When the Giants began their search for a new coach, there were candidates they knew far better than Pat Shurmur, and at least a couple who were much bigger names. Shurmur entered the field as a long shot only because the Giants didn't really know a lot about him.
All it took was one interview, though, and they were sold.
The 52-year-old Shurmur gave what Giants co-owner John Mara said was "about as good an interview as I've ever been involved with" when he met with Mara, GM Dave Gettleman and assistant GM Kevin Abrams on Jan. 6 in Minneapolis. What he said and how he presented himself that day is a huge reason why he is now the Giants' 18th head coach. By the time the Giants' trio met Shurmur, then the offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings, they had already met with Patriots coordinator Josh McDaniels and Matt Patricia in Foxboro, Massachusetts.
Some in the organization were already zeroing in on one of those two as the probable next Giants coach.
By the time Shurmur's interview was over, that thinking began to change.
That's why any reports that labeled one man as the favorite for the job were extremely premature, even though there were some in the organization strongly in favor of either Patricia or McDaniels. According to multiple sources interviewed for this story, Shurmur left by far the strongest first impression of any of the six candidates who were interviewed for the job. He also seemed to have forged the strongest connection with Gettleman -- a very important selling point, especially for Mara.
So when the first round of interviews ended, the Giants centered their discussion around three finalists, not just one man. They decided they were unlikely to hire their interim coach, Steve Spagnuolo, or former Broncos running backs coach Eric Studesville. And even though they were impressed with former Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks -- a strong favorite of Gettleman -- they felt his lack of experience made him a risky choice.
That left them focused on Patricia, McDaniels and Shurmur. But Shurmur had a decided edge because of one very important fact:
Much more than the other two, he clearly wanted the Giants job.
"He made it pretty clear right from the beginning that he wanted this job," Mara said. "That really resonated with me. You want someone that really wants to be here and thinks that there is something special about this franchise, as opposed to just it just being another job. He communicated that very well right from the beginning."
It wasn't as if Shurmur didn't have other options. During this offseason, he also had interviews with the Lions, Bears and Cardinals, and at one point, according to a league source, he was thought to be the favorite for the head coaching job in Arizona. At least one person close to Shurmur actually thought he'd prefer that job and that his personality would be a better fit there.
But that's not what he conveyed to the Giants. To them, he made it clear he was all in.
Patricia and McDaniels couldn't say that. Patricia was interested, according to a source, but he was always believed to lean toward Detroit, where he was the favorite of GM Bob Quinn, with whom he had a long relationship since their days together in New England. And McDaniels, who had some really strong support in the Giants' organization, seemed to be interested more in the Indianapolis Colts, in part because of their quarterback, Andrew Luck, and in part because he and their GM, Chris Ballard, had become close.
On the outside, it looked like the Giants were being spurned by their top candidates. On the inside, it wasn't clear they had a top candidate at all. But it was clear that after his sensational interview, the Giants couldn't get Shurmur out of their minds.
"The interview was outstanding," Gettleman said. "He was straightforward. He was honest. There was no nonsense. I hate to keep saying it, but for me, he was a professional. That's really important. Halfway through the interview, I wrote at the top of my notes: 'This man is a professional and an adult.' This is not a position for the faint of heart. We have to win every Sunday and we know that. I just felt very strongly that Pat was the guy for us."
That wasn't just because he was an "adult" or "a professional football coach" or a "presence" -- three things Giants brass described Shurmur as when they introduced him to the media on Friday. He was also aligned well philosophically with Gettleman, and with what Mara wanted out of his new regime.
More specifically, after years of neglect, Gettleman made it clear he wanted to start the rebuilding of the Giants in the trenches. Shurmur made it clear that no matter how good he is at running an offense, he wanted -- and knew he needed -- a completely rebuilt offensive line.
"When he said, 'You got to be able to block 'em,' that's something that hit home with me," Mara said. "Because obviously we've had our issues there."
