PAT SHURMUR feels most comfortable when he's uncomfortable.
It is no surprise, then, that he smiles even as he squirms when confronted with the million-dollar question:
What does he DO, exactly?
Shurmur is the offensive coordinator of an offensive system for which he usually gets no credit - neither for its conception, nor its implementation, nor its execution on game day. Will this perception handicap Shurmur the next time he is considered for a head-coaching job?
"The association with Chip, both in terms of method and scheme, will be a real positive. Not sure how soon, but I would be very surprised if he doesn't get another shot. He deserves it."
Joe Banner said that.
Banner fired Shurmur from the head-coaching job in Cleveland after the 2012 season.
Banner, who built the Eagles from 1994-2012, well knows the perception and the reality of what happens in Philadelphia often are distant cousins.
The Eagles run the Chip "Machine Gun" Kelly scheme, the frenetically fast-paced conception of a renegade college coach who made Oregon a blue-chip destination in just six seasons. It lacks a fullback; works with or without speedy receivers; relies on big, athletic linemen; relishes athletic tight ends and running backs; and, in a perfect world, works best with a running quarterback.
Two seasons into its NFL iteration, the Machine Gun scheme has won 15 regular-season games and has lost seven. The Eagles set team records last season in points, touchdowns, net yards, passing yards and big plays: 99 of 20 yards or more, an NFL record. They went 10-6 and won the NFC East title.
They rested yesterday, their bye week, 5-1, again atop the NFC East.
Last season this offense had the luxury of a pedigreed offensive line that started every game intact, as well as DeSean Jackson, the most feared deep threat of the past seven seasons, which complemented franchise back LeSean McCoy and sheltered Foles, an inexperienced plodder took the starting job from speedy veteran Michael Vick.
This season the offense has had the burden of a patchwork line eroded by injuries, the departure of Jackson and some monumentally poor play from Foles as he feels his way toward NFL competence.
Where does Shurmur fit in?
"I'm cautious to say it," Shurmur says.
He sits in an interview room at the NovaCare Complex, a place he helped build a generation ago as a member of Andy Reid's hotshot staff. He shifts in his seat and glances toward the window, where he would see leafy trees reflecting an early fall sun.
It is a nice day to fish with his wife and four kids from the boat they keep in Margate, but, for the moment, Shurmur is the one with the hook in his mouth.
"Chip's the head coach here," Shurmur insisted. "There's only one rock star."
Perhaps - but even Mick Jagger doesn't perform alone on stage.
He is, without question, qualified to run an offense.
He earned his MBA at Michigan State, converted from linebacker to center in college, coached offensive line, tight ends and quarterbacks in five places before landing back in Philly last year.
Without the presence of a running quarterback, the Machine Gun attack has featured elements of the West Coast scheme in which Shurmur is steeped. Kelly calls the plays on game day.
"We do have a situation where there's a heck of a lot of input," Shurmur admits. "Although the inspiration for what we do is Oregon, there's a lot more traditional NFL stuff in what we do offensively; things you'll see we did here in a former life."
To that point: In Game 4 at San Francisco, the Eagles trailed by five with just under 3 minutes to play and faced first-and-goal from the 6-yard line. They went: incompletion; 5-yard rushing gain; incompletion; incompletion; game over.
Sound West Coast-familiar?
Notably, Kelly calls the plays, not Shurmur.
Still, it should be stressed that Kelly cannot oversee all facets of the offense any more than Andy Reid did. There are scouting reports to be digested, attacks to be generated, personnel to be evaluated, units to be coordinated, game plans to be installed.
"There's a lot of things we've done in former lives that have shown up in our offensive system," Shurmur repeats. "I really believe in the no-huddle, the up-tempo. There's a lot of what we do that I think is out of sight.
"Everybody who's involved here knows where the ideas come from, but this is the Philadelphia Eagles' offense. I would like to think, given the opportunity to set it up in another place, it would look much like what we are doing."
So, what exactly is he doing?
"At some point, if somebody wants to hire me, then those are the discussions you have with them," Shurmur says. "Until then, it really doesn't matter."
He's in a tight spot.
Where he's most comfortable.
Maybe it's the Midwesterner in him, but ever since he began making big decisions as a young man Shurmur has relished taking the hard road.
"Things don't always have to be neat and pretty for you to choose them," says Jennifer, his college sweetheart and his wife of 24 years. "For us, there's intrigue in that."
