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North Carolina State rookie coach Dick Sheridan doesn't cuss. He doesn't scream. He doesn't even tell his players what position to play. He lets them choose. Vince Lombardi he is not. Sheridan believes winning is neither everything nor the only thing. Still, he has a knack for it.
After eight seasons at Furman, which culminated with the Paladins reaching the Division I-AA playoff title game last year, Sheridan, 45, is now busy turning the Wolfpack around. Two weeks ago N.C. State, 3-8 last year, mowed down East Carolina 38-10; on Saturday night the Pack tied heavily favored Pittsburgh 14-14.
"If you aren't enjoying what you're doing, then it's not worth doing," says Sheridan. That philosophy has been the perfect tonic for the Wolfpack. "The coaches don't yell at us," says a somewhat astonished senior quarterback Erik Kramer. "And if they do, it's not personal. They almost make you feel sorry they're having to do it."
Sheridan knew the sad shape of the Wolfpack firsthand. Furman, 2,500 students strong, had beaten 24,000-student State in 1984 and '85. Sheridan also had led the Paladins to six Southern Conference titles and was the 1985 I-AA Coach of the Year, but when he arrived at Raleigh it was those two victories over the Pack that kept his new players from looking down their face guards at a "small college" coach.
The first change Sheridan made was to design a new diamond-shaped helmet logo incorporating all three of the school's initials rather than the traditional block S. "So people wouldn't think we were Michigan State or any other State," he says. Nice, but no big deal. Then, on the first day of spring practice, Sheridan showed that a new era truly was dawning: He announced to the Wolfpack that each player could try out for whatever position he liked. Say what!
"I was really happy. In fact, I was the first player in the running backs' meeting room," says junior Bobby Crumpler, a linebacker last year. Crumpler, now a tailback with 71 yards in 23 carries, is one of six starters playing in a new position.
Sheridan's idea of "family" extends from home to locker room. He brought five coaches with him from Furman and insists, "I wouldn't have come to Raleigh if my staff didn't want to come." And although a dozen schools contacted him in recent years, Sheridan wouldn't leave Furman until his two sons finished high school in Greenville, S.C.
The toughest invitation to pass up was the one from the U.S. Military Academy, where Richard Sheridan, Dick's uncle, once played. In 1931, "R.B." was a 149-pound junior end and honor student. Then, in front of 75,000 people on an October Saturday in the Yale Bowl, R.B. Sheridan caught a knee in the head while making a tackle. His neck was broken. He died the following Monday, and as a result, the NCAA outlawed the flying tackle and flying wedge on kickoffs.
"Because of him, I wanted to play football at Army," Sheridan says. But in 1959, when he was told his Academy appointment would be delayed a year, Sheridan enrolled at South Carolina. He chose not to play football but to concentrate on his engineering studies. "I loved the problem solving," Sheridan says, "but a summer as an engineer convinced me to go into coaching. I like working with people."
Among his other new touches, Sheridan has selected a theme song for the Pack. It is Waylon Jennings's Will the Wolf Survive. There is no question mark in the song title, nor in Sheridan's mind.