George Perles won four Super Bowl rings in a decade as an assistant coach with the Steelers before he took the head-coaching job at Michigan State University. Little did he know that his first recruit for the Spartans would be linked to his time in the NFL.
Yet nearly 35 years later, Perles is able to make the connection.
“He’s like another Chuck Noll,” Perles told Newsday this past week, comparing presumed Giants head coach Pat Shurmur to the Hall of Fame coach of the Steelers. “Pat’s got a lot of Chuck Noll in him as far as I’m concerned.”
That’s a pretty lofty comparison, mentioning someone who went 9-23 in a two-year tenure as a head coach in the NFL in the same sentence as one of the game’s all-time greats. Yet Perles does not retreat.
“A lot of coaches have a lot of priorities, but smarts and intelligence and making the most out of what you have, that’s what Chuck Noll was,” Perles said. “And I see the same thing in Pat’s personality.”
Shurmur is expected to become the 18th head coach of the Giants at some point in the coming weeks. First he must complete his current role as offensive coordinator of the Vikings. Shortly after that journey ends — either with a loss to the Eagles in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game or an appearance in Super Bowl LII on Feb. 4 — he’ll likely arrive in New Jersey for the first time and be introduced in his new role.
There will be some grumbling from a certain segment of Giants fans who were hoping for someone with more flash, more style and more wins to follow Ben McAdoo as head coach. But those who have known Shurmur over the years vouch for him to the end.
“I can talk about Pat Shurmur all day,” Perles said. “If the Giants take him, they’ll never regret it. I don’t think they come any better than Pat Shurmur.”
A CALLING AS A TEACHER
Every coach has a creation story — that one anecdote from his past that portends a future in the business. For Shurmur, his coaching genesis came as a sophomore in high school.
That’s when he asked his coach, Wes Wishart, if he could borrow the team’s film projector so he could study the upcoming opponent on a 16mm reel. The problem was that the school had just the one. Wishart agreed to loan it out, but on one condition — that Shurmur promise not to break it.
That’s when it became clear to those who saw him that while he might have a future as a football player, his real calling was in studying and teaching the game.
Wishart called him “a master motivator” on the team who could get his fellow players to work smarter and harder and better.
“He was a leader,” Wishart said, one who is “built for what he is doing now.”
He came from a football family, as his father and uncle both played the sport. While his father went on to become a doctor, his uncle, Fritz Shurmur, became a well-respected defensive coach in the NFL.
Perles saw the same personality traits at Michigan State, naming him the captain in his senior season, when the Spartans won the Rose Bowl. He was an All-Big Ten and honorable mention All-American center.
“He worked hard and he was honest,” Perles said. “He did all he could to get the most out of his players to give them the best chance of winning.”
After college, though, Shurmur didn’t go directly into coaching. After a summer in training camp with the Packers in which he did not make the team, he used his MBA and took a job as a marketing rep at IBM. It wasn’t until 1988 — when he was watching a college football game with his father, Joe, at home in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, and breaking down the action like a coach — that he was nudged in the direction of the sideline.
His father told him to follow his passion and his heart and do what he loved. Clearly, that was football. So he went back to Perles and sought a spot on the Michigan State staff as a graduate assistant.
Perles didn’t have to think twice.
“He’s gonna do outstanding work in whatever he does,” he said. “That’s the type of guy he is.”
A NEED TO RESTORE STABILITY
Will Shurmur be the next Chuck Noll? That’s a lofty expectation in terms of championship production. The Giants might settle for a quarter of what Noll provided. That would add a fifth Lombardi Trophy to the franchise’s case.
What Shurmur can do is restore stability to a team that has been rocked by poor play and bad decisions for most of the past six seasons. General manager Dave Gettleman said he was looking for someone to be “a CEO” as the head coach. Who better than a guy with an MBA who used to work at IBM?
Shurmur was not at the top of the Giants’ list of coaching candidates when the process began. Despite his experience as a head coach (with the Browns in 2011-12), he has little to no connection to the Giants’ organization, which is a strange dynamic for a franchise that thrives on familiarity and past relationships.
Shurmur’s interview with the Giants on Jan. 6 in Bloomington, Minnesota, while the Vikings were on their bye week, was said to be a turning point in the search.
The Giants had just come off a frantic few days in which they battled a winter storm to get to Foxborough, Massachusetts, to interview two Patriots coordinators for the job before heading to Minnesota. In the most northern reaches of the NFL, though, Shurmur apparently displayed to them enough command and poise to win them over.
If he can do the same for the Giants on the football field — calm the craziness and restore a winning tradition — he’ll be a success.
“If I was an owner,” Perles said, “I’d be thrilled to have someone like him representing my city and my team.”