It is how he got to Michigan State; how he became a star offensive lineman; how he married Jennifer; how he became a coach; and how he returned to Philadelphia.
A top linebacker recruit out of Divine Child High in Dearborn, Mich., his path to Ann Arbor seemed paved. After all, he'd been born on campus when his father, an orthopedic surgeon, was studying there. His father, Joe, and his Uncle Fritz, then the Rams' defensive coordinator, grew up with Michigan coach Lloyd Carr in the Downriver suburbs south of Detroit.
But Fritz Shurmur also knew that new Michigan State coach George Perles helped built the Steel Curtain defense that ushered Pittsburgh to four Super Bowl titles.
"Michigan was the No. 1 school in the state. Some assumed that's where I would go," Shurmur says. "My uncle said, 'Give this guy a chance.' It was a little out-of-the-box thinking at that time. I just felt a little more comfortable in East Lansing than I thought I would feel in Ann Arbor."
Shurmur's senior class won the Big Ten title outright for the first time in 19 years. It won the Rose Bowl for the first time in 32 years.
"Michigan State had this reputation of being gritty and tough," Shurmur says. "I've always been proud of that."
He's prouder of marrying Jennifer, who was a star swimmer at Michigan State when he met her . . . in the weight room. Their first date was at a local Steak & Ale.
"I finished his dinner for him," Jennifer recalls.
Shurmur was a senior football captain, square-jawed and curly-haired with his pick of starry-eyed coeds. He opted for someone more . . . substantial.
"Yeah, after that date I told my buddies, 'I'm going to marry that girl,' " says Shurmur. The courtship was anything but easy, he said.
"He was just different from the other guys," Jennifer says.
The wooing was tougher, he said, than changing positions.
Shurmur had to switch from linebacker to center to get on the field at MSU. By the end of his senior season, at just 220 pounds, he was all-conference.
"I just wanted to play," Shurmur says. "There were no 3-4 defenses, so you were giving help and directing things. I was able to use my quickness and lack of size as an advantage. You learn football inside out. That helped me learn the game. Just like the past 2 years has helped me broaden the way I look at things . . . which I'm very thankful for."
Shurmur, 49, would more likely be looking at early retirement had he played things safe. He quickly bombed out of the Packers' training camp but returned to MSU, completed his MBA in 1989 as a grad assistant, landed a plum job as a marketing representative with IBM in Southfield, Mich., and proposed to Jennifer.
He was at a training seminar in Atlanta 9 months into that job when he abruptly called Jennifer. He told her he wanted quit the corporate world, put on a hoodie and sweats and coach football.
"I remember, he said, 'I don't like the navy-blue suit and the white shirt,' " Jennifer says.
Jennifer was pre-med in physiology at Michigan State and planned to attend medical school. That was impractical, considering the nomadic, insecure career Pat chose and the fact that they wanted a family.
He became a GA again.
That quickly became a better job, coaching tight ends, special teams, and the offensive line at MSU from 1990-97; then, a year spent coaching Stanford's line; then, in 1999, a call from Uncle Fritz, then at Green Bay, who told him to expect a call from a former Green Bay assistant who was filling out his new staff in Philadelphia.
"Andy Reid's going to interview you to be the tight-ends coach," Fritz said. "Don't screw it up."
Pat didn't . . . but that was one of the last times he talked to his uncle. Fritz Shurmur died less than 8 months later, of liver cancer. Pat's father, Joe, had died of cancer 3 years earlier.
The family name and connections might have helped Pat get to the threshold of the NFL, but Shurmur made it the rest of the way on his own.
As a position coach in Philadelphia, he helped make undrafted Chad Lewis a Pro Bowl tight end. He refined Donovan McNabb's passing skills. As the offensive coordinator in St. Louis, he coached Sam Bradford to astounding rookie success and saw Stephen Jackson win a rushing title and go to two Pro Bowls.
That landed him the job in Cleveland, but the lockout in 2011 and an ownership change in 2012 doomed his chances there. The Browns went 9-23. Shurmur was out of work . . . but wiser for the ordeal.
"I developed a list of things that, given another opportunity, I would never do again. I'll keep that private," Shurmur says. "I know what the first 6 months of setting up an operation would be, in detail, and those can be the critical months for the success you're going to have. I'm certainly glad it happened."
No one holds what happened in Cleveland against him. Browns owner Jimmy Haslem has since fired Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi and drafted Johnny Manziel.
