To understand where the Giants are going under Pat Shurmur, it’s best to start with Uncle Fritz.
Fritz Shurmur was the dean of NFL defensive coordinators until his death in 1999, serving in that capacity with six teams -- the Packers, Lions, Patriots, Rams, Cardinals and Seahawks. He built the Packers’ Super Bowl-winning defense, which in 1996 allowed only 19 touchdowns, a league record for a 16-game schedule.
In 1994, the year he joined the Packers, he led a legendary defensive performance when his unit held Barry Sanders and the Detroit Lions to negative rushing yardage in a wild card game. Fritz Shurmur literally wrote the book on “Coaching Team Defense”, as well as other defensive manuals.
“He was a good, solid football coach,” Pat Shurmur, his nephew and new Giants head coach, said this week on WFAN. “He loved the game. I learned a lot from him because he was one of the first guys that taught me, hey, keep it simple, do the right stuff, but do enough stuff that the players can do what they do best.”
Those are good words to live by, even on the other side of the ball, where Shurmur rose through the ranks. Another Giants coach shared a similar philosophy, and it is no coincidence. The team the Packers beat in Super Bowl XXXI was the Patriots, who were coached by Hall of Famer Bill Parcells at the time. The former Giants head coach was an assistant in New England under Fritz Shurmur, who also spent time in Detroit with Bill Belichick.
“I interacted with Coach Parcells through the years, and we’d always reminisce about how much [Fritz and Parcells] enjoyed each other,” Shurmur said. “And I know my uncle thought the world of Bill [Parcells]. So I’m very fortunate to be a part of a couple of coaching trees, although I never really worked for Bill, having worked for guys who did, most recently Mike Zimmer, who talked to him frequently. I sort of feel like I know him a little better than most.”
A 20-year NFL coaching veteran himself, Shurmur joined the Giants after a two-year run under Zimmer with the Minnesota Vikings, the last 27 games as offensive coordinator. This is the second head coaching assignment for Shurmur, who led the Cleveland Browns from 2011-12. He has been a part of teams that have qualified for nine postseason berths, won seven division titles, and advanced to one Super Bowl. Shurmur also played and coached at Michigan State under George Perles, who won four Super Bowls with the Steelers on their defensive staff.
“(George) came to Michigan State, his alma mater, with four Super Bowl rings and he built us into a Rose Bowl championship team,” said Shurmur, a four-year letterman and starting center and captain on the Rose Bowl team. “Again, a vintage coach. He was all about toughness, and I learned a great deal from him, certainly playing for him and then working for him. You mention a small handful of guys that had a huge impact on me as a player and then eventually as a coach.”
So how do all of those influences manifest themselves in Shurmur’s vision for the offense?
“I can only tell you about my foundation,” he said. “I was really trained in this league in the West Coast style of offense. Then I went off on my own and developed some things and then I spent three years with Chip [Kelly] in Philadelphia, where I was impressed by how tempo can affect a defense. And then most recently in Minnesota, more of a three-digit type of a setting, which is more of a huddle-based, and so it kind of all blended together into a system that I feel like is very quarterback friendly.”
Going beyond the X’s and O’s, Shurmur has learned a lot about the value of the player-coach relationship, something that has not changed as much as you might think.
“I don’t know if you coach them any differently,” Shurmur said. “I do think you’ve got to be willing to have the tough conversation with the player, number one, but you can’t do that until you’ve developed a relationship with him so that you’re communicating. So I think that one of the things that I really felt like I did better this time around compared to Cleveland was when I first got the job here, I reached out to as many of the players as I could to start that open line of communication early. And I think it’s paying dividends. We’ve started developing relationships early on, and I see how it’s growing now that we’re working together on the field.”
The head coach also hit on some current events during his WFAN interview.
On which side second-round draft pick Will Hernandez will play at guard: “He’s played most of his career at left guard, and I think we want to make sure we maximize the experience that he’s had there. So we’re playing him mostly at left. He gets a few reps at right guard, but we’re going to try to blend him in there as quickly as possible. I think that [general manager] Dave [Gettleman] mentioned that he’s a natural 330-pounder; I’m not sure what that is, but that’s a big man.”
On Ereck Flowers, who is transitioning to right tackle after the Giants signed two-time Super Bowl champion left tackle Nate Solder: “Doing great. He’s been here a couple weeks now. He’s doing an outstanding job, looks pretty good to me. Again, fresh eyes, but he looks pretty good to me at right tackle. I think he’s come in, there’s a lot of new going on, especially a lot of it for him moving positions, but we were walking off the practice field [Monday] and there was Nate Solder and Ereck Flowers working together, where Nate Solder was simulating a rush to try to help him get some extra sets. So there’s a camaraderie there with the O-line.”
On quarterback Eli Manning: “We’re fortunate here that we’ve got an outstanding quarterback who has won two Super Bowls. It’s really fun to work with Eli because he’s a true pro, he gets it, you don’t really have to go through a long litany of reasons why you want to do something and he can talk with you about it and say, hey, maybe this will make it better. So (offensive coordinator) Mike (Shula) and I were just talking about what a joy it is to have a pro like Eli who can still play. Trust me, he can still play based on what I’ve seen so far.”
On tight end Evan Engram: “He can get going now. He’s hard to keep up with when he gets running, and I feel like he’s done a good job catching the ball. I think he and Eli are getting on the same page with regard to their routes. There’s not enough physicality in this time of year for most coaches, but he’s working hard on his blocking and so I’m looking forward to seeing him in action. Again, he is a very dialed-in guy with great attention to detail. So it would make sense for us to throw it to him.”