Mike Zimmer was asked whether he was concerned about familiarity after Sunday’s opponent, the Giants, recently signed a former Vikings linebacker to its practice squad. He then reminded everybody who coaches the Giants.
“Pat [Shurmur] was here,” Zimmer said, “so how much more gamesmanship can you get?”
Shurmur, guiding the 2-2 Giants with rookie quarterback Daniel Jones starting those two wins, will face his former team Sunday when the Vikings arrive at MetLife Stadium looking for their first road win of the season. In his second season in New York, he will coach against the Vikings for the first time since being named the NFL Assistant Coach of the Year by the Associated Press as the Vikings offensive coordinator in 2017.
Shurmur navigated the topic of his familiarity with the Vikings defense, and vice versa, like a 54-year-old coaching veteran in his second run as an NFL head coach.
“It’s a wash,” Shurmur said. “They probably know more about me than I know about them. This happens to guys a lot, you know, where you play against a team you coached for and you got a lot of respect for. Those were two of the most joyful years of my life coaching up there.”
Joy emerged from “a tough situation,” which Zimmer commended Shurmur for handling well when he stepped in for Norv Turner, who quit as offensive coordinator on Nov. 2, 2016. Then the tight ends coach, Shurmur was promoted to coordinator.
He fondly recalled his family’s “little adventure” to Minnesota and contributing two years ago to a 13-3 season, which saw the Vikings offense post its highest ranks in scoring and yardage since 2009. The Vikings’ run to the NFC Championship Game, with backup quarterback Case Keenum, led the Giants to tap Shurmur as the man for its transition away from franchise leader Eli Manning.
“I think about the personal relationship that we had,” Zimmer said, “being able to go in and talk to him all the time and the way that he took over in a tough situation and helped us to win games.”
Shurmur could be finding his stride with the Giants despite a 7-13 record. A win Sunday against the Vikings would make three in a row, his longest streak in New York. Jones, his rookie quarterback, has five touchdowns and five turnovers, but he also has two wins in two starts.
Without phenom running back Saquon Barkley, who injured his ankle Sept. 22, Shurmur’s Giants aren’t copying the Vikings’ current run-first blueprint; New York’s sixth-ranked offense averages 40 passes per game. But the Vikings sees “a lot of similarities” in what Shurmur used to run in practices, according to defensive end Everson Griffen.
Shurmur said his time in Minnesota left a mark.
“I really enjoyed the fact that it was kind of an old-school mentality,” Shurmur said. “Obviously, an eye toward the future on everything, but an old-school mentality. I feel like as an offensive coach, I’ve been shaped greatly by all the defensive coaches I’ve worked with. And being with Zim sort of reminded me that run the ball, play good defense, protect the quarterback — all the gritty things we all know about the game, but every once in a while we need reminders.”
Shurmur also left lasting impressions. Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, the Vikings quarterbacks coach under Shurmur, has maintained “a lot of the concepts” and similar terminology to Shurmur’s offense in this Vikings system, according to Zimmer.
Relationships became Stefanski’s greatest lesson from Shurmur: “He has a great way about him with players. Looking forward to catching up with him, and I wish him luck 364 days of the year.”
Shurmur wanted to hire Stefanski as the Giants offensive coordinator after the 2017 season, but Zimmer blocked the move. A year later, Stefanski was promoted to Shurmur’s old role.
“I’m happy for him,” Shurmur said. “I certainly knew he had it in him. The Vikings were certainly smart to keep him there.”
The gamesmanship between Shurmur and his old team will continue Sunday.
“He’s not going to tell me the plays,” Zimmer said, “so it [our relationship] won’t help.”