Being fired from that freak show was a godsend. Being hired by a mad scientist might be, too.
Shurmur could have spent the past 2 years elsewhere, somewhere comfortable, somewhere his West Coast background would have been featured, not overshadowed. Or, he could have just gone fishin', collected the $4 million or so he was owed by the Browns, who fired him with 2 years remaining on his deal.
Instead, Shurmur interviewed with the Jets (Marty Mornhinweg took that awful job). On Shurmur's way to the Jets interview, sitting in the Cleveland airport, Kelly called . . . hoping Shurmur would help him construct an NFL offense out of a gimmicky college scheme that exposed quarterbacks to harm and required a fitness level never before seen.
A hard road.
As usual, Shurmur couldn't wait.
"Some of my experiences in the NFL were attractive to him. I think that intrigued him," Shurmur says. "It was so attractive to come back to a place we had loved for 10 years, it was an easy call."
Not for everyone.
Kyle Shurmur, Pat's only son, had blossomed into a promising quarterback prospect in Ohio. When his father agreed to move back to Philadelphia, Kyle had to leave his high school friends and find a decent program with good academics.
"It was stressful for Kyle," Jennifer admits. "It turned out fantastic for him."
He narrowed his choices to St. Joe's Prep and La Salle, "Two schools above the threshold of great," Pat says.
La Salle won Kyle's heart. So did Vanderbilt, over Pittsburgh.
Pat saw in the Pitt program some of that Michigan State grittiness, but Kyle enjoyed the Mississippi River vibe he had known as a kid in St. Louis, so he chose to start his college career in Nashville.
Pat occasionally has offered fundamental quarterbacking tips, "But I kind of watched this whole career of his from afar. I think you should let the coaches coach."
And the parents parent.
"In our quiet times, when we're alone, we talk more about the above-the-neck stuff. How to handle winning. How to inspire your teammates," Shurmur said. "After they got beat by St. Joe's, it was about how to lock your jaw and move on. How to handle the criticism that comes with losing.
"You've got to be able to take a punch. And now, in the age of social media, don't hit 'send.' It's easy to respond to the craziness and the criticism that you'll receive from some people who have no idea what they're talking about, but when you hit send, you're on record. So when you do something good, that's minimized."
Kyle and his sisters have done lots of good, often in the water, thanks mostly to their mother's genes.
Allyson, 22, swam all 4 years at Boston College, breaststroke and individual medley. Erica, 20 and a sophomore at Michigan State, swam the butterfly as a freshman. Claire, 11, is a freestyler with the Jersey Wahoos, a club where Jennifer still swims four times a week, rising at 4:30 a.m. to get in her laps.
Even Kyle has gills: He swam the backstroke for the 200-meter medley relay and anchored the 200 freestyle relay teams that won state titles for La Salle.
"I can dive and shoot fish," he says.
His father spent time in the Navy and was stationed in Key West, where they would return for summers. Pat grew to love the sea.
The family has a boat but has never had a pool.
Having a pool would be much too simple.
So would working for a normal coach with a normal staff.
Kelly recruited heavily from the college ranks when he assembled his Eagles lieutenants, but he also retained former Eagles and coaching newcomers Duce Staley and Tra Thomas. Nobody checks resumes when the offensive staff meets, egos are minimized and Kelly delegates responsibilities without reservation.
For instance: It was Staley's call to bench McCoy in favor of Darren Sproles in the fourth quarter of the win over the Rams.
"I think I would refer less as delegation and more as trust," Shurmur says. "Coach trusts our backgrounds; that we're going to be the experts at what we do.
"We all have an open mind. We all have ideas. We all have a general respect for the experiences we've had. I've been other places where things would get tense. In our offensive room, we play fair . . . which can be unique when you put a bunch of guys in a room who feel strongly about things."
Shurmur has no strong feelings as to if he'll get another chance at being an NFL head coach, but it certainly is attractive to him. If Kelly's offense remains unstoppable regardless of its personnel, it won't matter how much or how little credit Shurmur gets.
"It may take a little more time, but he has a lot going for him," Banner said.
Shurmur is in no rush.
"I really enjoy the job I'm doing here," he says. "If somebody says, 'We'd like to talk to you. We think you have what it takes to lead our organization and create the culture that we're looking for.' Then, certainly, I think that would be an experience that I'd like to have again."
As long as it's hard enough.
On Twitter: @inkstainedretch