The Career of Ray Sherman

How does one begin to write about the St. Louis Rams new wide receivers coach Ray Sherman? Do you write about his extensive and impressive career?

How do you encapsulate a career like his? Perhaps it would read something like this:

Coach Ray Sherman has joined the staff of new St Louis Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher, who was the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams, before joining George Seifert in San Francisco as defensive backs coach, with Coach Seifert having taken over from Bill Walsh after serving under him as defensive coordinator. Coach Sherman arrived in St Louis by way of Mike Sherman in Green Bay, who worked for Mike Holmgren in both Seattle and Green Bay. Mike Holmgren worked for George Seifert as offensive coordinator, before leaving and taking Ray Rhodes, which got Jeff Fisher hired in San Francisco. Coach Sherman also got here by way of Dennis Green, who coached for Bill Walsh, and who had Brian Billick as an offensive coordinator, who went on to coach the Ravens team that dethroned Jeff Fisher and the Titans as AFC champions in 2000. Ta-da!

Unfortunately, that doesn't do justice to this amazing man's life, both in the coaching business, and outside of it. Let's take a closer look at Ray Sherman's NFL journey.

Ray Sherman's resume

Ray Sherman started coaching in 1974 after playing wide receiver and defensive back at Florida State. His resume is as follows:

1974 - San Jose State University - Graduate Assistant

1975 - University of California - Defensive Backs

1976-1977 - Michigan State University - Tight Ends

1978-1980 - Wake Forest University - Running Backs

1981 - University of California - Running Backs

1982-1985 - University of Purdue - Running Backs

1986-1987 - University of Georgia - Wide Receivers

1988 - Houston Oilers - Running Backs

1989 - Houston Oilers - Wide Receivers

1990 - Atlanta Falcons - Assistant Head Coach

1991 - San Francisco 49ers - Running Backs

1992-1993 - San Francisco 49ers - Wide Receivers

1994 - New York Jets - Offensive Coordinator

1995-1997 - Minnesota Vikings - Quarterbacks

1998 - Pittsburgh Steelers - Offensive Coordinator

1999 - Minnesota Vikings - Offensive Coordinator

2000-2004 - Green Bay Packers - Wide Receivers

2005-2006 - Tennessee Titans - Wide Receivers

2007-2010 - Dallas Cowboys - Wide Receivers

2012-? - St Louis Rams - Wide Receivers

That is 20 different jobs in 38 years coaching football at either the college or professional level. His average length in any one particular job is a bit under 2 years. In his 38 year career, the longest he stuck in one spot was 5 seasons as the wide receivers coach in Green Bay.

He has been considered for many head coaching positions over the years, including the Rams head coaching position in 2009, before they ultimately hired Steve Spagnuolo. He has also been interviewed at various times by the Vikings, Raiders, and Cowboys for their vacant head coaching positions.

He was most recently involved in some controversy in Dallas when he interviewed for the Head Coach position. Coach Sherman had been with the team for four seasons when Wade Phillips was fired during the 2010 season. Despite being considered for the top job, when Jason Garrett was selected, he chose not to retain Coach Sherman as his wide receiver coach. Many people speculated he was only given an interview to satisfy the Rooney Rule, which requires teams to interview at least on minority candidate for open coaching positions. Neither Jason Garrett or Jerry Jones have ever given a reason for Sherman's dismissal, other than saying that the Cowboys "just (wanted to) go in different directions".

We'll probably never know why Ray Sherman was dismissed from the Cowboys in such a strange fashion. What we do know is that his dismissal was in spite of the Cowboys having a 1,000 yard wide receiver in each of Sherman's four seasons as the team's wide receiver coach. His reign saw Miles Austin transform from a practice squad player into one of the top receivers anywhere in the NFL. The Cowboys were a top offense for Coach Sherman's entire tenure in Dallas, and much of that was built on the back of the wide receivers. If he can bring that magic to St. Louis, this team will take a giant step forward immediately.

