New York Giants: Analyzing the Shurmur Situation; Who Would be the Best HC Candidate?

New York Giants, Pat Shurmur
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The New York Giants are sitting at 2-10. It’s December, and as we check daily the weather reports and get holiday gift lists in order, the last time the Giants won a game, we still had shorts as part of our wardrobe rotation. The Giants haven’t won since September. That’s two whole calendar months of losing.

Here’s some perspective of who the Giants have been this season. The Vikings started 2-2; they play the Giants, proceed to win four straight, and 6 out of 7. The Cardinals have lost five consecutive games. Their last win? The Giants. The Lions have lost 8 of their last 9. That one win mixed in there? Against the Giants. The Jets started 1-7, and Adam Gase’s negative body language was at an all-time low.

Nevertheless, the Jets proceed to beat the Giants and go on a 3-game winning streak. The Giants aren’t just losing; they are the NFL’s “get right” game for bad or struggling teams. How does the saying go? If you sit at the poker table and can’t spot the fish, the fish is you. The Giants are the fish of the NFL right now.

So, nobody is alarmed that the angry mob isn’t just restless, it’s in full-blown torch, and pitchfork ogre seek and destroy mode. Metaphorically speaking, that ogre is head coach and play-caller Pat Shurmur. I’m trying to take a more measured approach.

I know many fans care a lot about wins and losses and simply competing, but with me, it’s all about winning Super Bowls. The Patriots and Steelers have 6, the Cowboys and 49ers have 5, the Giants and Packers have 4, and the Broncos, Raiders, and Redskins have 3. That’s the tally, and that’s the only statistic I care about. There are 31 disappointed fanbases every year. I didn’t even really care the Giants made the playoffs in 2016 because I knew we didn’t have the offensive line good enough to navigate the playoffs. It’s a high standard.

With that standard, I understand Pat Shurmur may not be the guy that’s going to lead this team to a Super Bowl Championship. His game management is inconsistent; there are several coaching gaps (whether it’s directly his fault or not) that seem to keep happening. Those may not directly be on him, but that could be a product of poor management or communication, a vital part of being an NFL head coach. I sometimes question how he manages and utilizes his personnel. I see his offense as uncreative at times, mainly concerning Saquon Barkley. That’s my biggest issue.

Saquon is a generational talent with a skill set on par or potentially better than Christian McCaffrey, and he needs to be utilized as such. Saquon should be the centerpiece of the offense – not just a flashy halfback. He can create mismatches on every play. I understand you can’t go to the well too many times. But he needs to be split out more, let him use his short-area quickness on LB’s and S’s in isolation, get him the ball downfield in space. Saquon is much more than just a traditional RB, and he’s being wasted. That needs to change one way or another.

Donuts, Hot Pretzels, and Hot Dogs

Some want General Manager Dave Gettleman fired. I view Gettleman as separate from Shurmur. There’s a segment of the Giants fan base that hates Gettleman. They wanted him fired the moment he was talking about donuts and hot pretzels. But the fact is he’s done a lot of good moves and drafted well. I’m more skeptical about the coaching and managing of his draft picks than the actual talent of his draft picks.

Dexter Lawrence is already looking like a future pro bowl caliber player. Julian Love, Darius Slayton, and Ryan Connelly all look like probable starters. One picked in the 4th round, two in the 5th round. That’s above the curve. For Giants recent history, that’s in the stratosphere above the curve. He likely picked the next franchise QB for the Giants. Just that alone affords him AT LEAST one more year. A GM usually has a 3-5 year plan. But at least three years. It’s only been a year and a half going on two years. It usually takes three good team drafts supplemented by free agents, to be where you want to be. He tore it down, and now he’s building it back up. It’s a process. I understand most fans don’t have that much patience.

Super Bowls are the standard, not 7-9 seasons. That’s what separates the Giants from the Dolphins. Building a Super Bowl culture and team doesn’t happen overnight; it needs to be done the right way. The Giants have won 4 Super Bowls out of the 53 played. That’s one every 13.25 years. Winning a Super Bowl is rare. But once a team is built, they can come in bunches: 1986 and 1990; 2007 and 2011. Understand that the Giants are completely starting from scratch.

Don’t Change Just to Change

Despite the issues with Shurmur, I don’t like the idea of changing just for the sake of change. There needs to be a thorough evaluation of who the candidates are and what they bring. There needs to be a strategy of precisely what kind of HC you’re looking for. There’s probably going to be at least six head coaches that are already fired or will be fired at the end of this season. The upper echelon HC candidates aren’t that deep. My standard is to win a Super Bowl. The Giants need an upper echelon HC that is Super Bowl-caliber to be that guy hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. If the Giants change just for the sake of change and don’t get that guy, then we’re doing it all over again in 2-3 years. The Giants then become the Browns, gutting and starting the process over and over, chasing their tail and spinning their wheels.

