Allen Park — In an alternate universe, Pat Shurmur and Matt Patricia could have both stepped off the coaching carousel this offseason and landed in their home states.
As it turns out, the New Yorker is with the Lions, and Shurmur instead heads the four-time Super Bowl champion New York Giants and must settle for a week of training camp a short drive from his hometown.
Shurmur and the Giants are in Allen Park for joint practices this week leading up to Friday’s preseason game against Patricia’s Lions at Ford Field.
About five miles away from Shurmur’s hometown of Dearborn Heights, where he was a three-sport star at Divine Child High School before becoming a offensive line stalwart for coach George Perles at Michigan State, Shurmur on Tuesday recalled fondly meeting with Lions brass for the opening in the winter.
“I enjoyed it,” Shurmur said. “I felt like if it had worked out here, I would’ve been excited about the opportunity. But I certainly feel great about where I’m at. I couldn’t be in a better place.”
Patricia, well-schooled in the New England Patriots art of dodging questions, offered one anecdote about his home state team while growing up in Sherrill, N.Y.
“I’ll give you one little nugget here and you can write this one down,” Patricia told the media Tuesday, after deflecting two other inquiries about what could have been in New York.
He told of receiving Christmas cards and other paraphernalia from the Giants organization through Steve Owen, a family friend and former player and head coach for New York.
“That was a big fascination for me,” Patricia said. “That was the closest tie I could have to an NFL franchise when I was little. I always have that connection with them.”
When pressed if he was a Giants fan growing up, Patricia figured story time was over, saying “I’m a Detroit Lions fan now.”
But Shurmur offered memories of playing for Divine Child at Tiger Stadium during his senior year, then watching the Tigers as a fan, where he went to about a half-dozen games a year.
“That place just reeked of baseball antiquity,” Shurmur said. “It was just a great place to watch games. There were obstructed view seats, there was peeling paint, there was great baseball, (Lou) Whitaker and (Alan) Trammell. It just made for a great night.”
He also recommended the visiting New York media hit nearby Miller’s Bar for burgers — with a catch.
“I might have a tab open, if you could go ahead and pay that for me,” Shurmur said of the Dearborn honor system eatery.
Shurmur is an NFL head coach for the third time, serving in Cleveland in 2011 and 2012 and with Philadelphia for one game on an interim basis in 2015.
After a season as Minnesota’s tight end coach and another as offensive coordinator, when third-string quarterback Case Keenum led the Vikings to a 13-3 season, Shurmur became a prime candidate for one of the seven head coach openings across the league.
The Lions interviewed Shurmur, who was reportedly a front-runner in Detroit before general manager Bob Quinn gave Patricia the nod as the Giants were in pursuit.
Shurmur met with Quinn before Tuesday’s practice, kicking off the first week of joint sessions in the history of the Lions Allen Park headquarters, which opened in 2002.
“I’ve known Bob a long time,” Shurmur said.
Shurmur, 53, said he’ll share a meal with nearby family members at some point this week, including his brother Joseph, an executive at The Henry hotel in Dearborn, where the Lions stay during training camp.
Pat Shurmur said his mother, Barbara, might visit practice Wednesday from Canton.
Shurmur’s father Joe died in 1996, and his uncle, Fritz, was the defensive coordinator for the Green Bay Packers during the 1996 Super Bowl season.
Pat Shurmur was a two-way player at Divine Child, but was moved to the offensive line during his freshman season in East Lansing.
He started three years at center, and earned all-conference honors as a senior, helping the Spartans to the 1987 Big Ten title, the first of two for Perles.
There, Shurmur met his future wife, Jennifer, a New Yorker who swam for Michigan State. The couple’s three daughters have swam competitively, including Erica, a former MSU butterfly specialist who also earned a varsity letter in lacrosse.
Their lone son, Kyle, is entering his senior season at Vanderbilt this fall with 28 straight starts at quarterback for the Commodores.
Back in Michigan this week, Pat Shurmur said it’ll be mostly business without much time for fond remembrances. After practice Tuesday, three Giants players said they were not aware their head coach grew up a few miles from Lions headquarters.
In New York, Shurmur’s focused on rejuvenating a storied franchise and 37-year-old quarterback Eli Manning after a 3-13 season.
It’s not the ultimate homecoming he maybe once hoped for, but still a storybook ending for Shurmur.
“I pinch myself every day being the head coach of the Giants,” he said. “It’s just a proud franchise that I’m just honored to be their coach.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.