It’s a late December game day for the National Hockey League’s Colorado Avalanche and a home tilt with the Phoenix Coyotes is on tap. Hours before teams skate at Denver’s Pepsi Center, Greg Sherman takes care of several business-oriented tasks and makes decisions.
But on this particular afternoon, Sherman, the Avalanche’s third-year general manager, is relaxing in his chair, wearing a suit without a tie and engaging in a friendly conversation that has little to do with tonight’s hockey game. It’s here, in his corner office, that this 1992 University of San Diego graduate welcomes a brief respite from his day-to-day duties to reflect on the impact of a decision he made 24 years ago.
“It was baseball, pure and simple, for me,” said Sherman, now 41, of his college decision process. “I felt very strongly that I wanted to play at a Division I school and my goal was to play baseball in California. I had an opportunity at Colorado State University and I passed on it to go to USD.”
Sherman found what he was searching for at USD; only it wasn’t for long on the baseball field. He fulfilled his dream of playing California college baseball as a right-handed pitcher his freshman year under USD Hall of Fame Baseball Coach John Cunningham. But Sherman said he knew the business degree he also sought would be his future.
“I won’t ever forget JC,” Sherman said. “I knew it was time to move on, but JC was great. He’s a big part of when I look back on my time at USD. He provided me with an opportunity, as a freshman, to experience life in Division I athletics. He was tough, but very fair. JC wasn’t big on the ‘parenting’ part, but what does remain with me to this day is him saying ‘with every decision you make there are always ramifications for those decisions.’”
Twenty years later, Sherman’s life is fully absorbed by decisions with ramifications for the on-ice product, season-ticket holders, corporate sponsors, merchandise and more. “It’s a business where the assets — the players — have a mind, a heart and a soul,” he said.
The GM has final say on trades, contracts, draft picks and more with his additional job titles of executive vice president and alternate governor. Much of what Sherman decides for the on-ice product comes with input from former NHL players-turned-executives Joe Sakic, Eric Lacroix and Brad Smith and Sherman’s mentor, former GM and current team president Pierre Lacroix.
“My role is to primarily lead the franchise’s day-to-day operations,” Sherman said. “But to be successful you surround yourself with good people, character people, who are dedicated to their particular role and you let them do their job. When it comes to making decisions, I get input from the key people. Yes, I make the final call, but it’s done based on recommendations and a lot of respect and reflection.”
Sherman has been in the front office for 10 years, including seven as assistant GM. He’s witnessed a lot. He’s been able to market Hall of Fame-caliber players, has seen the team win its NHL-record ninth consecutive division title and help organize a 15-year reunion celebration of the 1996 Avalanche team that won the first of the franchise’s two Stanley Cup titles. The most recent title came in 2001.
“Witnessing that reunion just increases our passion to get the franchise back to where we once were,” said Sherman, whose 2011-12 roster, with players he drafted including Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly, is one of the NHL’s youngest. Sherman hired current Coach Joe Sacco in 2009.
When the Avalanche enjoyed their first success, Sherman was working for Arthur Andersen. He became roommates with another USD alumnus, current Los Angeles Lakers Coach Mike Brown ’93 (BBA) who at the time had been hired as a videographer for the NBA’s Denver Nuggets, coached then by yet another Torero alum, Bernie Bickerstaff ’68.
Sherman left Arthur Andersen to join the Nuggets-Avalanche ownership group, COMSAT, in its finance department in 1996. He was in charge of consumer products and sold corporate sponsorships for both teams. He credits his USD academic experience for giving him the tools to launch and sustain a career in the sports industry.
“My background was a means to an end. The degree opened many doors within the company, giving me flexibility to choose several different paths,” he said. “I will always be grateful for my time at USD. The professors pushed you and some angles they took at the time are bearing fruit now. I’ve drawn on my USD experience throughout the years.”
The knowledge provided him a foundation, but Sherman’s a big believer in work ethic. “You have to be very prepared, set your sights on goals and work your tail off to achieve them. I believe you earn what you get. Even with a four-year degree, you still have to have reasonable expectations of what your value is in the marketplace. Once you get a foot in the door, no matter what company, you’re not there at 8 a.m. and leaving at 5 p.m. You need to do what it takes to achieve your goals. That doesn’t come without a lot of hard work.”
Sherman, a longtime Denver-area resident, sticks to this philosophy today. He describes the Mile High City as an “ultracompetitive” sports market with an “incredible sports fan base.” The NFL’s Denver Broncos have top billing, but the Avalanche are in the mix with the Nuggets, baseball’s Colorado Rockies, college sports and more.
Competition sharpens Sherman’s focus. He puts in a full day when the team plays at home and when he travels with the team for road trips. “I learn something new every day, absolutely. I think if you get to a scenario where that doesn’t happen, no matter what business or industry, if you think you know it all, you probably need to take a look in the mirror.”
One proven formula for attention in Denver’s crowded sports field is simple: win.
“This franchise is about winning and that’s always been the foundation,” he said. “We have elite athletes who are very competitive and want to win. We’re young, but we believe strongly in the guys we have and we want to win now. People control where they spend their money and we feel we offer an exciting brand of hockey, an enthusiastic, energetic, up-tempo game. We want to give them a reason to come and spend it on hockey.”
It’s a decision the fans get to make and Sherman fully understands its ramifications.
– Ryan T. Blystone
Photos courtesy of the Colorado Avalanche