Pat Shurmur understands the cold, hard reality of his situation.
“When you don’t win enough games, there’s always conversation about what’s going to happen to the coach,” he told Newsday the other day in a hallway outside the Giants’ weight room. “That’s just the way it goes.”
Shurmur knows his fate is uncertain, that his run as the Giants’ coach could end after two seasons. With his team at 3-11 after going 5-11 in 2018, there are no guarantees. Not in this business, and not even with a franchise known for its patient handling of coaches.
After all, Shurmur’s predecessor, Ben McAdoo, lasted less than two full seasons before being fired.
“Unfortunately, we haven’t won enough games this year, so that’s why there’s all this conversation,” Shurmur said. “That’s why there’s all this talk.”
Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch haven’t tipped their hands about any impending moves with Shurmur or embattled general manager Dave Gettleman. Mara has not spoken publicly about the team since training camp and Tisch said earlier this month that nothing has been decided.
“It’s really at the end of the season that John and I are going to sit down and talk about those issues,” Tisch told WNBC’s Bruce Beck at a March of Dimes event on Dec. 3. In the meantime, Tisch said he is “asking for patience” from Giants fans. “I’m being patient, which you know at times is challenging,’’ he said. “Please be understanding and patient. I want Giants fan to feel that their voice is being heard.”
A good portion of Giants fans — maybe most of them — would prefer to have the team move on from Shurmur. He has instilled little faith that he can move this team in the right direction, and the fact that his run as the Browns’ coach lasted only two seasons doesn’t help his cause.
But if there is one thing that Shurmur does have going for him, it’s the fact that the team has not fractured despite the circumstances. That may not sound like much in the grand scheme of things, but that could bode well for him when Mara and Tisch begin deliberations about the future direction of their team and their coach.
When they fired McAdoo in 2017, it was obvious that he had lost the team, especially after his ill-fated decision to bench Eli Manning so he could get a look at Geno Smith. It was the first game Manning had missed since taking over the No. 1 job in 2004, breaking a string of 210 straight starts. Manning didn’t miss another start until he was benched after two games this season.
But there is no infighting with this year’s team, and key players have expressed confidence in Shurmur despite the poor record. Saquon Barkley spoke up for the coach after a particularly dispiriting 23-17 loss in Philadelphia on Dec. 9.
“I believe in the coaching staff,” he said. “It sucks because it’s not working how I would have liked. We’re coming in to work, we’re grinding, we’re pushing each other, the energy is good, the vibe is good . . . I don’t see quit. I don’t see any laziness. We’re all going to work every single day.”
On Thursday, Barkley credited the coaching staff with putting him in position for his best game of the season last Sunday against the Dolphins. He ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries in a 36-20 win. “Coaches made great calls, put me in the right spots,” he said.
Compare Shurmur’s situation to the one in Cleveland, where first-year coach Freddie Kitchens has had repeated controversies involving his players, including former Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry and Myles Garrett, who was suspended indefinitely for ripping Mason Rudolph’s helmet off and striking the Steelers quarterback’s head with it.
Shurmur’s won-loss record may end up being the ultimate arbiter of his fate, and there is a very real chance that he will be replaced. But if Mara and Tisch do opt to give him another year, the coach’s ability to foster team chemistry through difficult times will factor into such a decision.
For his part, Shurmur does find meaning in his team’s grit.
“I’m proud of the fact that they’re continuing to work,” he said. “I’m proud of the fact that they compete hard in every game. We’ve fallen short making enough plays to win games. When we’re out there, we need to win. But the fact that they’re playing hard, the fact that they’re competing and practicing hard, they’ve embraced the hard work that gets you better is what you need to build on.”
Through much of our conversation, Shurmur spoke as if he would continue as coach. Not that he has heard anything definitive or heard anything at all about whether his bosses want him to continue. But he is convinced that there are positive signs despite the dismal record.
“I think as we build this thing, that’s the foundation that we want,” he said. “You hear a lot of chatter and all that stuff [about the coach’s job security], but I think the [the players] have a genuine respect for one another and they certainly believe in the process. Some of the things that have happened this year are unfortunate, but we’ve just got to learn from it and move on.”
Shurmur pointed to last Sunday’s win over the Dolphins as a glimmer of hope.
“We’re down by three at halftime, but we go out [and after scoring a touchdown], we punt ’em in, we get a safety, they kick it to us, we get a good return, we get a touchdown and now we’re up two scores,” Shurmur said. “In a setting like that, it would have been easy to cave, but they didn’t. They found a way as a team to put us in position to win the game.
“Those are guys learning, and most of those guys are very young guys doing it for the very first time,” he said.
The Giants indeed are a team filled with young players, starting with rookie quarterback Daniel Jones, who is expected to return from an ankle injury in Sunday’s game against Washington. Shurmur believes they will get better in time, but it remains to be seen whether he has the benefit of time.
He’ll almost certainly have to win the next two games against the Redskins and Eagles to merit consideration for coaching into 2020. In the meantime, he’ll do what coaches always do: Get ready for the next game.
“Much like I talk about the quarterback situation, you can’t overthink it,” he said. “You’ve just got to go to work, you’ve got to inspire the players to play, put a game plan together that they can work with to help them win on Sunday, and then you let it rip.”