Tragedy Strikes the Sherman Family

The St Louis Rams media guide page about Ray Sherman ends with this line "His first child, Ray II, passed away in 2003". If only it were as simple as that...

On May 18th, 2003, Ray Sherman Jr was at home with his mother, his father, his grandmother, and his two younger sisters. He had spent the morning practicing his drums, and had played in a soccer game. He had spent the afternoon helping him mom with a garage sale. The family was moving out of a rental house, and everyone was chipping in. His dad had promised to take him to see The Matrix Reloaded that evening, and he had even sent an excited email to a friend about the movie.

At 5:40 pm, Ray Sherman Sr went out to the garage, where his son had been organizing some things for the upcoming move, and found his son, on the ground, with a gunshot wound on the right side of his head. The gun lying next to him belonged to his father. The family immediately dialed 911, and when paramedics arrived, they tried to resuscitate the boy, but he was already gone.

The next day, the Brown County medical examiner Al Klimek ruled the young man's death a suicide. The family was stunned at the ruling. Klimek responded to questions about how he came to this ruling by saying, "There were several intentional acts which a reasonable person would realize could cause his death".

The gun had been stored in a duffel bag, and was kept separate from the ammunition. Ray Sherman Jr also had powder burns on his head, indicating a shot at close range. After the boy had found the gun, he had somehow found ammunition to go along with it. Despite the medical examiners ruling, the family never believed that Ray Sherman Jr had killed himself. The lead investigator, who was also the young man's football coach, said after the ruling "It's quite possible we may never know all the answers".

Even the head coach Ray Sherman worked for at the time , Mike Sherman(no relation), publicly doubted the ruling of suicide, saying "This was a 14-year-old boy who loved life, and life loved him. The day of his passing, he played in a soccer game and practiced his drum lessons in the morning, and worked with his mother in a garage sale that afternoon. He even e-mailed a friend about the movie ‘Matrix Reloaded’ he was going to see with his father that night."

Over the 6 months following the death of Ray Sherman Jr, the family continued to fight the ruling of suicide. They hired two independent forensic scientists and a psychiatrist to review the case, and all three returned with the ruling of an accidental death.

On November 9th, 2003, the family filed a petition to have a judge overturn the ruling of suicide and rule Ray Sherman Jr's death a suicide. Yvette Sherman, Ray Sherman Sr's wife, was quoted as saying, "I am a mother trying to find my way to grieve my son, and I find myself in a tremendous fight to clear his name and preserve his legacy".

Finally, on May 20th, 2004, almost exactly one year after the incident and the ruling of suicide, a Brown County judge ruled that the "only reasonable that the death was the result of an accident". Despite the change in the cause of death, the family didn't see this as a victory. "We haven't won, because we lost our son", Coach Sherman said to a reporter over the telephone.

Ray Sherman was an avid gun collector his whole life until that incident. Although he would never tell other people not to own guns, he got rid of all of his own. And to people who still have them, all he has to say is, "I think people have to understand, not only do you have to lock them up, but you better put the key somewhere where kids aren't able to get to them. Kids are intrigued by guns. That's not going to change."

"...We taught our kids about water safety, driving safely. We talked about everything, sex education, don't do drugs. Gun safety was never one I talked to my son about."

The Men Coach Sherman has Influenced

Ray Sherman has coached up quite a few young players into pro bowlers, and even current/future Hall of Famers. Some of those players include:

Ernest Givins

Andre Rison

Jerry Rice

Warren Moon

Jerome Bettis

Randall Cunningham

Daunte Culpepper

Randy Moss

Cris Carter

Donald Driver

Terrell Owens

Miles Austin

Dez Bryant

As impressive as that list is, perhaps more impressive is what Coach Sherman has done with some of his less talented players. Bill Schroeder, Drew Bennett, Charles Johnson, Rob Moore, and Robert Ferguson are just a few guys who experienced Pro Bowl or near-Pro Bowl seasons under Ray Sherman, then never came close to that production level again.

With the advent of advanced metrics in football, receiving yards has taken a step back to some other stats. However, it's still very interesting to look at some of the numbers receivers have had when playing for Ray Sherman.

