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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Mike Holmgren has lots of advice for Pat Shurmur, and the Giants'  coach knows to listen

Giants head coach Pat Shurmur learned a lot

Giants head coach Pat Shurmur learned a lot from his first coaching stint with the Browns.  Credit: Brad Penner

There are three pieces of advice that Mike Holmgren offers Pat Shurmur.

1. Never, under any circumstances, give up play-calling responsibilities.

2. Don’t overreact to what the media says.

3. Smile.

Holmgren is in a unique position to offer those tips to Shurmur, and he believes the Giants’ first-year head coach will follow them now that he has a second chance as a head coach. Holmgren saw firsthand how things went the first time for Shurmur (not well) and believes this situation will be much better.

A former Super Bowl-winning coach himself, Holmgren hired Shurmur as the Browns’ head coach in 2011, when Holmgren was team president. It turned out to be a short-lived partnership; both were fired shortly after Jimmy Haslam purchased the team in 2012. Shurmur went 9-23 in his two seasons as Browns coach.

“I’m very happy Pat got a chance to do this,” Holmgren said from his home in Seattle. “He’s really a fine coach, an excellent play-caller and offensive-minded guy. Because he was a first-time head coach with me in Cleveland, absolutely he learned from that. We would joke about it a little, but it’s still pretty painful, the lessons we learned together and the lessons he learned.”

Holmgren is confident that Shurmur will thrive with the Giants, in part because of how he handled things in Cleveland and why he knows he must be different this time.

“One of Pat’s real strengths is play selection, and he can’t lose sight of that,” Holmgren said. “Stay with that. You can delegate some of the other stuff but stay really sharp at the things you need to do offensively.”

Holmgren always called his own plays when he led the Packers to two Super Bowls, winning the title after the 1996 season, and when he took the Seahawks to another Super Bowl appearance.

Holmgren always called his own plays when he led the Packers to two Super Bowls, winning the title after the 1996 season, and when he took the Seahawks to another Super Bowl appearance.

“I gave the same advice to Mike McCarthy when he dropped the play-calling [in Green Bay] and had to take it back,” he said. “I’ve been there. You evaluate yourself, you didn’t do a very good job and so you figure, ‘I’ll just let someone else do it.’ But if you’re a play-caller, you’re going to want it back, and I’d encourage Pat to keep calling the plays. You’ve gotten this job on how your offense has performed, so stay with it.”

Holmgren said it would “absolutely be a mistake” for Shurmur to delegate play-calling responsibilities the way Ben McAdoo did last year when he handed off the play-calling to Mike Sullivan. “I would go to the wall on that one,” Holmgren said.

Another suggestion for Shurmur: Don’t read too much into what people are saying about you in the media, something Shurmur didn’t always manage well in Cleveland.

“The New York market is different,” Holmgren said. “It’s New York. He was aware of the press and how they were reading to what happened with the team, I would say almost too much. I would say, ‘They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do. They’re not the enemy, but don’t let them get under your skin or dictate how you’re going to do things. Don’t let ’em see you sweat.’ That’s something I learned from Bill Walsh [when Holmgren coached in San Francisco].”

“I didn’t want an adversarial situation,” Holmgren said of his relationship with the media during his coaching career. “I understood their job — your job — in the press, and my job is what I do. Let’s try to work together without killing each other, and I believe he’s learned that. Anybody that gets a second job and he’s a smart guy, he’s put that all together.”

Holmgren also believes Shurmur will have a better sense of perspective and enjoy the journey, something that wasn’t always the case in Cleveland.

“Pat has a lot of conviction, and that’s something I think that not everyone gets to see from him,” Holmgren said. “Behind closed doors, he’s a tough guy. He’s stern, he’s tough, and that’s not a concern at all. I saw how he worked. But I used to tell him, ‘Smile a little more. Have a little fun. We all know it’s hard, but you have to have some fun in this game.’  ”

Shurmur is grateful for having worked under Holmgren, and he believes he indeed will heed his former coach’s advice.

“The second time around, you’re more comfortable with your surroundings, more comfortable with what your real role is,” Shurmur said. “I now know what he was saying. I don’t know if it’s having more fun with it, but I’m enjoying the process more and we’re getting a lot more done because of that.”

Shurmur admits he didn’t always handle the media well in Cleveland but has made adjustments.

“You feel like you’re the guardian of the team, but there’s a fine line with that,” he said. “Now, I really don’t read the stuff, I just let [public relations director] Pat Hanlon tell me what’s trending, so that when I get ready to come in here [for news conferences], Pat and I will just talk about what’s trending. I don’t necessarily read it, though. It’s better when you don’t. Quite frankly, if you believe what people write — good or bad — it’s the same trap.”

Shurmur’s big takeaway from Holmgren, the thing he will carry with him the rest of his career: what football is truly about.

“Mike helped reinforce in my mind that there are certain elements of playing football that you need to keep very simple,” Shurmur said. “Let the guys play. There are times I probably could have been a better listener [in Cleveland], but I think that’s the thing I took away most from Mike. Just let the guys go play.”

Lessons learned.

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