Sherman Smith likes his choice of weapons to use against Raiders
The Youngstown native and Titans running backs coach has Eddie George in his backfield.
By TOM WILLIAMS
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
When the Tennessee Titans play the Raiders Sunday in the AFC Championship Game at Oakland's Network Associates Coliseum, assistant coaches on each sideline will have two things in common: Mahoning Valley roots and Heisman Trophy winners at their disposal.
For Titans running back coach Sherman Smith, the weapon of choice is Eddie George.
For Raiders defensive back coach Ron Lynn, the marquee player is cornerback Charles Woodson.
Smith, who played at Youngstown's North High School and quarterback with Miami (Ohio) before nine years in the NFL as a running back with the Seattle Seahawks and San Diego Chargers, has been the Titans' (nee Houston Oilers) running backs coach since 1995.
Lynn, a Struthers native who played quarterback at Mount Union College, has 21 years of pro coaching experience, including the past three seasons with the Raiders.
Smith, in a telephone interview Thursday from the Titans headquarters in Nashville, said his players can't wait to return to Oakland's notorious Coliseum.
"We're a good road team -- we seem to be more focused on the road," said Smith, 48. "We seem to enjoy the hostility of the home crowd. We're looking forward to taking the real Titans out there."
Looking to settle score
Smith was referring to a 52-25 loss at Oakland on Sept. 29 that was part of the Titans' 1-4 start.
Since that start, the Titans have won 11 of 12 games to become the NFL's hottest team.
"When you start 1-4, not many people expect you get to this position," Smith said. "So the city's excitement has grown as have our expectations. We're pretty confident right now.
"We all knew we were better than [that 1-4 start]. It was just a matter of us getting in stride," Smith said. "Our players have learned that it's not how you begin that matters but how you end."
Smith said that George, who was knocked out with a possible concussion in the third quarter of last Saturday's win over the Steelers, is ready to go.
"A lot of people take Eddie for granted because he's not as flashy as other running backs," Smith said. "But he hasn't missed a game in seven years, he practices every day and by that I mean he doesn't just go through the motions.
"He has a great work ethic -- he's not an excuse-maker," said Smith of George, who rushed 343 times for 1,165 yards and 12 touchdowns this year. "He takes responsibility for his mistakes.
"You could consider him an overachiever, but he has great discipline. I love how I can point out to others to watch how Eddie practices."
Unlike many NFL assistant coaches who jump around, Smith has been with the Titans since they were the Oilers in 1995 and has no plans to move on.
"It's been a great situation for me," said Smith, crediting coach Jeff Fisher's attitude. "Jeff does such a good job of treating his players and coaches with respect. He allows you to do your job.
"I'm content to be where I am, working with great players like Eddie and [quarterback] Steve McNair."
Smith admits he considered leaving a few years ago when his alma mater, Miami, was looking for a new coach.
"But the timing wasn't right," Smith said.
Smith keeps a close watch on the Miami football team because his son, Sherman, is a junior defensive back with the Redhawks.
He and his wife, Sharon, have a daughter, Shavonne, who is a graduate student at the University of Tennessee.
"Our family has been very happy here -- we feel we've been blessed," Smith said.
Smith's mother, Lily, died in 1988. His father, John, lives with his brother in Tallahassee, Fla.
Still has family in Youngstown
His grandmother, Azalina Beedles, lives in Youngstown, as do several aunts and uncles.
The biggest changes Smith has seen since his playing days is the money today's NFL players earn and free agency.
"The big thing is the money -- these guys can establish a financial base for life with just four-to-five years in the league," Smith said.
"And when I played, most players stayed with the same team until they retired," Smith said.
Lynn has been defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals, San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins before becoming the New England Patriots' defensive backs coach in 1997.
Lynn was unavailable this week because Raiders coach Bill Callahan is rejecting all requests for interviews with his assistants.