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Giants coach Pat Shurmur scouts his son Kyle at the Combine

INDIANAPOLIS—Piano music plays softly at the dimly lit St. Elmo Steak House late Sunday afternoon. Pat Shurmur pulls out his chair and takes his seat at a table in the corner of the old-school restaurant, near the front windows. The Giants head coach made his reservation for 4 p.m., the earliest seating on Sunday, because he’s just finished with a long day of on-field defensive end and linebacker workouts at Lucas Oil Stadium and has to squeeze in St. Elmo’s famous shrimp cocktail before his team will meet with players starting at 6 p.m.

“How you doing boy?” he says to his dinner companion, who was waiting for him when he arrived.

This shrimp cocktail isn’t just any shrimp cocktail. St. Elmo’s signature cocktail sauce has a fiery horseradish kick, and it’s a rite of passage amongst NFL people at the annual scouting combine. This is Shurmur’s 20th trip to Indianapolis for the combine, meaning he’s had at least 20 of these shrimp cocktails. But this year is different. This time, he’ll share this combine initiation ritual with his only son, Kyle, a quarterback prospect in the 2019 draft class. Kyle threw in his on-field workout on Saturday, but is staying in town through Monday to throw to defensive players. 

The waiter arrives with the two shrimp cocktails and a warning, “It’s spicy, be careful.”

Father watches son take a bite of shrimp. The horseradish kicks in, and Kyle’s face scrunches up. He shakes his head back and forth, blinking his eyes. Pat nods and laughs.

“Wow, that cleans your sinuses out!” Kyle says.

“You got tipped off to it,” says Pat. “But typically when you bring somebody here for the first time, you don't tell them how hot it is. You see their first reaction.”

“Yeah, that's no joke,” Kyle says. “So, how did my throws look?”

***

Kyle Shurmur left Vanderbilt after his senior season as the school’s career leader in nearly every passing category—passing yards (8,865), passing touchdowns (64), completions (722) and attempts (1264)—stealing the top spot in those categories from Jay Cutler.

As a true freshman, Kyle started five of the season’s final six games, and was named the team’s starter for good before his sophomore season. He played some of his best games against Tennessee, winning three of four in-state rivalry games for the Commodores.

“The Vanderbilt quarterback, well, I’m extremely proud of him,” Pat said at his combine press conference. “He’s made great decisions. He did an excellent job in high school giving himself the opportunity to go to a place like Vanderbilt. He graduated in three and a half years. Helped them win games. He’s a good player.”

As a coach’s son, Kyle grew up around the sport. During Kyle’s lifetime, Pat has coached at Michigan State and Stanford, then in the NFL with the Eagles, Rams, Browns, Eagles again, Vikings and Giants. While he was growing up, Kyle worked training camp for the Eagles, Rams and Browns. He spent time not just watching, but throwing the ball around with NFL quarterbacks like Donovan McNabb, Sam Bradford, Colt McCoy and Brandon Weeden.

At the combine, Kyle frequently ran into familiar faces that his dad coached with at different stops in the league.

“A lot of guys that I coached with remember Kyle when he was a little guy, guys like Andy Reid, John Harbaugh, Ron Rivera, those guys that I coached with back in Philadelphia when he was really young,” Pat says. “I hear a lot of, Wow, I can't believe it. It seems like just yesterday he was in high school. Can't believe he is already out of college.”

During Pat’s coaching career, his family has lived in nine houses in seven different states, and they’ve always moved together as an entire unit. Kyle moved after his sophomore year of high school, from Cleveland to Philadelphia, after Pat was fired after two seasons as the Browns head coach.

Kyle is the second-youngest of four Shurmur kids, with two older sisters and one younger sister. Kyle’s mom Jennifer was a collegiate swimmer at Michigan State, where she met Pat, who played center for the Spartans. All the Shurmur kids are swimmers, and Kyle had a successful high school swim career in backstroke and freestyle.

While Jennifer helped Kyle with his swimming, Pat helped out with his football career. Even though he is a football coach by trade, and is known for developing young quarterbacks, he’s never coached a team Kyle has played for. Pat has consciously taken a hands-off approach to Kyle’s football upbringing and tried not to pressure him or intervene in his coaching. “I'm here to support certainly, but it's super, super important he does it on his own,” Pat says. “When I see things, I'll say it. If he has questions, he'll ask. The one thing about this sport is you can't be a stage dad because you cannot fake football. You can't fake it. You can't make a call, this is not that sport.”