In 1990, Andre Rison had 1,208 yards in his only season playing for Ray Sherman. In the surrounding two years, Andre Rison had 820 yards and 976 yards. 1990 was also the only year Andre Rison was an All-Pro.

In 1999, Cris Carter had 1,241 yards and 13 TDs. He also made his first All Pro team since 1994, and the last one he would ever make. His yards per catch was also a career high for any qualifying season. He would never match those total numbers again after Ray Sherman left.

Before Ray Sherman arrived in Dallas in 2007, Miles Austin was nothing but a practice team player. Even for the first year Coach Sherman was there, he never made the field as a receiver, but strictly as a kick returner. By 2009, in his third year under Coach Sherman, Miles Austin had 1,320 yards, 11 TDs, and over 16 yards per catch. In 2010, his numbers came down to earth with a more modest, but still very impressive, 1,041 yards, 7 TDs, and 15 yards per catch. In 2011, after Coach Sherman was dismissed, he had under 600 yards, and didn't even break 14 yards per catch.

All of these numbers are certainly impressive. And there are a lot more examples that show Sherman's influence over offenses in the NFL, particularly over the wide receiver position. But even more impressive is what these great players had to say about Coach Sherman over the years.

After Sherman's departure from the Cowboys, PFT Live asked Miles Austin about Coach Sherman. "It's going to be tough to see him go. He helps receivers, not only with stuff on the field, but mentoring them off the field, as well."

In 2007, Terrell Owens was having a career year when he was asked about Ray Sherman. "I'm very fortunate for Ray," Owens said. "He's done a great job here, not only with me but the other guys, as well. We joke around and have a lot of fun, but it's business and he treats us like men."

Whatever criteria you may use to judge Ray Sherman, you find a coach that has been very successful. Players improve when they play for him, and tend to regress after he leaves. His players openly talk about the love and respect they have for him. He drives them to career years, by showing them how to play, and by showing them he cares about more than just their on-field performance.

The Men that have Influenced Coach Sherman

Perhaps even more impressive than who Ray Sherman has coached, is the list of men with whom he has coached. This list reads like a who's who of the last 20 years of football. These coaches include:

Jerry Glanville

Mike Holmgren

George Seifert

Pete Carroll

Brian Billick

Dennis Green

Bill Cowher

Mike Sherman

Norm Chow

Jeff FIsher

Looking over his NFL coaching career is like playing "6 Degrees of Separation" with the Bill Walsh coaching tree. The connections are numerous and impressive. Let's see if we can follow along:

In 1991, Coach Sherman was hired by George Seifert as the running backs coach for the San Francisco 49ers. The offensive coordinator for the team was Mike Holmgren. After the season, Mike Holmgren left to become the head coach of the Green Bay Packers, taking defensive backs coach Ray Rhodes with him to be his defensive coordinator in Green Bay. Coach Sherman was promoted to wide receivers coach in San Francisco, while San Francisco hired two new coaches to replace the ones they lost. The new offensive coordinator was a young man named Mike Shanahan, and the new defensive backs coach was none other than Jeff Fisher.

As 1992 and 1993 rolled by, little changed for the coaching staff in San Francisco. After the 1993 season, Coach Sherman moved on from San Francisco, getting picked up as the offensive coordinator by Pete Carroll, the new head coach of the New York Jets. Unfortunately, the Jets went 6-10 in 1994, and Carroll was fired, sending Sherman out the door with him.

With Coach Sherman looking for a job for the 1995 season, he turned back to his Walsh roots, and became quarterbacks coach in Minnesota. At the time Minnesota's head coach was Dennis Green, who was the wide receiver coach for Bill Walsh from 1986 to 1988. The offensive coordinator for that Vikings team? None other than Brian Billick.

Coach Sherman stayed with that team for 3 years, before being offered a second chance at being an offensive coordinator with the Pittsburgh Steelers, coached by Bill Cowher. This was the least successful stint of Coach Sherman's career, and he and the team agreed to part ways after the 1998 season, with him having only been there for 1 year.