A point that also needs to be looked at is the investment that the Giants have made in hopeful franchise quarterback Daniel Jones. His development is priority number one right now – even more than me worrying about maximizing Saquon’s potential. Shurmur may not be perfect, but from spring until now, he’s done a pretty good job with Daniel Jones. Uprooting that relationship and destabilizing that environment for Jones would not be ideal. This is a vital time for Jones’ development. Jones wouldn’t just need to get used to a new coach, but also a new offensive system. This forces him to focus on learning a “new language” rather than concentrate on personal improvements and skill development.

I’m not suggesting we keep Shurmur and Jones married indefinitely, but if there’s not an upper echelon HC available, it’s a good idea to keep making the development of Jones the priority and have the transition of year one to year two be a stable process.

It’s no secret the Giants had a great head coach in Tom Coughlin. He’s what an NFL head coach should be. He was a pillar of leadership, culture, management, experience, and respect. This is the skill set an NFL coach needs to maintain an NFL team, staff, and locker room. It’s not easy managing and leading grown men with different personalities and backgrounds. I don’t agree with the strategy of hiring an excellent offensive coordinator just so the team can have his offense. It’s a flawed strategy from the beginning.

First, he’s being hired for a job that requires a different skill set than the job that he was doing. In many instances, an OC may be closer to a football technician rather than the leader and manager needed to run a locker room. Being a coordinator and being a head coach are entirely two separate jobs and skillsets. Once the OC is hired, they are forced to attempt to do two jobs – their coordinator job; and lead, organize, and manage the team. Things get neglected, details fall through the cracks, and you have a leaky ship. That can’t happen in the NFL where the margin of error is so small to win a Super Bowl. It’s not a rational or realistic approach towards building and running a staff. If or when the OC/HC doesn’t work out, now the whole operation needs to be gutted, and the locker room starts from scratch. The better approach would be to hire the right head coach, to begin with, that’s a proven winner and has demonstrated the skill set needed to lead and manage a locker room. If necessary, it’s easier to swap out coordinators than always have to start everything over because your offense was also your head coach.

The Giants are a perfect example. Tom Coughlin was a staple HC for 11 years that brought the Giants two Super Bowl Championships with two different defensive coordinators. Once he left, stability proved difficult. Ben McAdoo was brought in as an OC and showed he didn’t have the skills required to be an HC; Shurmur is nowhere close to McAdoo, but he was also brought in for his offense and is struggling in his position as HC.

Hire the head coach first, then get the coordinators. I feel a defensive-minded coach would be a better bet and seems to have more the skill set needed to be a successful HC. But that’s just my opinion. I’m sure as a Giants fan, I’ve been influenced by the success of Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick, and the failure of McAdoo and lack of success of Shurmur.

Riverboat Ron

Don’t make a change just for the sake of making a change — unless a Super Bowl-caliber candidate is anticipated to be available. Well, it just so happens there is one. Ron Rivera. He’s the only HC candidate I’m 100% sold on to replace Pat Shurmur – for many reasons.

A few nights ago, I put together an outline of why I liked Ron Rivera as the next HC of the Giants. The next day he gets fired. The distinct lines to the Giants are drawn, and Twitter is abuzz. It stole my thunder a little bit, but nevertheless, here are the reasons why I love Ron Rivera as the next head coach of the New York football Giants.

His Resume

A member of the 1985 Bears Championship team, he got a great foundation of what excellence looks like – taking it with him into this coaching career. He began as a linebackers coach with the Eagles in 1999. As the defensive coordinator of the Bears between 2004-2006, he won Assistant Coach of the Year in 2005. He inherited a 2-14 team with the Panthers in 2011, led them to three straight division titles starting in 2013, and four playoff berths to include reaching the Super Bowl in 2015. Rivera became a two-time NFL Coach of the Year winner, winning the award in 2013 and 2015.

His resume speaks for itself. On the surface, he checks all my boxes. He’s a defensive-minded coach with specialized experience as an NFL linebacker and linebackers coach. His defensive expertise would be a great asset to any defensive coordinator. He’s a great teacher and able to build and adapt the team to their strengths. He’s a proven winner, leader, and manager. By all accounts, he’s a high character guy that almost everybody has great respect for. He’s proven able to create and maintain a positive locker room culture. He has the experience, a defensive background, respected, a winner, a leader, a manager, and can build a positive culture. He’s also been able to get a first-hand view of how Christian McCaffrey has been used. Whether or not Norv Turner comes with him, he has an understanding of concepts and where to get started in relation to translating that to Saquon.