Pat says he’s trusted the coaches in Kyle’s high school and collegiate football careers, so he can just, “sit back and fill in the blanks.”

During Kyle’s last two years at LaSalle College High School in the Philadelphia area, Pat was able to make it to most of the Friday night games, because Friday nights are typically easy during the NFL season. When Kyle went to Vanderbilt, Pat made it to at least one game each season—three times it was the annual Tennessee game, played on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, because Pat’s teams played on Turkey Day.

On the weeks when Pat couldn’t be there in person, he’d pull up the SEC Network on his phone and catch the game in between walkthroughs and night meetings at the team hotel, or if was traveling to a road game, he’d catch a few plays in the air.

Kyle’s mom Jennifer was at most Vanderbilt games, and the QB says she’s his harshest critic, not dad. “It was funny, after the Tennessee State game this year, I threw two picks early on and she’s like, ‘Man, Kyle, you really sucked in the beginning,’” Kyle said. “She was harsh at times, but at the same time it came from love. She was going to be honest with me and I know she has my best interest in mind. She’s awesome.”

Pat and Kyle squeezed in three early dinners during their week in Indianapolis, which they both say is probably the most time they’ve spent in the same place in a long time. “Man, it's been awhile,” says Kyle. “It's been a long time. Probably since before I went to college.”

Kyle is projected as a late-round pick in the draft. He has the prototype pocket passer size—6'4", 230 lbs.—and several scouts said they were impressed with his measurements in Indianapolis. Kyle played in a pro-style offense at Vanderbilt and has the intelligence and football IQ of a coach’s son, but his athleticism and ability to escape the pocket are weaknesses. He showed improvement in his accuracy over the course of his college career and completed 63 percent of his passes in 2018.

Pat has evaluated hundreds of quarterbacks over 20 years of combines, so to have his son’s name appear was a nice break in the routine. “It was really a thrill for me watch him walk across that stage,” Pat said, just a few hours after Kyle participated in the first phase of the combine, the weigh-ins. “This is the next step in a potential dream. It's good stuff.”

Many draft analysts believe the Giants will be picking Eli Manning’s successor with the sixth pick, but Pat hasn’t come out and said it. “There’s all these narratives, ‘the next franchise quarterback,’ ‘replace this guy’—we’re trying to make our team better,” Pat said during his combine press conference. “It’s no mystery [Eli] is closer to 40 than he is 20. [He turned 38 in January.] That’s no mystery. And certainly we’re going to try to do the very best we can to get the best players, especially the one that’s playing quarterback.”

The Giants did not formally interview Kyle at the combine, because as Pat said, “We know him extremely well.” Kyle did talk with the Giants informally at the “train station,” a room inside the player’s hotel which is set up with 32 tables, one for each club. Prospects hop from table to table, like NFL speed dating. On the first day of the combine, Kyle ran into his dad there and the two shared what Kyle called, “a bro hug.”

Pat wouldn’t say which quarterbacks the Giants met with formally at the combine for 15-minute individual interviews, but it’s a list that included Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins, Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray, Missouri’s Drew Lock, Duke’s Daniel Jones, Washington State’s Gardner Minshew and Buffalo’s Tyree Jackson.

Pat is familiar with many of them, because so many are in the same class as his son. So he’s seen them at quarterback skills camps like the Manning Passing Academy through the years.

***

Kyle takes a deep breath and walks up to the start line of the 40-yard dash. He wears the sleeveless version of the black, orange and maroon combine uniform. He’s quarterback No. 13, in the second session of throwers for the day. Pat stands in the Giants suite, looking down on the sideline where Kyle will be running. His elbows rest on the counter and he anxiously taps his pen on the surface while Kyle steadies himself and lines up his feet. He launches out of his start, but gets whistled off.

“A little stumble, a little longer also,” says veteran Steelers scout Mark Gorscak, who’s been manning the 40 start at the combine for the past 16 years. Gorscak is a fixture at the combine, giving players guidance after a faulty start, but for Kyle, he can’t resist the obvious joke. “If you don’t do it right, I’ll tell your dad,” he laughs.

