When Steve Spagnuolo was hired as head coach of the Rams in 2009 and needed an offensive coordinator, he went back to his days with the Eagles under Andy Reid and selected the quarterbacks coach against whom he had spent years battling in practices.
He hired Pat Shurmur.
“I’ve always recognized that he is one of the top offensive minds in the NFL,” Spagnuolo said at the time.
Now Shurmur, who is poised to become the coach of the Giants, may have a chance to return the favor.
Spagnuolo has served as defensive coordinator for the Giants for the past three seasons and was the interim head coach in the final four games of 2017. He was also the first person interviewed for their head-coaching vacancy. The Giants think highly of him and Shurmur thinks highly of him, which is why there seems to be a good chance Spagnuolo will return in 2018.
In fact, there’s a chance most of the defensive staff could stay. While many Giants assistants already have left for other jobs, almost all of them have been from the offensive side. Defensive line coach Patrick Graham, who signed with the Packers, is the only Giants defensive coach to have found a new job since the end of the season. However, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan (Broncos), quarterbacks coach Frank Cignetti (Packers), wide receivers coach Adam Henry (Browns), offensive line coach Mike Solari (Seahawks) and tight ends coach Kevin M. Gilbride (Bears) have all landed elsewhere.
Preserving the defensive staff would have benefits and obstacles. It would allow the players to return to a familiar scheme and, if they remain healthy, perhaps regain the status as one of the NFL’s better units, which they held in 2016 when they carried the team to the postseason.
On the other hand, the Giants’ defense did not live up to that burden at all in 2017, when they ranked 31st in yards allowed and tied for 27th in points allowed. Three players from the defense were suspended for various reasons during the season, including one for an argument with an assistant coach, and appeared to be a unit in disarray both on and off the field.
After 19 seasons of NFL coaching, Shurmur certainly has plenty of connections and can assemble a worthwhile staff. And he has other options for his defensive coordinator. Jerry Gray, the Vikings’ defensive backs coach, has served as coordinator for the Bills and Titans. Andre Patterson, the Vikings’ defensive line coach, is also a potential candidate. Ken Flajole, who was Spagnuolo’s defensive coordinator in St. Louis, is the Eagles’ linebackers coach.
None of them, though, has a connection to the Giants. And neither does Shurmur. That may be Spagnuolo’s best selling point. He can work as a link between the kind of Giants future that Shurmur might envision and the success of the Giants’ past that general manager Dave Gettleman has said he wants to return to.