The following article was originally published by White Rock Lake Weekly. The article is also available on their website.
The career of former college football player and head coach Jackie Sherrill has not been without controversy, which seems to follow him. Or maybe he follows controversy.
He left his first head coaching position at Washington State University in 1976 after just one season to become head coach at the University of Pittsburgh, where he had been an assistant coach under Johnny Majors. In 1982, he became head coach of Texas A&M, had a record of 52-28-1 and led the Aggies to two Cotton Bowl wins. While not found guilty of any NCAA infractions, he would resign in 1988 when the Aggies were put on a two-year probation.
Now out of college football except for a few articles and radio appearances, Sherrill, 73, is champion of a different kind of football: a political football. He is leading the cause of stem cell therapy, still not approved in the U.S.
“I had a rotator cuff tear, and the only response is they go in and repair,” Sherrill said. “It is not an easy operation. I had already had one.” Influenced by friends and other athletes who had received stem cell therapy, when he needed the second shoulder operation, he began looking into the option.
Sherrill found a Houston-based biotechnology company called Celltex, which uses proprietary technology to isolate, multiply and bank autologous (one’s own) adult mesenchymal stem cells to be used for regenerative adult stem cell therapy. Celltex is registered with the FDA. “When I found out that David Eller was the CEO of Celltex — he was the chairman of the board at A&M when I was at A&M — I called him.” Sherrill had the stem cell therapy for his shoulder in Mexico and became a backer of the cause.
Since then, former Dallas Cowboys stars Bob Lilly and (University of Pittsburgh alum) Tony Dorsett have come out in support of stem cell therapy. A lot of time is being spent researching the benefits of the treatment for concussions (a major issue in the NFL), Parkinson’s disease,
Alzheimer’s and dementia. “It is not what happens to the outside of the brain, it is what happens to the inside,” Sherrill said.
From 1962 to 1965, Sherrill played football at the University of Alabama and won two national championships. His head coach was Paul “Bear” Bryant. “It wasn’t easy,” Sherrill said, about playing for the coaching legend. “It wasn’t easy to play for Vince Lombardi. It wasn’t easy to play for Coach [Tom] Landry either. But the best way to describe it is Coach Bryant was a man’s man. Everything you would want to be. He was a very physical man — 6-foot-4 in stature — but he was also very compassionate. He did a lot of things for a lot of people and no one would ever know it.”
Sherrill credits Bryant with many of the innovations that he applied to his coaching. At Washington State, he mentored Jack Thompson, “The Throwin’ Samoan.” “People were talking about his throwing motion,” Sherrill said. “So I put my arm around Jack and said ‘I want you to throw the ball to the receiver and knock him out of bounds.’ And he did.” He told Thompson to stick with the same throwing mechanics, just take a little off of the ball.
At Pittsburgh, Sherrill was 50-9-1 and had a staff that included future Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson. “Jimmy was extremely bright,” Sherrill said. “Very intelligent. He went about things differently, but was an outstanding player’s coach.”
He also coached future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino at Pitt. “Like Jack [Thompson],” Sherrill said, “I filmed Danny’s throwing motion. I told him ‘You are going to hear from a lot of people that want to change your motion. Don’t change a thing.’ He had the quickest release of any quarterback that I ever coached.”
As coach of A&M, Sherrill was credited with starting the “12th Man Kick-Off Team,” made up of walk-on players to gain a spot on the varsity special team. “You know there are 40,000 students here. I think I can find 10 guys that can cover kick-offs with no regard for their body,” Sherrill said. “So I put in the newspaper. Two hundred and fifty-two students showed up to tryout including two females.”
Sherrill finished his college coaching career with a 13-year stint at Mississippi State University, where he is recognized for turning the football program around. His 75 wins are the most in school history by a head football coach. With his football coaching days over, Sherrill, who lives in Wimberly, Texas, still visits his alma mater Alabama regularly. But he doesn’t have any aspirations to return to the sidelines wearing a headset.
“You miss the players,” Sherrill said. “Could I coach today? Yes. I don’t know if I can handle the other stuff. College football is better than it has ever been. And the face of the university today, with the exception of maybe Duke and North Carolina, is the head football coach.”
Sherrill is hoping for U.S. government approval of adult mesenchymal stem cells for regenerative therapy soon. But he is still having an impact on football by spreading the word of the benefits of stem cell therapy, and is helping retired players cope with life after football.