Lighten up, Pat.
That’s Mike Holmgren’s message to Pat Shurmur, the soon-to-be head coach of the New York Football Giants.
Holmgren, who won a Super Bowl and got to another with the Packers and lost a controversial Super Bowl when he was coach of the Seahawks, was the Browns president who hired Shurmur in Cleveland seven years ago. He had a close-up view of him before they all got let go.
“He’s kind of quiet and kind of serious,” Holmgren told the Daily News on Monday night. “I’m not that serious. It’s hard for him to shoot the breeze. He’s really bright and works really hard. He has a good way about him with his staff. I’m disappointed he didn’t come in and talk to me enough. I was down the hall. I wish Pat had done that with me more. They want to do their own thing and don’t want to show they don’t know what is going on. I understand that. I’m really happy for him that it looks like he’s getting another chance.”
A cautionary tale: Holmgren told Shurmur he was letting the media in Cleveland bother him too much. “He read everything. He knew everything that was said,” Holmgren said. “I told him, ‘You can’t let it get to you. Don’t create an adversarial situation.’ I tried to counsel him that way.”
If he couldn’t handle the Cleveland media, what’s gonna happen in New York?
Even so, the Giants will soon become the second NFL team with a Cleveland Browns reject as a head coach.
Is that a bad thing for the Giants and Shurmur?
The other team is the New England Patriots.
Shurmur was 9-23 in two seasons with the Browns in 2011-12 and was fired, which is now a badge of honor. Considering the Browns are 1-31 the last two years, the Dawg Pound should throw him a parade. He was sabotaged by the lockout his first season when he wasn’t able to hold OTAs or mini-camps and the next year the team was sold at the opening of training camp to Jimmy Haslam and big change was in the air all season.
He never had a chance.
The Giants didn’t call Holmgren to get intel on how Shurmur performed as a leader, how he handled coaching the entire team, whether he was a good CEO, as the Giants have mandated. It’s called due diligence. Not to confer with the only NFL executive who has seen enough in Shurmur to make him a head coach is puzzling.
Coaches often are better the second time around. Bill Belichick has taken that to an extreme: He was 37-45 in five years in Cleveland and after rehabbing his image and reputation in four years as an assistant with the Pats and Jets, he has won five Super Bowls with the Patriots and is one victory from going to his eighth.
He learned what didn’t work in Cleveland and made sure to correct things in New England. Now it’s up to Shurmur to do the same.
“I’m a grinder, but I had fun coaching,” said Holmgren, who left the Browns halfway through Shurmur’s second season. “I said, ‘Pat, I don’t think you are having enough fun. Everything is doomsday. Joke with the guys. Tease them. Let them see you are human.’ He was scowling. He’s a good play caller, he’s a good offensive coordinator. In my brief time with him in Cleveland, I saw some light at the end of the tunnel.”
It was reported Monday that Shurmur, the Vikings offensive coordinator, will be the next Giants coach. The Big Blue brain trust of John Mara, Steve Tisch and Dave Gettleman could not have asked for better timing to attempt to sell a laid-back non-Patriots assistant to its disgruntled fan base still reeling from the unexpected and completely dysfunctional 3-13 season.
Shurmur is red-hot this week after calling “Seven Heaven” to win the divisional round playoff game against the Saints on a 61-yard prayer from Case Keenum to Stefon Diggs on the final play, the first walk-off TD in regulation time in NFL playoff history.
That followed the news over the last few days that Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who the Daily News reported was the No. 1 choice, decided to take the Lions job, and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, in the second group with Shurmur, was headed to the Colts. If the Giants ever reveal the pecking order, they no doubt will say Shurmur was at the top of their list after they conducted the interviews — no teams ever settle, remember? — but that no longer is relevant.
“It was a tossup,” was as close as one Giants source would go late last week.
The only issue: Can Shurmur do the job?
He texted Holmgren recently saying they may need to talk. “I told him I hope he learns from his first experience,’” Holmgren said.
Shurmur would be taking over a difficult situation with an aging Eli Manning and a locker room that imploded last season with three players suspended. He will also likely get the opportunity to develop either Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold. That’s much better than having to play Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden, as he did in Cleveland.
“I believe the players in Cleveland respected him,” Holmgren said. “He came off like a hard ass all the time. Very stern. Players are players – they respect you as long as you are honest. Bill Walsh said it to me once: ‘If you kick them in the ass, if you do it in practice, that’s okay. But don’t let them leave the field without telling them something good.'”
There is no doubt about Shurmur’s acumen with the Xs and Os. He’s a smart guy. He’s done an incredible job with Keenum, who has been a career journeyman. He lost rookie RB Dalvin Cook to a torn ACL in just the fourth game and found a way around it. He did a good job with Sam Bradford in St. Louis and Minnesota. Nick Foles had 27 TDs and two INTs in 2013 when Shurmur was Chip Kelly’s offensive coordinator in Philly.
“When you become a head coach, it’s a step up,” Holmgren said. “You coach the New York Giants and in New York, there are some unique challenges. I’m pulling for Pat. We kind of have to see.”
Will he stand up to players? He never had many controversies in Cleveland other than the team stunk.
“That’s a good question,” Holmgren said. “We all have a different way of handing it. My way would be very vocal. He’s not that. He didn’t show that to me. He showed a firmness. He might sit a guy down, but he’s not going to be (Bill) Parcells. He has a toughness that gains the players respect. If anything, I would like to see him ease off that a little bit. You have rules, but in your communication with the players, in meetings and one-on-one, you need an understanding of what makes them tick.”
If Shurmur didn’t take all of Holmgren’s advice to heart the first time, perhaps he will the second time. If he doesn’t, there won’t be a third time.
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