Coach has all right moves Packers' Shurmur a defensive master

Super Bowl Xxxii

January 21, 1998|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

SAN DIEGO -- Reporters crowded around Gary Kubiak yesterday in Qualcomm Stadium wanting to know what he thought of his alleged candidacy as head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

Ninety minutes later, in a spot not 20 yards from where Kubiak entertained questions, another group of reporters surrounded Fritz Shurmur wanting to know if he'd ever get a call to be a head coach in the NFL.

Kubiak, 36, is offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos.

Shurmur, 65, is defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers.

And this is the biggest mismatch in Super Bowl XXXII, Kubiak against Shurmur in the chess game of offense against defense.

Advantage: Shurmur.

It is one of the delicious ironies in this year's Super Bowl that Kubiak is the hot commodity and Shurmur the afterthought in coaching rumors.

After a lifetime of crossing up offensive coordinators, Shurmur is poised to collect his second Super Bowl ring in as many years if he does it again here on Sunday.

A veteran of 23 NFL coaching seasons, 18 as a defensive coordinator with five different teams, Shurmur has reached the peak of his coaching career. Just don't expect him to cash in his Super Bowl success with a head coaching job.

"There's not anybody hiring 65-year-old guys [to be head coach]," he said.

If that's true, the shame is that somebody missed the boat.

That somebody is Art Modell, owner of the Ravens.

In 1989, three years after Shurmur lost to Gene Stallings in a bid for the St. Louis Cardinals job, he was beaten out by Bud Carson for the head coaching vacancy with Modell's Cleveland Browns.

Modell still regrets the decision.

"It was a mistake, obviously," he said yesterday. "I am sorry I

didn't hire Fritz Shurmur. He was a very impressive man then as he is now. He is the best defensive mind in football today.

"I can say without equivocation I made a big mistake. My instincts were to hire him, but I was persuaded by others in the organization to go a different direction. I regret not hiring him. We would be a great team."

Modell's current coach, Ted Marchibroda, is 66, the NFL's oldest head coach. This season, Dick Vermeil was brought out of deep retirement at age 60 to coach the St. Louis Rams. But Shurmur didn't get even a courtesy call.

"The biggest reason is because no owner wanted to hire me," he said. "Certainly, that's their prerogative when there's $2 million involved. I was never involved in a situation where one of them wanted me. Either I was too young or too old. I don't know what happened to the years in between."

The years in between Shurmur spent resuscitating defenses with the New England Patriots (1978-81), Los Angeles Rams (1982-90) and Phoenix Cardinals (1991-93).

His only head coaching experience came at the collegiate level with the University of Wyoming in the early 1970s. Taking over a program that had experienced racial strife, his four years produced a 15-29 record.

Then it was on to the NFL, where he pulls the trigger on one of the most unpredictable defenses in the league. His philosophy is to frontload a defensive game plan with as many options as possible, and when it works -- which is often -- his terms are unconditional surrender.

Although the Packers employed a base 4-3 defense a year ago, '' injuries and Shurmur's ingenuity dictated a switch to more three-man fronts this season. He uses a complex blitz package behind that in both his nickel and dime sets.

"We want to dictate to the offense," Shurmur said. "The game has always been the defense reacting to the offense. But we're comfortable with our nickel defense against the regular [offensive] group. We try to keep the initiative that way. We try to get the offense reacting to us."

It worked wonderfully a year ago, when the Packers led the league in fewest yards and fewest points allowed, a rare double. Though they're not quite as dominant this year, they have had the best defense in the league statistically the past two months.

"It has a lot to do with his ability to observe an offense and dissect it and figure out what they're trying to do," said linebacker Seth Joyner. "He puts us in the best position to take away what they do best."

Though Shurmur said he would have loved the chance to be an NFL head coach, he doesn't bemoan the hand fate dealt him with the Packers. Asked if the team's defensive success the past two seasons is a statement on missed opportunity, he takes a pass.

"I've been with a good team," he said. "I'm not concerned about making statements. My life is not about making statements. It's about never being bored and being enthusiastic when I go to work.

"I do hope when all is said and done, they'll say that I had taken a little time to give back to this game."

Shurmur's solutions

In his 18th year as a defensive coordinator in the NFL, and fourth with the Packers, Fritz Shurmur is known as an innovator and problem solver. Here are some of the solutions he's delivered in his career:

Year Team ...... Defensive accomplishment

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