Texas A&M won't fire Sherman, but he's feeling heat

Posted Sunday, Nov. 20, 2011  comments  Print Reprints

Topics: Texas

A

Key number

8Big 12 teams that are bowl eligible in a league with only seven guaranteed bowl slots. All eight have places to play if the Big 12 lands two teams in BCS bowls.

Moving up

Baylor awards candidates: Quarterback Robert Griffin III is back among the Heisman Trophy favorites after racking up 551 yards of total offense in a 45-38 victory over Oklahoma. WR Kendall Wright, a Biletnikoff Award semifinalist, had a career-high 208 yards and a TD catch.

Moving down

Texas Tech's bowl hopes: Texas Tech (5-6, 2-6 in Big 12) has been bowl eligible for the past 18 years, the longest active streak in the Big 12 and fourth-longest mark in the nation. But that streak ends Saturday unless the Red Raiders knock off No. 18 Baylor (7-3, 4-3).

Key games this week

Texas at Texas A&M: The Longhorns and Aggies meet for the final time as conference rivals in a series that began in 1894.

No. 18 Baylor vs. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders (5-6, 2-6 in Big 12) must win Saturday at Cowboys Stadium to become bowl eligible.

Iowa State at No. 9 Oklahoma: The Sooners (8-2, 5-2) need a victory to remain within striking distance of No. 4 Oklahoma State (10-1, 7-1) in the league title race.

Have more to add? News tip? Tell us

The last scheduled game in the Texas A&M-Texas football rivalry will be played Thursday in College Station.

That much has been clear since September, when A&M agreed to join the Southeastern Conference for the 2012 football season.

But will Thursday's game also mark the last appearance in Kyle Field for A&M coach Mike Sherman, whose team began the season with a top-10 ranking and has delivered only a 6-5 record?

Not likely. Expect Sherman to return for a multitude of reasons in 2012, although things could change if the Aggies (6-5, 4-4 in Big 12) lose to Texas (6-4, 3-4) and follow up with a loss in their bowl game. That would give A&M a 6-7 record and would mark the third losing season in Sherman's four-year tenure in College Station.

Even if that occurs, there are financial considerations, and football considerations, that weigh in favor of a Sherman return in 2012.

First and foremost: A&M will pay handsomely to leave the Big 12 in June, with league bylaws stipulating an exit fee of approximately $28 million, based on projected revenues.

Even if lawyers can lower that figure through negotiation, A&M boosters and administrators probably won't want to take on the additional cost of buying out a football coach who earns $2.2 million annually and received a contract extension in July through the 2015 season, with school options for 2016 and 2017.

Although media reports have indicated Sherman can be bought out for $1.8 million at the end of this season, an A&M source with knowledge of the situation said Sunday that the actual figure is "a lot more than that," placing the total closer to $9 million.

With either figure, A&M already is facing an expensive off-season because of its move to the SEC and probably will not want to take on the additional cost of changing coaches.

From a football standpoint, the program has made significant recruiting strides under Sherman. A&M's 2012 class, which includes oral commitments from 24 players, is ranked seventh nationally by Rivals.com. The list includes eight four-star prospects, headed by quarterback Matt Davis and running back Marion Grice.

Every offensive lineman who starts this season will return in 2012, with three of them (LT Luke Joeckel, RT Jake Matthews, OG Cedric Ogbuehi) considered future NFL talents. All are Sherman signees. More blue-chip linemen are in the 2012 class, which bodes well for A&M's depth in the trenches as it transitions into life in the SEC.

None of that eases the disappointment from a once-promising season that has seen A&M squander four double-digit leads in narrow losses to four bowl-eligible teams: No. 4 Oklahoma State (30-29), No. 3 Arkansas (42-38), No. 11 Kansas State (53-50, four overtimes) and Missouri (38-31, overtime). The recurring swoons reflect poorly on Sherman, but the Aggies remain in the mix to finish 8-5, hardly a fireable offense at a school that finished 9-4 last season and won its last conference football championship in 1998.

But the grumbling will continue. Angst is growing within the fan base because preseason expectations were not met.

Without question, Sherman has earned his spot at No. 7 in Sunday's latest rankings of the nation's most embattled college football coaches on the website CoachesHotSeat.com.

Sherman understands. And he feels the heat. Before Saturday's 61-7 victory over Kansas, Sherman said: "I don't think any of us feel a great amount of job security ... I think that goes along with the profession of being football players and coaches. We are all held accountable for what we do and don't do."

From all indications, A&M athletic director Bill Byrne is not ready to pull the plug on his football coach. In his latest post on the school's website, Byrne acknowledged receiving "options for me to consider" from several alums, including "the number of a local bus company and a map of all roads leading out of Aggieland."

"I appreciate all of the information, and I've put it in a special place," Byrne wrote.

Bottom line: An 8-5 record won't cost Sherman his job at the end of this season. It doesn't sound like a 6-7 mark will do it, either.

But Sherman would be well-advised not to put the latter mark to the test. Just in case.

Follow Jimmy Burch on Twitter @Jimmy_Burch.

Jimmy Burch, 817-390-7760

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