EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J -- Like any other head coach, Pat Shurmur enters every season optimistic about his team’s chances of enjoying success.
But this year, Shurmur was also a bit of a realist when it came to the Giants and the uphill battle, they were facing coming off a 3-13 season.
That battle, as Shurmur stated when he was initially hired last January as the team’s 18th head coach, was to strip the locker room of the dead word and the poor attitudes that had caused the culture to erode into a major mess. It included reestablishing a foundation that would see the team never give up, regardless of the circumstances.
By season’s end, in a game against the Dallas Cowboys with neither team having much to gain by playing, Shurmur appeared to see what he was looking for this year even though his team came up on the short side of the stick.
**“**We’re on the devil’s doorstep of winning, and it slipped away,” he said as he stood at the postgame podium one final time this season. “But as a team, there’s a lot of really good stuff inside of them. We’ve got a heck of a lot to build on.”
What they have to build on is a foundation that successfully reversed its culture to that of a winning mentality despite the fact that the coaching staff ad never worked with Shurmur before and more than 60% of the roster had been turned over from the previous season.
While that wining mentality didn’t translate into wins—the most important element, obviously—Shurmur seemed pleased that they could at least go into the offseason with something last year’s team didn’t have: a direction.
“The idea was always to go to the playoffs and compete and win the Super Bowl, but part of our deal this year was growing away from what was 3-13 and that locker room’s got a different feel because there’s a lot of different people in that locker room,” Shurmur said.
“We’ve just got to keep building on that and we’ll put ourselves in position to win these games next year and be in a different situation.”
That seemed to be the sentiment in the locker room.
“The things that we learn through the losses are going to pay off,” said tight end Evan Engram. “You never want to lose, and you never want to be happy about losing or what you learn, but the thing is that we have to get better at the things that happen in those losses. That’s more important; that’s going to help us build in the future.”
“You want to come away with a win, but I wouldn’t say we finished poorly,” safety Michael Thomas added. “Guys handled adversity. They never quit, and everyone kept fighting.”
Those who did appear to give up were promptly dealt with by Shurmur, such as safety Curtis Riley, who appeared to give a half-hearted effort on a tackle attempt late in the game which led to his immediate benching by Shurmur.
“Yeah, you’ve got to fight, you’ve got to play, and you’ve got to lay it all out there,” Shurmur said of that move. “We, as coaches, have got to do our very best to put you in the best position to do those things. That’s fair.”
Shurmur, who already has mapped out what the first quarter of 2019 will look like, has said that he hopes to have all his players back next year—an unlikely occurrence given free agency and salary cap decisions that will likely be made.
Still, one can’t blame him for that desire given what he’s learned about this group of young men.
“I’m good with that locker room,” he said. “I told the players--and it really is true--what we’re going through, trying to grow away from 3-13, this really is not about football. This is about leadership, people in control, people in the locker room, this is about team building. It just so happens we play football.
“When we tip those first couple things over, we’ll start to see the results that we’re looking for. I think a lot of people get tired of hearing about the process of things, but we’ve got to flip the table on what wasn’t good around here and make it happen. I think at least we’re on the right path.”