Pat Shurmur hasn’t coached a regular season game yet for the Giants, but we’re already getting a glimpse of his approach.
Looks like he’s going to be a glass-half-full kind of guy.
Case in point: After a lackluster performance by his team in a 20-10 loss to the Browns on Thursday night in the preseason opener, Shurmur chose to dwell on the positives. Even though there didn’t appear to be many.
“You want to win the games, and it’s always the same in the locker room when you don’t win,” Shurmur said. “But on the flip side, there were moments, there were stretches of this game that were positive, there were things that we did that were positive.”
He talked about the run game, which featured a 39-yard burst by rookie Saquon Barkley, as well as solid performances by backups Robert Martin and Jalen Simmons. He talked about good work by the defense against the run, although the big takeaway on that side of the ball was a porous pass defense. Even then, Shurmur said the coverage wasn’t bad, just that the Giants needed to make more plays.
It’s a far different vibe than the coach Shurmur replaced, and it also illustrated why the Giants were looking to turn away from Ben McAdoo, who didn’t demonstrate the kind of people skills necessary to succeed at this level and in this market. McAdoo came off as uncaring and unyielding to his players, and after a promising 11-5 season in 2016, a last-place finish in 2017 was made all the more disconcerting because of his inability to properly respond to the circumstances.
As is often the case with coach hires, there is what you might call the “pendulum” effect. A taskmaster coach who doesn’t win is often replaced by a more level-headed coach who is more player-friendly. And when that doesn’t work, the pendulum swings back to the more dictatorial leader.
Shurmur has so far been met with positive reviews from a Giants’ team that has enough veterans who don’t need to be talked down to and from enough young players who need a patient hand. So in this case, the glass half-full approach feels right.
Even after a night to think about the opener and watch film, Shurmur largely remained unchanged about how he viewed his first time on the Giants’ sidelines in live action.
“We’ve had a chance to go through the film, and not much has changed from my comments last night,” he said Friday. “We ran the ball well, we need to complete more passes. I think that’ll help us. We’ll have shorter third downs and be able to extend drives. On defense, I felt like we did a good job controlling the run … There’s plenty to learn from. I also told the players that if each guy cleans up one mistake, then we end up being on the winning end of a game like that. That’s our approach moving forward.”
Shurmur faced a Browns team he coached in 2011-2012, although he insisted there would be nothing personal in facing the same owner – Jimmy Haslam – who fired him after going a combined 9-23 over those two seasons.
“It’s a preseason game against a worthy opponent, and we’re just going to go out and try to get better,” he said last Tuesday.
But there have been some takeaways that have benefited Shurmur in his second go-round as a head coach.
“I think in terms of day to day business, issues of the day, everything from our visits here daily to how I function behind the scenes, there was a certain list of things that I wanted to get done in the first six weeks and that kind of sets the rest of it in motion,” Shurmur said. “Some of that has helped as we’ve moved forward.”
Shurmur isn’t the first coach to be let go after just two seasons – see: McAdoo – but it is worth noting that he had eight more wins than current Browns coach Hue Jackson, who was 1-31 in 2016-17.
Many coaches benefit from a second term as the top guy, and Shurmur hopes he can join others in that group. Bill Belichick, another coached once fired by the Browns, and Tom Coughlin, who was fired by the Jaguars, are probably the two best examples of coaches who thrived on their second opportunity. Tony Dungy, too. Pete Carroll won a Super Bowl after being fired twice before.
Shurmur can only hope to approach that kind of success, and it’s still way too soon to know if there is greatness ahead. Shurmur himself isn’t thinking long-term.
This is all about the here-and-now, and the only game that consumes him is the one against Jacksonville on Opening Day.