By Larry Schmitt
Allie Sherman, who was head coach of the New York Giants from 1961-1969, passed away on Saturday at his home in Manhattan. Sherman was 91.
Sherman was a significant figure in New York Giants history over two tenures with the franchise.
Beginning in 1949, he was brought on board as a specialist to transform the young and talented Charlie Conerly from a Single Wing tailback to a T-Formation quarterback. Then Head Coach Steve Owen’s offensive philosophy was deeply rooted in the 1920’s hand-in-the-dirt line-plunging style and he was reluctant to move away from his favored A-formation.
Sherman, an undersized tailback at Brooklyn College, was a coach’s favorite wherever he went. He was always attentive at meetings, asking questions, and providing insightful feedback. He obsessed over the handbook for modern offensive football: “The Modern T-Formation With Man in Motion,” by the influential triumvirate of George Halas, Clark Shaughnessy and Ralph Jones.
Sherman spent five seasons under the tutelage of Earl “Greasy” Neal in Philadelphia. During that time, the Eagles adopted the Bears signature T-Formation and became a formidable force for the first time in franchise history. Sherman’s coaching helped Steve Van Buren become an All-Pro back and eventual Hall of Fame inductee.
Sherman was a great teacher, and his players were his pupils. After spending the 1948 season as a head coach for a minor league team in Paterson, NJ, Sherman received the call to return to the NFL. Conerly slowly transformed from a flashy player who improvised on pass-run options into the field commander of a professional team. The Giants as a team peaked in the 1950 and 1951 seasons, finishing second in the Eastern Conference behind the powerful Cleveland Browns. In 1952 and 1953, the core of the team aged, the offensive line broke down, and Owen never fully committed to the T-Formation. The entire staff was dismissed and Sherman moved to the CFL where he was the head coach for the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The Canadian style of play with 12-man teams and the larger field allowed Sherman to experiment with new concepts. His teams made the playoffs three consecutive years and were among the league leaders in offense.
Sherman returned to New York as a scout for two seasons. After Vince Lombardi vacated the offensive coordinator position following the 1958 season to coach Green Bay, Sherman was promoted to that position. Conerly’s fortunes were greatly enhanced as the once-successful duo was reunited. Sherman transformed Lombardi’s run-heavy, sweeping offense into a dynamic passing outfit. In 1959, the Giants repeated as Eastern Conference Champions and Conerly won the NFL’s “Most Valuable Player” award following the season.
Sherman assumed the Giants head coaching position in 1961 following Jim Lee Howell’s retirement, and helped resurrect another aging quarterback’s stature. When Y.A. Tittle was traded to New York from San Francisco, little was expected as most people around the league thought we was finished. Instead under Sherman, Tittle led New York to three consecutive Eastern Conference titles, thereby advancing to three consecutive NFL Championship games. Although New York lost all three title games, Tittle won the NFL’s “Most Valuable Player” award twice, following the 1961 and 1963 seasons. And Sherman was awarded the NFL’s “Coach of the Year” award following the 1961 and 1962 seasons, being the first man to win the award twice. Many of the Giants scoring records from this era still stand, despite the team having played 14-game seasons.
Sherman’s career peaked in 1963. The core of the Giants team had aged. Many of the team’s defensive stars were traded, most infamously middle linebacker Sam Huff who held a celebrated grudge against Sherman. A combination of little value received in return for those trades and poor drafting doomed the Giants to a repetitive cycle of mediocrity and inconsistency. Following an 0-5 pre-season in 1969, which included a humbling loss to the defending Super Bowl champion New York Jets, Sherman was relieved of his duties.
Despite the Giants never finishing above .500 over the 1964-1968 seasons, Sherman’s 57-51-4 regular season record placed him second all time in franchise history at the time behind Steve Owen, and has only been surpassed by Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin.
Sherman never coached again, choosing to move into private business and also appeared on locally-produced Giants-related television and radio programs and as an analyst for ESPN’s match-up program.