Pat Shurmur isn’t into moral victories and wanted to win more than five games in 2018.
But the Giants’ first-year coach did affect a major change in restoring order inside the team facility in East Rutherford, which Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins said made a noticeable impact amid all the losing.
“Honestly, (Shurmur) kept a lot of veterans in-tuned to this season, and that’s a hard thing to do,” Collins, a defensive captain who turns 25 on Thursday, said this past week as the Giants (5-11) entered the offseason. “You can keep young guys’ (attention) because they don’t understand the business part of it yet. But (it’s different) when you keep a lot of veteran guys - guys who’ve been through it, guys that were on a losing team last year and came back and now we’re going through it again.
“He kept us in-tuned and made sure we were focused and coming every day to work and making sure we went into every game trying to win,” Collins added.
Granted, Shurmur and the Giants have a much higher bar than just trying to prevent the locker room from fracturing. However, it was critical for John Mara, Steve Tisch and Dave Gettleman to hire a coach who would not make the same mistakes Ben McAdoo did in 2017.
Mark Herzlich, the career Giant and Super Bowl XLVI champion, reminded everyone of just how bad it got under McAdoo in a Thursday interview with Taz and The Moose on CBS Sports Radio.
Herzlich, in the context of discussing Steelers wideout Antonio Brown’s latest drama, reflected on how McAdoo lost the room by letting Odell Beckham Jr. get away with more than other players could. Another tough day for the ‘Boat Trip Didn’t Matter’ crowd.
“(McAdoo) came in, we had a good season, and Odell started doing things that were distractions for the team,” said Herzlich, 31, a career Giant (2011-16) until his release this past summer. “And Ben McAdoo, who is a young coach – which Mike Tomlin is not – let those things go for a long period of time. Then when it was time to put his foot down, he could only put his foot down to (suspend) Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
“There was this unfair balance of power: ‘This guy can break the rules, but I can’t?’” Herzlich continued. “It’s a double standard. Once you lose the respect of the locker room, then you have a tough time coming back.”
Shurmur, 53, then, was only going to control this locker room if he could stand up to his stars, especially Beckham, the way McAdoo was not able to do at age 40. And Shurmur, who Gettleman said he hired because “he’s an adult,” did just that early in his tenure to set a different tone.
Shurmur’s first public scolding of a player actually was in relation to Collins, who had revealed on ESPN Radio that tackle Ereck Flowers was skipping workouts because he was upset the Giants had signed Nate Solder to replace Flowers on the left side.
“Yeah, that’s not for Landon to talk about,” Shurmur responded at a press conference. “I think the important thing is, let’s let Ereck talk for Ereck when he gets here, and we’ll worry about that later. But really, I don’t think our players should be talking about another player’s situation.”
Shurmur’s biggest test, though, was Beckham’s early-season ESPN interview in which the star receiver criticized Eli Manning, the team’s direction, heart, energy and Shurmur’s play-calling, and said he prefers Los Angeles to New York.
On the surface, at first, Shurmur did not reveal any discipline for Beckham. But behind the scenes he was furious, read Beckham the riot act, made him address and apologize to the team, and fined OBJ.
The Shurmur-Beckham relationship ever since has become a balance of respect and friction, all the way through the handling of Beckham’s late season injury. And it’s not clear exactly whether that will become the foundation of a long and fruitful partnership or signify the beginning of the end for those two.
Shurmur’s take-charge attitude in the name of uniting the team, though, earned the respect of the locker room, and it was a part of the reason the team - outside of Curtis Riley’s early checkout in Week 17 - played so hard for him down the stretch.
Collins said Shurmur also was inclusive and honest, and encouraged his players to be the same way in the name of getting better. And that transparency with his players made a difference, too.
“(He did it by) just talking to us, (holding) captain meetings, having guys talk to each other, and just letting us be honest with each other - with him, the guys next to us, with the coaches,” Collins said. “The whole coaching staff. Like, we didn’t hold our tongue as much.”
“And what we (discussed) within the doors,” Collins added, “we kept between us.”
Even Olivier Vernon - who bristled early in the season over Shurmur’s strict injury-reporting policies and even was called out by the coach for lack of production later in the year - came on strong late and noted that Shurmur had laid a good “foundation” despite the lack of victories.
“I feel like the culture as far as what Coach Shurmur’s been trying to bring in, of course it changed as far as … our expectations,” Vernon said. “And we understand we didn’t get to achieve what we wanted to in the beginning of the year, but it didn’t take long. I can’t really say guys weren’t fighting. That goes to building. When you build a team, you want to build it with guys that are gonna lay it on the line no matter what. So I feel like that’s the foundation you just gotta work from.”
Manning even said this week on WFAN that for most of 2017 under McAdoo, “we were a bad football team, and going into games, you didn’t know how you were going to win and compete.”
Shurmur’s Giants are still working on the winning part, but in a difficult year the new coach did make clear to his team that he’s the boss, and for the most part, they fell in line and were better for it.