Needing a job for the 1999 season, Coach Sherman turned back to his Walsh roots once again, heading back to Minnesota to be offensive coordinator after Brian Billick departed to be the head coach of the Ravens. Coach Sherman unfortunately found himself looking for a job again after the 1999 season.

For the 2000-2004 seasons, Coach Ray Sherman served under head coach Mike Sherman as the wide receivers coach in Green Bay. Mike Sherman had been the offensive coordinator for Mike Holmgren in Seattle for the 1999 season, before getting Holmgren's old job as head coach of the Packers.

After the 2004 season, Ray Sherman left the Packers to be closer to his family, who lived in Florida, and joined Coach Fisher in Tennessee, taking the same position he head in Green Bay as wide receiver coach. The Titans and Coach Fisher got more production from the wide receiver position than they ever had in the past, but after the 2006 season, Coach Sherman moved south yet again.

For the first time in a decade, he left the Walsh tree and joined the Cowboys as their wide receiver coach. He was there for four seasons, but was then let go.

He took the 2011 season off, and is now with the St Louis Rams.

Needless to say, the connections to the Walsh coaching tree are everywhere in Ray Shermans past. Since joining the 49ers coaching staff in 1991, he has been coaching for someone along the Walsh tree for 15 out of the 20 seasons.

So what does all of this mean about Coach Sherman? It's hard to say exactly what it means. What it does say for certain is that he has the connections and pedigree to match just about anyone in the NFL. It also says that people have always had good things to say about him, because if he had been poison to any of these teams, they would have told the other members of the coaching tree.

In the end, who you know only matters so much in football. You still have to show results. And in Coach Sherman's 23 seasons as a coach in the NFL, his teams have had a record of 8-8 or better in 18 of those seasons. The man knows how to coach offense, wide receivers in particular, and his teams always show positive results.

Thoughts From People that Know Ray Sherman Best

In the end, none of those ways are the real way to write about Ray Sherman. His successes are extensive, as are his connections in the league. He has had personal tragedy in his life, but he hasn't let it destroy him.

The real way to write about Ray Sherman is by simply copying what other people have said already. The real Ray Sherman is the man that his players and head coaches absolutely love, who always describe him not just in terms of a coach, but by what kind of a man he is.

Donald Driver was asked about Coach Sherman in 2004. He had this to say to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "We love him. He's like a dad to us. Without him, we would be nothing."

Upon learning that Ray Sherman would be leaving to join the Titans, Packers head coach Mike Sherman said, "He will be extremely missed by his players and by me."

Brett Favre had the following to say about Ray Sherman in the Journal Sentinel, "Great guy, very bright, very knowledgeable. He's bounced around a lot of teams, but everywhere he goes he has success. Guys just kind of cling to him. He has that personality about him. You want to be in his meetings, you want to succeed for him."

Ex-Cowboy Patrick Crayton, perhaps, summed him up best in an interview with KESN-FM, "He was a hell of a coach, hell of a guy, and I really appreciate what he did to my career -- both on and off the field. ... He's one of those guys where, throughout the season, his wife and family would have the wideouts at their house, just like we were their kids. We adopted their daughters as our little sisters. So when you have a type of coach like that you play much harder, because you don't want to disappoint and let him down."

When asked by the USA Today about the Sherman family, shortly after the tragedy with Ray Jr, Donald Driver said, "Ray is like a father to me. Little Ray was like a brother. Erica and Alana, those are my sisters. They need a big brother. That's what Little Ray was to them. Now I'm here to be their older brother."

Above all else that comes out about Ray Sherman, the love for his players, and by his players, is paramount. To have more than one of his players talk about him in terms of being family says all you need to know about Ray Sherman. But in the end, the final words should go to the man himself.

When asked about his players being upset about him leaving Green Bay, Coach Ray Sherman had this to say to the Journal Sentinel, "I love them, too. It was special, very special. Our (relationship) probably was good as any coach could have with a group of guys. It was like you raised them."

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