Minnesota Vikings coach brings faith to the field

| August 10, 2017 | 0 Comments

Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur, right, talks with offensive linemen T.J. Clemmings, left, Austin Shepherd and Alex Boone during practice Aug. 3 at Minnesota State Mankato. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Each morning Pat Shurmur pulls out a laminated card with his priorities for the day.

“We as coaches laminate everything. You never know when you’re going to get caught in the rain,” said Shurmur, 52, the offensive coordinator for the Minnesota Vikings.

The card has prayers and reminders of how he wants to live out his Catholic faith. His card includes petitions to St. Patrick and St. Joseph, a coach’s prayer and one his father, Joe, used during a terminal illness. The card also lists his family members’ birthdays and includes a “be list,” characteristics he wants to live by.

“It’s just a reminder to be a good husband, a good father and good son, good friend [and a] good teacher,” said Shurmur, a father of four who has been married to his wife, Jennifer, for 27 years.

Shurmur takes those reminders into his work with the Vikings as he begins his 16th season coaching in the NFL.

“My Catholic faith influences really every facet of my life,” Shurmur said. “I’ve always believed it’s a terrific guideline for living and certainly has carried over to coaching.”

Coaching is something in which he’s seen his share of success. He’s coached in Philadelphia twice, St. Louis, Cleveland and now Minnesota. He developed longtime Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb and helped other quarterbacks such as Nick Foles, Colt McCoy and Sam Bradford produce career-best seasons. Shurmur came to the Vikings as the tight ends coach in 2016 and later became offensive coordinator when Norv Turner departed in November.

Guided by faith

Shurmur’s success and rise to offensive coordinator with the Vikings doesn’t surprise the team’s Catholic chaplain, Father Michael Van Sloun. He said Shurmur has earned the trust of fellow coaches in the organization.

“I think that his faith helps guide his leadership and inspires his leadership,” said Father Van Sloun, pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata.

When Shurmur came to Minnesota, he got in contact with Archbishop Bernard Hebda about finding a parish and school for his youngest daughter, Claire. Shurmur also attended the archbishop’s installation Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul in 2016. Shurmur and Archbishop Hebda became friends through a mutual friend, Bishop James Checchio, who was the Philadelphia Eagles’ Catholic chaplain in 2002-2003. Bishop Checchio then left to serve as vice rector of the Pontifical North American College in Rome.

“All along, we’ve maintained a really close friendship,” said Shurmur of Bishop Checchio. “We’re fortunate enough to get to see each other a few times a year.”

Bishop Checchio, now the ordinary of the Diocese of Metuchen, New Jersey, said Shurmur is a “man who appreciates the Church and the Eucharist.”

Shurmur visited Bishop Checchio in Rome, where he met Cardinal Edwin O’Brien, archbishop of the U.S. military archdiocese at the time. Cardinal O’Brien gave Shurmur a prayer booklet for soldiers, where he keeps his laminated prayer card.

Shurmur’s family makes Sunday Mass a top priority each week. He also attends Masses that Father Van Sloun celebrates for the team on Saturday evenings before games.

Shurmur prioritizes passing on the faith to his children, too. He noted that his adult children have kept the faith while excelling athletically. His son, Kyle, plays quarterback for Vanderbilt University, and his daughters, Allyson and Erica, swam at Boston College and Michigan State, respectively.

“Fortunately, they make good choices,” Shurmur said. “Going to Mass and being involved in the sacraments, trying to live a good life and make the world a better place — those are all things that we tried to live as parents.”

His last daughter at home, Claire, will swim at Convent of the Visitation School in Mendota Heights this fall as a ninth-grader. She attended Our Lady of Grace School in Edina for middle school last year.

Inspiring others

Shurmur takes time to share his faith beyond his family, particularly through Catholic Athletes for Christ, a nationwide ministry that encourages Catholic athletes. He also spoke at a retreat for 110 men at Our Lady of Grace in Edina, his parish, in January.

“It was funny, insightful and encouraging,” said Dan Moran, a parishioner of Our Lady of Grace who attended the retreat. “He inspired us to live out our Catholic faith in the workplace and at home.”

Shurmur spoke about the laminated prayer card he uses to stay on track spiritually. Archbishop Hebda also spoke at the retreat.

“It was humbling [and] a little bit intimidating. Here I’m trying to speak as somebody that really doesn’t have any real background in theology,” Shurmur said. “To able to share the podium with Archbishop Hebda was a great thrill.”

Shurmur said he sees a parallel between stepping away for a retreat to grow spiritually and football players going to training camp to develop their skills.

“I think it’s important as we get busy — and sometimes too busy — that we step back and reflect on how things are going,” Shurmur said of the retreat.

“That’s a little bit of what happens when you go away to training camp,” he added. “You have a chance as a team to build.”

This year’s Vikings training camp marked the final one in Mankato after 52 years. It will be held in Eagan next year.

For now, Shurmur and fellow offensive position coaches will look to get the Vikings offense back on track this year. Last season, the Vikings ranked 28th out of 32 teams in total offensive yards, and mustered 20.4 points per game, 23rd in the league.

Overcoming adversity

Pat Shurmur works with Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford at training camp. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Among the position coaches, quarterback coach Kevin Stefanski, also a Catholic, has a similar vision to Shurmur. Stefanski also attends Our Lady of Grace and has children at the parish’s school.

“He’s got a beautiful young family,” Shurmur said of Stefanski. “There’s been some events at the school that we’ve been able to enjoy together.”

Stefanski, who coached running backs last year, has the benefit of working with a starting quarterback in Sam Bradford, who knows Shurmur well. Shurmur previously coached Bradford in St. Louis when he won Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2010, followed by a year together with the Eagles in 2015. Bradford came to the Vikings in a September trade last year after the previous starting quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, suffered a serious knee injury in practice.

“Since our first year together in St. Louis, we’ve both faced adversity,” Shurmur said of Bradford. “We can sit back now after being in three different places together and look back and say [that in] each experience we both have faced, whether it was together or separate, we’ve learned something about ourselves, and we found a way to grow.”

Core beliefs

Shurmur said it takes sticking to “core beliefs” and not worrying about external circumstances to navigate the challenges of life in the NFL. That can include working with players who have off-field issues.

Wide receiver Michael Floyd, a 2008 graduate of Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, signed with the Vikings May 10. He had a DUI conviction last year, but Shurmur hopes to help him succeed on and off the field.

“I think it’s the same thing if you were a father,” said Shurmur about working with Floyd. “You live your life, and you make choices based on what’s best. My interaction with him [is to] just be consistent and solid.”

Shurmur said he likes how Floyd has performed in training camp. In addition, Floyd could fit into the kind of offense Shurmur plans to run.

“I want us to develop an offense that’s efficient, explosive and can score points and be able to support what around here has been an outstanding defensive effort,” Shurmur said.

Shurmur will call plays on a laminated card to set his team up to do that on Sundays, hours after using his laminated prayer card to set his day up in service of Christ.

“I think you’ve got to pray every day, so I try to find time in the morning to pray,” he said.

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