The Green Bay Packers may not have accomplished all of their goals for 2002, but they were successful in meeting most of them.
Wednesday, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman held the final press conference of a season that saw the Packers go 12-4 en route to their first division title in five years, but come up short of their Super Bowl championship hopes.
Although still frustrated by the Packers' playoff performance, in his opening address Sherman noted that there are many things to celebrate regarding the 2002 campaign. And, as he approaches his fourth year as head coach, the future of the team seems bright.
Final 2002 Season Press Conference - January 8, 2003
GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman's opening statements:
"My feeling about Saturday's loss to the Atlanta Falcons hasn't changed. I thought maybe time would alleviate some of the disappointment that I experienced after the game and in the following days but it hasn't. I fully expected us to play better than we did. We got beat in all three phases, offense, defense and special teams. I'm still at a loss to why that happened and I'll continue to struggle with that I guess throughout this offseason.
"Yeah, we went into the game with some players who were unable to participate. We had players injured and lost some players during the game, but that doesn't explain why some of our healthy players didn't play better than they did. That's kind of what I'm struggling with.
"I guess to say I'm very disappointed, as I said after the game, is an understatement. My objective every year will be to go to the Super Bowl, as it was this year. For much of the season we maintained winning at a pace that would warrant us that opportunity to go to the Super Bowl. But the reality of all this is unless you win the Super Bowl, at some point every team that participates in the post season is going to experience some form of disappointment. That's pretty much where I am right now.
"As a coach you put time in and personal investment in the season and if you don't achieve your goal, it is hard, particularly with the investment that you made toward this one season. Now it's time to start over.
"I look at the season like it's a race, really a marathon. In regard to that analogy, we ran a good race, but we certainly didn't finish the race the way it needed to be finished. And that's really when it all counts. I personally take no solace in the fact that we won a bunch of games. We won 12 games this year, that doesn't do a whole lot for me. I'd rather be 9-7 and still playing than be 12-4 and out. I'd like to say that that makes me feel better. People have told me what we've accomplished, but the reality is we're not playing it during the time of the season that I expect us to be playing. That's tough to deal with.
"The question I always ask myself at the end of every season is, have we improved? Are we a better team this year than last year? Are we a better team? We came here after the '99 season, and have we achieved a level of success, have we improved each year? I believe that we have. I believe that we're a better team today than we were a year ago. We certainly didn't play that way on Saturday, but we are a better team.
"The fact that we were able to win football games at a fairly good clip in spite of the adversity we faced, I think reflects that. Our guys were able to overcome the fact that we had starters miss about 63 starts, we had backups miss about 30 games. That's a fair amount to overcome and I thought that we were able to do that.
"I guess what that means is, where we are with that is, I'm just proud of the attitude that our players and coaches permeate at practice and meetings in preparations for games that we will never use injuries as an excuse. They are a reality however, that we were hit with those injuries, but they will never be an excuse. The players for the last three years have bought into that and that's important if you want to be successful. I believe we're making progress there.
"We won this year with a fair amount of our rookies participating. I believe we had five rookies start about 23 games, and that doesn't include Najeh Davenport, who basically started the Detroit game (Sept. 22) when he went in in the second series and basically finished that game out. So you could actually say it was six rookies for 24 games. That bodes well for the future that those rookies participated. We had other rookies play significant roles on special teams and in backup capacities as well. I feel very good (about) that group as we look toward the future.
"We basically overhauled the receiver position at the beginning of the season. I thought it was a good decision. We're very young at that position, but I believe that we benefited from it this year and I think we'll benefit more from it in the future.
"We had a number of first-time starters this year. Cletidus Hunt started really for the first time in his career. Kabeer (Gbaja-Biamila) started for the first time in his career when Joe (Johnson) went down. (Donald) Driver started for the first time in his career, and a number of other players as well. I think that's a positive thing. That's a reflection, I believe, of the assistant coaches and the job that they do in preparing these young players to play football.
"I'm proud of the veterans, very pleased with the veteran leadership on the team. I thought they did a great job of handling things as they came up during the season and keeping us on task. The times of adversity, whether they be injury or loss, we lost two games there after a seven game stretch of winning, and their ability in their leadership to pull us through that, I'm proud of that.
"I'm proud of them as a group. I'm proud of our football team and the service they do here in Green Bay and the community and the people they are. We've got good guys on this team. I'm proud of the character of the men that we have here. I had very few problems during the season. Might have had three players who were late for a meeting this year, one time, that doesn't usually happen. That doesn't happen at the usual workplace. It doesn't happen in this building in other departments, but it happened on our football team. We had very few issues in regard to discipline and things happening that needed to be addressed, and I'm proud of that. That's a big part of our success in my mind.
"I'm proud of the toughness of our team. We had a number of players play (injured) this season, Frankie Winters is having surgery as we speak on his MCL. Guys that played injured, more guys than were listed on the injury report week to week, that played injured and fought through some issues there.
"I guess I'm most proud of the chemistry of our football team at this juncture. I thought our locker room was a strong locker room. When you blend the young players, the free agents that I brought in and the veteran players, you put those guys in that melting pot and I thought they did a great job. They got along really well, the locker room was strong.
"I think when you have good chemistry, you have people who are accountable. I don't believe anyone's making excuses for the games that we didn't play well in. I believe that everyone says, 'Hey, we could do better.' When we were winning games at a pretty good rate there, won seven in a row, no one was jumping up on the table and saying we're this, we're that. Everyone was pretty even keeled. They got the big picture and I think that all plays into the character and chemistry of our football team which is what I'm most proud of.
"I believe as a football coach if that part is right, then you can achieve a lot of things. Maybe because of the chemistry and character of our team we were able to overcome some things this year because of that. That's a priority of mine and will continue to be as I bring people in the Green Bay Packers organization.
"Now it's time to get ready for next season. I've already started that process. I met with the doctors, salary cap, talked about the future. The future is going to be very bright and I'm excited. (I'm) disappointed about what has happened here at the end of the season because of all that was invested, but excited about where we're going and how we're going to get there. I have a good plan in place.
"I've got the Senior Bowl coming up here this next week to look at some players and off we go. Players have been told about the mini-camp and the offseason program and their commitment is going to be huge in the process, as is my commitment to fix the things that need to be fixed.
"We had some shortcomings that I need to address and I will address them, and they will be fixed by the time we start next season."