Allen Park — The Detroit Lions’ search for a new head coach turned to a pair of divisional options Thursday, when the team’s brain trust sat down with Green Bay linebackers and associate head coach Winston Moss and Minnesota offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur.
Shurmur has multiple local ties. Born and raised in Michigan, he was a three-year starting center for Michigan State, earning honorable mention for the 1987 All-American team. He also got his coaching start with the school as a graduate assistant.
Additionally, Shurmur’s uncle, Fritz, was on Detroit’s coaching staff from 1975-77, later winning a Super Bowl as Green Bay’s defensive coordinator in 1997.
In Minnesota, Shurmur did an impressive job maximizing the Vikings’ talent in his evolved West Coast offensive scheme. He developed backup quarterback Case Keenum into a fringe MVP candidate, turned Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs into one of the NFL’s best receiving tandems, and kept the running game afloat after losing rookie starter Dalvin Cook early in the season.
Overall, the Vikings finished 10th in scoring and fifth in efficiency.
“That’s one great thing, (head coach Mike Zimmer and Shurmur) can identify what our players do well and try to magnify that by what they’re calling and how they’re managing the game,” Vikings general manager Rick Spielman said in November. “I think that’s a lot of the reason we’ve had the success to date.
“(Shurmur’s) play-calling ability on Sundays, and the game plan going into the games, coming up with specific ways to beat other teams, he tries to create matchup issues for the defense with some of our offensive personnel,” Spielman said.
Unlike the other known candidates on Detroit’s interview list, Shurmur is the only one with head coaching experience. He struggled to a 9-32 mark with the Cleveland Browns from 2011-12. In 2015, he won his only game as the Philadelphia Eagles’ interim coach, following Chip Kelly’s firing.
Shurmur is also the only offensive coach on the list, but one who has been molded by defensive minds, from his uncle to Nick Saban at Michigan State to Zimmer in Minnesota.
“Whether you coach offense or defense, you need to have a healthy appreciation for what the other side of the ball is trying to do,” Shumur said earlier this season. “I think that can help you when you put together what your offense is going to be. The last couple years I've had great conversations with Zim. We talk often about things that hurt our offense, as well as what's a challenge for his defense.”
As for Moss, he didn’t appear on many analysts’ lists of potential candidates. The longtime Green Bay Packers assistant was a part of coach Mike McCarthy’s original staff and has been promoted twice, serving as McCarthy’s right-hand man the past decade.
In addition to his 30 years of coaching experience — developing players such as Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and A.J. Hawk — Moss played 11 seasons in the NFL with Tampa Bay, Oakland and Seattle.
In a 2014 interview with ESPN, Moss described his coaching style.
“I think I keep it very, very simple,” he said. “I'm very demanding. I'm very consistent. I'm very fair. The main thing that I focus on is identifying what each and every single person goes about their skill set and goes about their way differently. I try to identify and I try to push their buttons.”
Moss is also the chief disciplinarian in Green Bay. When a player has off-field issues, they answer to him.
“Sometimes, I have to be the bad guy,” Moss said when he assumed the role in 2007. “I don’t have a problem with that, because what happens off the field is very, very important to me.”
Moss speaks from experience. He had to suffer the consequences for his own off-field issues as a player. In 1991, he pleaded no contest to weapons charges after allegedly pulling a gun on a waitress at a nightclub. He was sentenced to 300 hours of community service.
In addition to Shurmur and Moss, the Lions have already interviewed their own coordinators, Teryl Austin and Jim Bob Cooter, as well as Houston Texans defensive coordinator Mike Vrabel. The team is expecting to meet with Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia this weekend and Carolina defensive coordinator Steve Wilks next week.