The man with a few hundred sons
FAYETTE - Thirty-three years ago, Jeff Sherman took the court as the head coach of the Central Methodist Eagles for the first time.
"We had promised to stay three to five years. [The athletic director and President] wanted us to stay three to five years, that was the agreement, not just to go and leave real quick," Sherman said. "Never in our wildest dreams would this have turned out to be a thirty-three year gig."
The 24-year-old had no idea that he would rack up more than 600 wins and a few conference championships. Nor did he have any clue he'd get to watch his son, still three years from being born, eventually play under him, and eventually coach beside him.
"It would have been hard to believe," Sherman said in reflection of his career. "It's something that only happens to other people."
After talking with some of his players, they kept coming back to one word.
"You know he loves you," senior forward Kellion Williams said, "If he didn't love you he wouldn't do the things he does for us every day."
"Coach Sherm is a loving guy honestly," senior forward Frankie Burden said. "He loves you on and off the court."
"He's loving," Central Methodist captain Brian Egejuru said. "He's real passionate about what he does. He expects a lot from us when we're out on the court. He's a good coach though, I love him."
Sherman has made making a family in Fayette one of his top priorities since taking over the job in 1985. Which is why when a spot opened up to bring home one of their own opened up three years ago, Sherman jumped at the chance.
"The very first person I thought of, the one that I thought would be good enough and most qualified was [my son] Matt," Sherman said.
"But would he want to come work for his father? He put up with me for all those years. Would he want to come back to the same school, the same community he spent his whole life in? So I asked him, and the timing was just perfect."
Both father and son were able to reflect on a unique situation they had in a recent win.
"I played for him when he won his 400th, I coached against him when he won his 500th, and coached with him for his 600th win," Matt Sherman said. "Our relationship has grown more to a friendship than anything."
"We're not afraid to be honest with each other, which you have to have in a boss-employee relationship as well, but the friendship and respect between both of us is what allows it to really work."
Matt has been in the Central Methodist family since birth. He came to games and followed his father on recruiting trips as a kid, and then played under his father, becoming a two-time NAIA All-American.
"Now that I'm coaching with him he gives me a lot of freedom to do stuff and to grow," Matt said, "but at the same time there's still so much that I have to learn. Sometimes I like to sit back because he just knows so much more than I do, and hopefully I can get to that point."
Sherman believes Matt is a huge part of the Eagles' rise to 12th in the country.
"He has a lot more of me in him, only much better quantities," Sherman said. "He's got a better personality, he's much more outgoing, and I think he knows more basketball today than I probably did [at his age]."
Sherman's ideology of family first was crucial earlier this season, when tragedy struck one of his own.
"A couple months before the season started, Matt and [Matt's wife] Stasia found out that their baby didn't have a heartbeat about a month before he was scheduled to be born," Sherman said. "Early on, I decided to dedicate this season to the memory of Jackson."
The team has come together to support their coaches through a difficult time in their personal lives, and once again echoed a similar sentiment.
"We had a meeting and decided to dedicate the season to Jackson," Egejuru said. "I think we're doing a good job so far, but we got more things we need to get done."
"It hurt me a lot because I can relate to something like that, losing a close family member before them even being here," Williams said. "I think we're doing a pretty good job for him so far but we have so much more we need to do for him."
Though his life has been changed forever, Matt is grateful for the support from his team, and also throughout mid-Missouri and beyond.
"We know Jackson's looking down on us, and hopefully he is with us," Matt said. "That's what we choose to believe."
For Sherman, the whole experience reinforces his coaching philosophy.
"We're a family. They've touched my hearts in a lot of ways," Sherman said. "We all have tough situations and they've picked me up as much as we as a coaching staff tend to pick them up."
When a young 24-year-old took the court for the first time 33 years ago, he had no idea the type of career he'd have. But while he's still looking to win the big one, he's always known that winning was not the legacy he wanted to leave.
"I've always said 'Yea, I have two sons, Ryan and Matt,' but my wife and I are so blessed to have hundreds and hundreds of sons that we still consider part of our family over these 30 plus years," Sherman said. "Those are the type of things I want to be known for. Not how many games we've won, those are the types of things it's about."