"Those are the things that Pat and I completely agree on," Gettleman said. "The other thing that we completely agree on is the importance of culture and how football is the ultimate team sport. We have to put together a roster that is talented but who love the game of football and love to compete. There is a lot of boxes that he and I are on the same page."
Having a coach and GM on the same page was critical for Mara, because it's not something the Giants have had in recent years. There was an obvious disconnect between former GM Jerry Reese and former coach Tom Coughlin in their final few years together -- particularly around the draft, and according to multiple sources, very specifically about the construction of (and lack of attention to building) the offensive line.
Mara seemed to indicate that there were issues at times between Reese and Ben McAdoo, too.
"(Shurmur) and Dave seemed to mesh very well together," Mara said. "You have to have that, too. You have to have a coach and general manager … they don't have to agree all the time. In fact you don't want them to agree all the time. But they've got to be able to communicate, respect one another and have similar philosophies.
"And I think we have that now."
They also have a coach with experience, something Mara stressed publicly and privately throughout the process. He didn't necessarily need someone who had been a head coach before -- he said he also would accept "significant" experience as a coordinator -- but he preferred it. He has said many times in the past that he likes having a coach who has his own example to learn from, and comes to the Giants with something to prove.
Shurmur had that. So did McDaniels. Though according to one team source, the Giants believed Shurmur was much more willing to accept what he did wrong in his first head coaching tenure (with Cleveland) than McDaniels was (with Denver).
"Through the interview process, we asked Pat, 'What have you learned through his Cleveland experience?'" Gettleman said. "He was very detailed. He obviously was very honest with himself, just like I had to be honest with myself when things didn't go right (as the GM of the Carolina Panthers). He's a very self-aware guy and a very mature guy."
That was clear during Shurmur's press conference too, when he said he had learned many lessons from his 9-23 tenure with the Browns in 2011-12, including that he can't be his own offensive coordinator, that he needs to be more open with the press, that he needs to listen more to his players, and probably a lot more.
"I think when you're doing anything for the first time, there's things that happen that you adjust to," he said. "But obviously once you've done it before, you have the resources, and you've made those decisions, you've made those calls, you've done the things that you say 'If I do that again, I'll never do that again.' And I think I learned that."
The Giants loved that honesty (he was much more detailed about those lessons with them). They also loved he had principles that he wasn't willing to compromise. For example, Shurmur said at his press conference, "I have zero tolerance for people that don't compete. I have zero tolerance for people that don't give effort, and I have zero tolerance for people that show a lack of respect."
That was music to the ears of the bosses of a franchise that was a dysfunctional mess last season. After enduring a season in which two players were suspended, one was repeatedly benched, one called another one a "cancer" in public, and in the final week one former starter was benched and another was suddenly cut, the Giants were mostly looking for someone who could come in and, with a firm and professional hand, clean everything up.
"I don't think there was a lack of maturity with earlier leadership," Giants co-owner Steve Tisch said. "But Pat just seems to command the room. He's extremely intelligent. I think the experience speaks for itself. He's extremely charismatic and I think listening to him, you watch him, get a sense of his body language, his commitment. He's a leader."
Added Mara: "It's such a tough job, especially coming off of a season that we came off of with all the issues in the locker room and everything else, you need someone who is an 'adult;' someone who is a professional and has a certain demeanor to walk in there and start to straighten things out. I think he has all those qualities."
It was clear from the beginning, at least internally, that Shurmur was exactly what the Giants were looking for in their next coach. Yes, they strongly considered Patricia and McDaniels. And yes, there were some in the organization who preferred one (or both) of the Patriots coordinators right until the very end.
But for Mara, Gettleman and Abrams -- the three men who sat through all the interviews -- every discussion they had seemed to come back to the same man.
"Just the more discussion we had about him and the more research we did, particularly with people who had coached against him or played against him or played for him, it just was all positive," Mara said. "So we just had a good vibe from the very beginning that stayed with us through the end of the process."