LOS ANGELES – It’s a bit surreal, seeing Kevin Sherrer in that Georgia coaching jacket. In a way, it’s like speaking to a ghost. He’s on his way to coach at another school. He’s also the last coaching connection to the Mark Richt era.
He’s the lone survivor. And perhaps nobody has better perspective on the changes that occurred at Georgia over the past four years.
“A lot’s happened,” Sherrer said, matter-of-factly, and looking at this reporter as if to say that it doesn’t need to be explained.
Sherrer is Georgia’s outside linebackers coach, but for only for a few more days. He will leave once the season is over, either after Monday’s Rose Bowl or the following week’s National Championship Game – he hopes it’s the latter – and become Tennessee’s defensive coordinator. There he re-joins his friend of 25 years, Jeremy Pruitt.
It was Pruitt who brought Sherrer to Georgia four years ago. What ensued was four years that was at times chaotic, full of difficulties, both personal and professional. It ends in triumph, with Georgia at minimum the SEC champion, perhaps the national champion.
“The crazy thing is it’s the University of Georgia, and you would expect the University of Georgia to have the opportunity to be in this position on a regular basis,” Sherrer said. “When we first got here four years ago, when I first got here four years ago, you felt like it was there, it just needed to be tweaked or managed or whatever the best way to say it is. And then to see it grow, see the transition, and to stay on …”
At this point Sherrer says he will be “forever indebted” to Kirby Smart for keeping him on the staff, mainly for family reasons. It allowed him to keep his twin sons, Kaleb and Kyle, in high school in Athens.
But staying also allowed Sherrer to see something special this season.
“And to see the fan base, how hungry they are, and to see them be in this position now, and some of the people that I know from Georgia how excited they are, there’s a little bit of a sense of accomplishment, you might say, for the people of Georgia,” Sherrer said. “But it’s been crazy. It’s been a lot of work.”
When Sherrer arrived four years ago, Georgia’s defense was in the midst of an overhaul. The unit had struggled the year before and Pruitt had been brought in to fix it. Sherrer, who had been the defensive coordinator at South Alabama, was part of that overhaul. The defense did turn it around, but the offense struggled after Mike Bobo left, Richt was ultimately fired because UGA power brokers thought the program had plateaud, and Smart was brought in.
Sherrer was connected to both Pruitt and Smart. From his perspective, this was a four-year process for Georgia to get here: There were necessary changes implemented the first two years with Pruitt’s influence, and then they accelerated when Smart took over.
“We all come from the same background. You could see a little bit of the change. But when Kirby got here, you really could see the change,” Sherrer said. “And to me, in any transition there’s always going to be a feeling-each-other-out type thing.”
The turning point, or at least when Sherrer noticed things really changing, was preparation for the Liberty Bowl. That’s when Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Davin Bellamy and Lorenzo Carter announced they were returning, and when Sherrer thinks the veterans on the teams really began to “take ownership” of the team and buy into what Smart was trying to sell.
“That was really when the turning point came, in my opinion, was this time last year,” Sherrer said.
Sherrer’s career has paralleled his player, Lorenzo Carter, who signed a few weeks after he was hired. They basically came in together and are now leaving together. That’s rare in college coaching, Sherer pointed out.
He will leave Georgia on very good terms. Smart wished him well and allowed him to go recruit for Tennessee even while he was still Georgia’s coach. Selfishly, Smart knew Georgia had gotten this far with Sherrer on staff, and wanted to keep him as long as he can.
But Sherrer is also leaving for a better job, and a raise.
“When you get into coaching, you want to move up the coaching ranks,” Sherrer said. “I’m excited about it. It’s a little bittersweet because I’ve got a lot of good friends here too.”
Sherrer’s sons are juniors in high school right now. Rather than move high schools just for their senior year, they will stay back with their mother, Carrie, while Sherrer lives as a bachelor for a year. Sherrer said he made a deal with his sons a couple years ago when they didn’t know if they’d stay in Athens or not. He asked them where they wanted to be, they said Athens, and he’s going to allow them to graduate high school here while he transitions to Knoxville.
But first, he has a shot at a national title. As he sat in a ballroom here at the LA Hotel, with national media swarming Georgia players and coaches, Sherrer marveled at the difference between two years ago and the present.
“Now it’s the complete opposite,” Sherrer acknowledged. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s been a lot of work. But it’s a lot of fun. It’s a great opportunity for Georgia, these players, the coaches. I guess you could say you’re proud to be here.”