Aggies win 5 straight to turn around season
Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman had a member of his staff drag a large metal barrel onto the practice field as the Aggies watched with confusion.
It was the Monday after No. 17 Texas A&M's tough 30-9 loss to Missouri and Sherman had a plan to help his team move on from its third straight defeat.
So he threw the game plan, play book and tape into the bin and set them on fire. The shocked Aggies watched in awe as all of it went up in flames and vowed to turn things around and save the season.
''All I wanted to do was put the game behind us and tell them it's OK,'' Sherman said. ''These kids are not as sequestered as our staff is. Coaches are immune to criticism, players aren't. They have to go to class. They have to be out among the real world. So the criticisms that are thrown your way - and some of them are very justified - hang on to them.''
Texas A&M receiver Jeff Fuller said that moment really got to him.
''That was such a tough loss,'' Fuller said. ''The offense was struggling and the defense struggled a little bit. It kind of woke us up. It was nice that he was willing to remind us that we could put this all behind us and turn this thing around and end off on a positive.''
It's hard to tell if the fire had anything to do with it, but the Aggies have done just that, winning five straight games. They beat Nebraska on Saturday to move into second place in the Big 12 South division entering Thursday's regular-season finale against rival Texas.
Texas A&M (8-3, 5-2) has qualified for a bowl game and has a shot at its first 10-win season since 1998. It's a scenario that seemed unlikely after the loss to the Tigers appeared to send the Aggies barreling toward another disappointing season after last year's 6-7 finish.
Beyond torching the reminders of the Tigers loss, Sherman made a more substantial change with the Aggies' season at the breaking point. It was then he began the transition from senior quarterback Jerrod Johnson to backup Ryan Tannehill.
The two split time that next week before Tannehill took over at quarterback. Tannehill has been impressive in his first four starts, throwing for 1,126 yards and seven touchdowns.
He's also shown great poise in dealing with the difficult situation of the benching of Johnson, who holds almost every Texas A&M passing record.
''We didn't talk about it a whole lot but it was definitely understood,'' he said of the support he's received from Johnson. ''There was no hard feelings. I never felt him angry toward me. It was definitely a tough situation for him, but he handled it well. He's continued to help me. He's definitely a huge asset to this team. He's basically another coach on the sideline.''
Tannehill's passing numbers have been roughly on par with the yardage Johnson was putting up, but a key difference has been Tannehill's ability to limit turnovers. Johnson has nine interceptions and lost two fumbles in his seven games. Tannehill has just three interceptions and hasn't lost a fumble in the five games he's played.
Sherman likes the progress Tannehill has made since becoming the starter but wasn't that impressed with his team's offensive showing right after Saturday's 9-6 win against Nebraska. He changed his tune the next day.
''I was very excited as a head coach but as an offensive coach if you can only score nine points in a ballgame the offensive coordinator side of me is frustrated,'' he said. ''But when I watched the tape I realized that: A. we didn't turn the ball over B. we had minimal penalties and C. we ran the ball pretty well ... and Ryan managed the game very well.''
Sherman doesn't know exactly how much the fire contributed to Texas A&M's winning streak, but he does believe it was a push his players needed. There are plenty of other factors that have played into his team's recent success.
''I think our team has matured,'' Sherman said. ''I think we've improved. That's what a season is. You're never as good at the beginning as you are at the end. You want to peak at certain times. In college November has to be your best month. We put a lot of emphasis on November here.''