Over 30 years of interviewing New York-area coaches, Mike Francesa often has been as much the center of attention as his subjects – criticized for everything from obsequiousness to bullying.
But on Tuesday afternoon the WFAN host was a calm, persistent voice of reason as his latest regular, Giants coach Pat Shurmur, dug himself into a hole that did nothing to help his image two games into a winless season.
It was awkward. And it did not bode well for the new guy as he navigates what could be a rocky year.
“Well, it’s like going to the dentist,” Francesa said after the 16-minute root canal. “What are you going to do? That approach is going to be tough in this town. By week five or six, this could get really painful.”
So it goes for coaches with weekly radio spots when things go awry, especially when they are as reticent as Shurmur.
At least he acknowledged what was going on, more than once referencing his refusal to get specific about the Giants’ woes beyond saying they must “get better.”
“I apologize,” he said to Francesa. “This probably doesn’t make for a very good interview. I get it.”
Does he? Shurmur’s radio approach was in keeping with the one he has taken with the reporters who cover the team regularly, one that is professional but uptight.
In theory, he is an experienced pro and a football lifer who can adapt. During his Wednesday news conference he alluded to Tuesday’s radio appearance, so he apparently was aware of the bad reviews, and he seemed far more engaged and engaging than he had been Sunday, Monday or Tuesday.
Ninety-nine percent of Shurmur’s job is winning, obviously. But this is show biz, too, and there is nothing wrong with enhancing fans’ experience by sharing matters of interest.
No one is asking him to rip players or lay out his game plan. But some actual answers wouldn’t hurt.
If Shurmur needs a radio role model, he can use his own quarterback, who appears with Francesa on Mondays.
Over 15 years of this, Eli Manning has managed to avoid controversy, yet he at least provides some insight into what must occur beyond just “getting better.”
Shurmur told Francesa, “How I feel doesn’t always have to come out in my comments.” Yeah, we get that. If coaches and players always said what they feel, reporters’ jobs would be too easy.
But fans deserve something from their coach, especially when things are going badly. Bill Belichick has earned the right to act like Belichick. No one else has.
If Shurmur is going to open his visits to Francesa like he did on Tuesday, with, “Certainly the scores have not ended up the way we wanted it,” then don’t bother.
This stuff is not irrelevant. Ben McAdoo last year became the latest of many examples of coaches whose struggles with public speaking helped undermine them.
Shurmur is no Ben McAdoo. Still, rule of thumb: When your offense stinks despite a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback, a superstar receiver and a running back picked second overall in the NFL Draft, fans deserve explanations.
It’s not that complicated. Even Tom Coughlin, no fan of news conferences, did not shy away from self-analysis.
At one point Francesa became frustrated with Shurmur and said of an answer, “It doesn’t really shed any light on anything, to be honest with you.”
That was how everyone listening felt. The most important thing Shurmur needs to do is win. In the meantime, it would not hurt to lighten up.
There were signs of that Wednesday. Shurmur even offered a little anecdote, recalling a New York back page headline in 2007 that questioned the futures of Coughlin and Manning. They won a Super Bowl later that season.
After he was through with Shurmur, Francesa mentioned some of the ghosts of excruciating coach interviews past, including Jeff Torborg, Bud Harrelson and Rich Kotitie.
Shurmur is nowhere near that territory. Yet. But it gets late early around here.