Packers Defensive Coach Shurmur Suddenly Showered with Accolades

Article excerpt

NEW ORLEANS - The first interview session of Super Bowl week hadn't even begun, and already the New England media was staking out Green Bay defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur. They were gathered around his designated seat in the Superdome stands - sportswriters from Boston and Providence and Worcester and Springfield.

"Bring that genius over here!" one of them called out when a league escort was spotted leading Shurmur up the stadium steps.

"I'm not talking to you guys," Shurmur said, breaking into a grin. "You're Parcells guys now."

Nobody thought of Fritz Shurmur as a genius when he and the rest of the Patriots' coaching staff were swept out in 1981. The team had just completed a 2-14 season, one that would earn it the first pick in the NFL draft. It was the kind of season that can kill a coaching career - or at least take years to recover from - but Shurmur managed to rise above the failure and find another job. And then another. And another. And now here he was, at age 64, getting all these accolades as the defensive boss of the Packers, arguably the league's top unit this season.

Shurmur has been in pro football too long, though - 22 years and counting - to take the "genius" bait. He knows only too well that this year's genius

is next year's lunkhead.

"Look," he said, "this is just a game. Maybe my son is a genius. He fixes hearts. I'm just trying to get my players lined up halfway decent."

And, from all indications, doing a swell job of it. The Pack allowed the fewest points in the NFL this season, 210. They also gave up just 19 touchdowns, a record for a 16-game season.

For years, Shurmur has been attracting attention for his creativity and willingness to try new things. With the Rams, he had lots of good linebackers and no defensive linemen, so he devised the 2-5 "Eagle" defense. With the Cardinals, he had a shortage of outside linebackers, so he came up with the 4-2-5. He also was the first to play a nickel defense against the 49ers on first down - a strategy that proved pretty successful. But he never made the Super Bowl until now, so he probably hasn't gotten quite the credit that was due him. And he's never gotten a serious sniff of a head coaching job.

"I was teasing him this morning," Packers coach Mike Holmgren said. "I said to him, `How old is Dick Vermeil [the new Rams coach]?'

"And Fritz said, `Not as old as I am.'

"Fritz is unbelievable, though. He's still very creative, and he has a great enthusiasm for the game."

Shurmur has channeled some of that enthusiasm into the writing of four books aimed at high school and college coaches. Surely you've read "Coaching Team Defense." How about "The Eagle Five-Linebacker Defense"? Anyway, not bad for a guy who, when he graduated from Albion, figured "I'd coach high school for 10 or 12 years and maybe become a principal."

He's coached an awful lot of Pro Bowl players over the years. …