Kyle smiles at the jest and lines up again for another attempt. He takes off and runs his hardest, sticking out his tongue with the effort. Pat looks up to the screen and waits for the official time. 4.92 flashes on the video board. Pat smiles in disbelief, and makes an expression that says, We’ll take it. He fist pumps with excitement and then turns to his notebook with all 335 prospects listed in order. He scribbles in Kyle’s 40-time in the blank next to his height and weight. Kyle’s sub-5 second 40 is a good time for him because scouts have questions about his mobility, and he specifically wanted to prove he can run at this combine.

The quarterbacks line up to get their grip filmed, and Pat leaves the suite for a lower seat in the stands, about 20 rows up from the 20-yard-line. He always sits here to watch quarterbacks because it’s important to be close and feel the velocity of their throws. He likes to sit closer to the 15-yard-line than the 20, because that puts him behind the quarterback. And he sits on this particular side of the field, because it’s the side that the right-handed throwers will open up to when they throw.

Pat is stoic. His face rarely gives away his emotions, but he says he isn’t nervous for his son to start the throwing drills because he knows Kyle is prepared. He’s been training in Pensacola with Exos Sports, and his agent, CAA’s Tom Condon, has made sure he’s ready. “I know he belongs here,” Pat whispers in the church-quiet stadium. “Whether he ends up with an NFL team, I don't know. Whether he'll be drafted, I don't know. But the fact that he's here is a great thing. I feel really good about that, if you are here then you've got a chance.”

Critics might say of course a coach’s son is invited to the combine. Nepotism is commonplace in the league, as it is in many industries, and Pat is deliberate in pointing out that Kyle is here because he’s earned it. “You can't fake it,” Pat says. “I'm just rooting for him.”

Several scouts agreed that Kyle’s combine invite was deserved, and not a token coach’s son invitation. Pat says he hasn’t yet had any teams reach out to him with specific questions about Kyle, and he’s not surprised by that because each team does their own evaluation.

His notebook sits on his lap, but he doesn’t take notes on any of the quarterbacks as they start throwing the first route, a quick slant. “I’ve got a feel of what I’m looking for, so I only take notes if something really stands out to me,” he says.

Giants offensive coordinator Mike Shula is on the field helping run drills.

Coincidentally, Shula, per the New York Daily News, is the last quarterback to enter the NFL while his father was a head coach in the league. Shula was a quarterback prospect out of Alabama in 1987, while his dad, Hall of Famer Don Shula, coached the Dolphins. “We’ve talked about that a little bit, how ironic that is,” Pat says.

Kyle throws his first quick slant. “That was good,” Pat nods.

In between routes, as the quarterbacks and receivers move across the field, Pat pulls out his phone. The Shurmur family group text is going off. Jennifer and Kyle’s two older sisters, Erica and Allyson, are at their youngest sister, Claire’s, swim meet in New Jersey. The Shurmur women brought a laptop with them in the stands to stream NFL Network so they can watch Kyle throw and Claire swim at the same time.

Pat clicks on a link they’ve sent into the family group text, and it pulls up the NFL Network clip of himself watching Kyle run the 40. He shakes his head and jokes that his family is keeping him up to date on Kyle’s workout, rather than the other way around.

Kyle doesn’t rank among the top few quarterbacks in this year’s class, so Pat isn’t much concerned with where he’ll go in the draft, or if he’s drafted at all. He just wants his son to get a shot to prove himself with a team. “Quarterbacks come throughout the draft, and there have been free agents that have made it,” Pat says. “I'm not so worried about that. What I am concerned about is that he gets the chance to be evaluated and if a team likes him, bring him in and let him compete. That’s my hope for him.”

As soon as the last quarterback throws the last shake route of the workout, Shurmur jumps up and hustles towards the exit. He’s late for mass, a 4:45 p.m. service scheduled specifically so NFL coaches and scouts can make it before their 6 p.m. interviews begin. The Giants will meet with 12 players this night. In the elevator, he runs into an employee from another club, who says, “Pat, you must be so proud!”

Shurmur power walks two blocks down Capitol Avenue towards St. John the Evangelist, but the priest is already halfway through the homily when he sidles into a pew on the left side of the church. Shurmur sits quietly and closes his eyes in prayer, taking the moment to give thanks for his son and the poise he showed on his big day. He belonged out there.

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