. In the locker room. Almost immediately. But you can’t hang on to it for too long.
AC: Can you unwind quickly?
MS: Not really. The night after a game I don’t sleep. I do not fall asleep. I’m in bed with my eyes open. I usually want to watch the game again. It’s hard to relax after a game. Your mind is racing. I’m still processing the game in my mind. Every game has to be analyzed. You want to be self-critical and accountable. The score is the score, but we still have to be held accountable for everything you do.
AC: When it’s over, when the last play is called and the Dolphins win, what kind of rush is that for you?
MS: There is no better feeling than being in a winner’s locker room. Those are the things I remember the most as a coach. I don’t remember the plays as much as I do the faces of the players in the locker room and a bunch of grown men acting like little kids. If there is anything I could have our fans experience, it is being in a winning locker room after a hard-fought battle and just seeing how stupid everyone can be.
And with that, Mike Sherman stands up, grabs that play sheet tightly in his hand, and starts walking away. There is another meeting to attend, more evaluations to make. Got to be prepared. Got to be ready. Sunday afternoon is quickly approaching. And another sleepless night awaits.
On Friday, AC in the AM takes a close look at Sunday’s game against Buffalo.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.
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