Pat Shurmur is expected to be the next head coach of the New York Giants. The hire has been widely praised, as most hires are this time of year. So this might be a popular opinion, but the hire doesn’t exactly spark optimism.
Shurmur has been billed as an offensive guru who has helped get the best out of multiple quarterbacks, but that isn’t necessarily true. His first offensive coordinator job in the NFL came during the 2009 season with the St. Louis Rams. That offense ranked 32nd in DVOA as the team went 1-15. That led to the No. 1 overall pick, quarterback Sam Bradford, and an 8-8 record that next season, but still that offense only improved to 30th in DVOA. That record jump was aided more by a defensive jump from 31st in DVOA to 19th in the second year under head coach Steve Spagnuolo.
Overall, Shurmur-led offenses haven’t been all that impressive. In his nine seasons as an offensive coordinator or head coach, Shurmur has only been in the top-10 of offensive DVOA twice — this season and his first season as the offensive coordinator under Chip Kelly with the Philadelphia Eagles. He’s only led an offense outside the top-20 one other time, his second season in Philadelphia.
There’s no doubt what Shurmur has done in Minnesota this season has been impressive, but his longer track record isn’t nearly on that level. NFL coaching hires are full of recency bias and ignoring past seasons to focus on the good is often a mistake. Here’s where his offenses have ranked since 2009:
Pat Shurmur Offenses by DVOA
|2009||OC||St. Louis Rams||32|
|2010||OC||St. Louis Rams||30|
Again, the work with Minnesota this season has been fantastic, but there’s a much larger sample of offenses being not great.
Then there’s the quarterbacks Shurmur has helped develop. Rarely has Shurmur been presented with top talent, but that’s been a selling point for some — “look at what he’s done with what he’s had to work with.” That argument is another instance where the good seasons are the outliers. Nick Foles was second in DVOA among quarterbacks in that 2013 season and Case Keenum was first this past season. Even the Foles season is viewed much more as a product of Chip Kelly’s offensive scheme than it is Shurmur’s coordination.
Among the other 10 quarterbacks who threw at least 100 passes in a season, there was only one other season ranked above 20th in DVOA: Sam Bradford last season, where he only ranked 17th despite leading the league in completion percentage. The full list is below:
Shumur QBs (min 100 passes) by DVOA
The names there aren’t great, but neither are the performances. Though this also doesn’t account for Donovan McNabb, who Shurmur oversaw from 2002-2008 as the quarterbacks coach of the Eagles.
The last head-coaching stint
The Giants, from all reports, wanted someone with head-coaching experience, or at least a ton of coordinator experience. It’s the typical progression of a team looking for a new head coach — look for the opposite of the last guy. Ben McAdoo had no head-coaching experience and only two years of coordinating experience with the Giants. That showed up in his second season on the job. Shurmur does have head-coaching experience with two seasons at the helm of the Cleveland Browns, but neither season was particularly successful.
In fairness, no coach for the Browns has been particularly successful for some time, but this goes much deeper than a 9-23 record. Shurmur appeared overwhelmed at times during his first go-round as a head coach. He went into the first season without an offensive coordinator, but the team decided to hire Brad Childress for that role the following season. Shurmer said of the decision to hire and offensive coordinator at the time:
“More than anything, I think what it will do is allow me to just step back and look down on some things in some areas that I may be able to contribute more. I think that’s a key piece. Keep in mind this: As the head coach of this team, I want to direct a team that is winning games. I have a general philosophy of how that works. You tweak it to do what fits best based on those principles to win games. I think that’s just natural that you have an offensive coordinator.”
Though Childress was hired, Shurmer remained the play caller and the Cleveland offense went from 25th in DVOA during 2011 to 27th in 2012.
Shurmur was fired after the 2012 season and the reason given was new owner Jimmy Haslam wanted to bring in his own staff, but Shurmur’s performance as a head coach also warranted the firing. He struggled with game management, fourth-down decisions, and challenges — little things that can give a team and advantage and things he hasn’t had to do since as a coordinator.
In a 2012 year-end wrap up of coaches, Bill Barnwell, then of Grantland, awarded Shurmer with the “Most Questionable Challenge” — a challenge of a 6-yard pass on a first down in the fourth quarter of a Week 8 game — and “Worst Coach of 2012.” Wrote Barnwell of Shurmer’s performance:
“It’s not that Shurmur made one bad decision in one particular aspect of the game in 2012; it’s that he made obviously wrong calls in so many different spots. He failed to go for two up 15-10 in the fourth quarter in Week 1 and it cost him the game in a 17-16 loss. He used a timeout before punting on fourth-and-1 from the Indianapolis 41-yard line with 6:38 left in a close game and ended up having to go for it on fourth-and-6 later on. He called nine pass plays on third/fourth-and-short in one Ravens game alone.
If Shurmur had developed his young talent into successful players, you would excuse his play-calling blunders. Instead, Shurmur failed to develop either Colt McCoy or Brandon Weeden into anything resembling an NFL-caliber starter, ran an injured Trent Richardson into the line for no gain for most of the season, and left the Cleveland organization with a lot of young players who have failed to reach anything resembling their potential.”
This isn’t to say coaches can’t change, they do. Some of what Barnwell noted already has and some is a little silly in retrospect — no one was turning Colt McCoy or Brandon Weeden into NFL-caliber starters, though Shurmer was hired to perform that task for the former and was involved in drafting the latter.
As a play-caller, Shurmer has certainly improved and his schematic tendencies have long been admired across the league. It is fair to wonder, though, how those will continue to play out when there’s more game day responsibilities than just calling the game. Last time around, they didn’t play well.
Nothing says Shurmur hasn’t spend his past five years since being a head coach figuring out what went wrong and what can be improved. The Giants should hope that’s the case. Rarely is there a such thing as a slam dunk head coach hire. So often, even for coaches with experience, there’s so much unknown. None of this disqualifies Shurmur of the possibility of being a good head coach, but all the selling points from previous experience, offensive efficiency, and quarterback development don’t come with quite as much success as those selling it would lead you to believe.