From Christian to Saquon

Every story I’ve come across says how well-liked, principled, and respected Rivera is. No doubt that was a factor for Norv Turner to come over to the Panthers as offensive coordinator. Norv is 67, if David Tepper wants to build his organization from the ground up, my guess Turner is there as an advisor and won’t be retained. If Rivera could bring Turner with him to the Giants, that experience and knowledge would be invaluable. Young OC systems may work, but we’ve seen they can be rigid and inflexible. An OC like Turner would provide flexibility Giants fans haven’t seen in a long time. It’s one thing to complain that Shurmur needs to be more creative with Saquon to reflect McCaffrey’s production, but it’s another thing to get the actual architect of the offense that McCaffrey is dominating in. Turner was brought in to help turn Cam Newton into more of a pocket passer. He’s been exposed to several different QB styles and was able to get decent production out of Kyle Allen. Norv Turner would be a considerable asset to Daniel Jones in these early years.

Reunion and Retention

Steve Wilks served as defensive backs coach under Rivera from 2012-2016. Later as defensive coordinator in 2017. He currently serves as Browns defensive coordinator under Freddie Kitchens – which means he’s probably going to be looking for a job. My guess is Rivera would gladly take him, and Wilks may gladly accept it. He’s an excellent defensive coordinator with a specialized background in defensive backs. Given the Giants large crop of young defensive backs, potentially getting Wilks would be a force multiplier that could have great returns.

If there’s one coach or coordinator on the Giants that has shown consistent results, it’s Thomas McGaughey, the Special Teams Coordinator. He previously served under Rivera as STC and did well. Rivera didn’t fire him. His contract was up, and they chose to promote Chase Blackburn from within the organization. With that successful working relationship established, McGaughey may be able to be retained. If not, and perhaps Blackburn comes over with Rivera, that’s a nice welcome home for the SB 46 hero.

Mike Shula served as quarterbacks coach under Rivera in 2011-2012, and later offensive coordinator 2013-2017. There’s a lengthy working relationship there. Although Shula was fired after the 2017 season along with the quarterback’s coach, it was a move motivated by a new approach to Cam Newton. Both are professionals, and I would be surprised if there were hard feelings. Shula currently acts as the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach to Daniel Jones. Shula did an excellent job developing Cam Newton. Many fans complain about Shula’s role, but I bet Shula has a more direct role in developing Jones than most fans realize. He is the quarterback’s coach, after all. Being able to retain Shula not as the offensive coordinator, but solely as the quarterback’s coach should help stabilize the environment and transition for Jones while keeping a consistent voice in his ear. This allows Jones to maintain that young QB to quarterbacks coach relationship and rapport.

First Dibs

Occasionally when a coach or coordinator that’s well respected goes to a new location, some free agent players will follow. The Panthers have a lot of free agents for 2020, and some may prove to be an excellent addition. Defensive lineman Gerald McCoy, Bruce Irvin, Mario Addison, and Vernon Butler; offensive tackle Daryl Williams; linebacker Shaq Thompson; cornerbacks Ross Cockrell and James Bradberry; and free safety Tre Boston are all UFAs in 2020. Gettleman drafted Thompson, Butler, Bradberry, and Williams. Addison is 32 but still producing with 9.5 sacks, Irvin has 5.5 sacks, McCoy still graded highly via PFF, Boston is one of the highest PFF graded safeties, and with the Giants need for a reliable three-down LB, Shaq Thompson would be a welcome addition.

Lastly, we can’t forget the obvious connection that Dave Gettleman was the GM of the Panthers from 2013-2017, working directly with HC Ron Rivera and former DC Steve Wilks. There are a lot of possible moving parts here. The ideal scenario would be Ron Rivera as HC, Norv Turner as OC, Steve Wilks as DC, Thomas McGaughey as STC, Mike Shula as QBC, and maybe entice a Shaq Thompson or Tre Boston to come over. That would be quite the all-star staff – with both coordinators having head coaching experience. Given the respect and stature Ron Rivera has, that may not be impossible. But if the Giants can get Rivera and even just a couple pieces fell into place, that would still be a massive win by the Giants.

Big D or NYC?

Giants need to be aware that Rivera is going to be pursued. I don’t see Rivera going to the Browns or Redskins – he’s smarter than that. I doubt he goes to the Falcons – a rival. It’s going to come down to the Giants or the Cowboys. Rivera is just the kind of guy that Jerry Jones wants. That would be a problem if the Cowboys got Rivera. Having Garrett as the Cowboys coach has kept them in mediocrity. Getting Rivera would put them over the top. That can’t happen. The Giants need to do everything they can to get Rivera. Not just to give the Giants that Super Bowl-caliber HC, but to prevent the Cowboys from doing just that.

It’s possible Rivera tosses a curveball and takes a year off to decompress, coming back for 2021. If that’s the case, I stick with Shurmur. To my original point, don’t change just for change. Change only if it’s going to help the team reach its ultimate goal – which is a Super Bowl Championship. If Rivera does hop right back in the saddle, he qualifies as that change. Gettleman and Rivera reached a Super Bowl together before, let’s see if they can do it again. But this time for the good guys.