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Columnist Ron Cook: Dump Sherman? That's not answer

Tuesday, December 15, 1998

By Ron Cook, Post-Gazette Sports Columnist

Ray Sherman stood tall late Sunday afternoon and took a vicious hit, one harder than any delivered by the Steelers or Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the previous three hours. He didn't grimace. He certainly didn't cry. He didn't even blink.


"No, I'm not worried about my job," Sherman said in response to the inevitable question after the Steelers' sickly offense imploded again in a 16-3 loss.

"I don't worry about them pulling the plug on me. All I can do is the best job I can. After that, it's out of my control."

This is a tough guy.

You probably aren't saying that about Sherman, though. He knows that. "I know what's being said. I know a lot of people are taking shots right now."

Sherman has been around the game long enough to understand. Somebody always is going to be held accountable when the team underachieves. In the Steelers' case, with an offense that produced 168 yards against the Buccaneers, has scored two touchdowns in 52 possessions in the past 41/2 games and left the team with only the faintest playoff hope, it's the quarterback, the offensive coordinator and the head coach.

Kordell Stewart, Sherman and Bill Cowher.

And because the Steelers aren't likely to fire Stewart and with Cowher's record until this season sensational ...

"It isn't right to put all the blame on Ray Sherman," Tom Donahoe said. "That's just not fair."

Of course, it isn't fair. It's not Sherman's fault that Stewart couldn't complete a pass to open receivers Sunday and threw for only 88 yards with three interceptions. He can't make the throws for him. It's not Sherman's fault that Mark Bruener got a questionable holding call on what could have been a game-turning 26-yard run by Jerome Bettis in the third quarter. He can't make the blocks. It's not Sherman's fault that the receivers have dropped far too many passes or that Bettis has been largely ineffective. He can't go on the field and make plays.

But life isn't fair.

It would make just about everybody in the city happy if Sherman took the fall after the season.

Me? I hope it doesn't happen.

Dan Rooney has never really believed in firing coaches who are under contract. Hopefully, he won't start now.

Sherman, who has another year on his contract, deserves his share of criticism, but he doesn't deserve to be replaced. Yes, he's gotten away from Bettis too early in a couple of games. And no, he hasn't used Hines Ward nearly enough. But the No. 1 knock against him - that he's changed the design of the Steelers' offense - just isn't true.

"I've heard I'm running the West Coast offense," Sherman said. "But I'm not. I'm not doing the things we did in San Francisco and Minnesota. This is the Steelers' offense. It's the same offense that Chan Gailey and Ron Erhardt ran. It hasn't changed."

Actually, it has changed for the worse, but only because Stewart and his teammates have stopped executing it within anything resembling competence.

I've blamed Sherman for Stewart's retarded development. A year ago, Stewart had the look of a future star. Maybe it was Gailey's coaching. Maybe it was because he was throwing to Yancey Thigpen and working behind a better offensive line. Who knows? All we know is Stewart is confused and tentative. He's never seemed comfortable working with Sherman. He's a mess, really.

But the problem might be more Stewart than Sherman. How can you not think that after seeing Stewart react to being benched Sunday by shouting at Cowher, then crying on the sideline? It was a pretty weak display by a guy who's supposed to be a team leader.

"Kordell is going to be fine," Sherman said. "This is all part of the learning process for a young quarterback."

Until Stewart and the offense solve their problems - if they ever do - Sherman will gladly take the hits. The more he takes, the fewer for Stewart. That only can help Stewart. That's one reason Sherman came out and faced the media on one of the lowest days of his professional career instead of hustling for the safety of the team bus.

"I'm not going to run and hide from this," Sherman said. "To me, that would be classless ...

"Bill and I talked. We're going to sit down and take another look at [the offense]. We're going to keep working until we get it right. I'm not afraid of that challenge.

"Hey, I knew how high the expectations were here before I took this job."

Those expectations aren't being met.

Someone will pay.

Hopefully, it won't be Sherman, a good coach.

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