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MSU, Sherrill seeking to put offseason woes in the past

By By Tony Krausz / assistant sports editor
Aug. 1, 2003
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. Jackie Sherrill may not have seen everything there is to see in college football, but the Dean of Southeastern Conference coaches sure has seen a lot.
Mississippi State University's coach, who has been a head coach for 25 years, doesn't make a big deal about the distinction of being the longest tenured coach in the league.
"Being the Dean of the SEC means, one, you are old, and two, that you have been able to survive," Sherrill said.
The Bulldogs' sideline general for the past 13 seasons has survived a lot this offseason.
From last year's starting quarterback (Kevin Fant) leaving and rejoining the team, to virtually assembling a new coach staffing, to muddling through an NCAA investigation.
All of this came on top of MSU recording a 3-9 mark last year and going 0-8 in the conference.
Sherrill has also had plenty to deal with away from football.
His wife, Peggy, battled cancer, and a month after she had surgery, his mother died.
"The one positive thing was it gave me a lot of inside toughness," Sherrill said of the offseaon. "The offseason was one that I think our players went through very well. Chemistry of players to coaches, coaches to players, has been very good."
For the players, the offseason has been one of trying to figure out how to turn around the team's mark of 6-17 over the last two seasons.
Wide receiver Justin Jenkins said there is light at the end of the tunnel for the much beleaguered Bulldogs.
"This has been the best off-season program I have been a part of," Jenkins said. "(Strength) coach Grant has done a great job getting us ready."
Sherrill also delivered some good news saying he believes the worst has passed at MSU.
The Bulldogs seemingly have bottomed out with a .260 winning percentage over the past two seasons.
"When a train starts going downhill, can you stop it?" Sherrill said. "I've always firmly believed you can slow it going down, but it's not going to stop until it bottoms out. I feel very confident that it has."
The Bulldogs were picked to finish last in the Western Division, but Sherrill doesn't appear to phased by the last-place prediction.
"We may not go to Atlanta, but I think we'll have a say-so in who does," he said. "The last time we went to the championship game, we were picked last, too."
Sherrill indicated that Fant would be back at least competing for the quarterback job.
The senior quarterback didn't participate in the Bulldogs' final seven spring practices after reportedly getting into an argument with Sherrill.
"He'll be No. 2," Sherrill said. "That doesn't bother him. He said, 'Coach, you can put me wherever you want to. I'm just going to have fun.'"
Sophomore Kyle York is listed as the starter.
Jenkins said the offense will be behind and support which ever quarterback wins the starting job for the duration of the season.
"We love Kevin (Fant), and we love Kyle (York)," Jenkins said. "They are both working hard. We have confidence that both of those guys can take us to the top. Kyle had a great spring, and Kevin has a lot of experience. I think we can win with either one of them."
MSU will get its first indication of whether or not the Bulldogs' football train has bottomed out on Aug. 30 when the squad hosts the Oregon Ducks.
A win could be the start of the squad's climb out of a hole of disgrace, but a loss may show that there is still a long way for the Bulldogs to drop before they hit bottom.
"I think that we have a chance to finish better than we are picked in the preseason," said linebacker T.J. Mawhinney. "First of all we just have to go out and play it out on the field. Try to get our season off to a good start with a big win over Oregon. Then we will just go from there as a team."

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