Originally created 08/31/99

Shurmur remembered as innovator



GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Fritz Shurmur dedicated his life to studying, teaching and changing football. His imprint on the game and the men he taught to play it will be slow to fade.

Shurmur, the Seattle Seahawks' defensive coordinator and the architect of the defense that led the Green Bay Packers to their 1997 Super Bowl victory, died of cancer at his home Monday. He was 67.

"He was a good man and a good father," said Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren, who relied heavily on Shurmur during the Packers' run to consecutive Super Bowls. "He was an outstanding football coach, but what really made him special were those other things first. He was a teacher ... he loved life."

Shurmur spent two decades as a defensive coordinator for five teams and had the longest continuous tenure of any coordinator. He joined Holmgren in Seattle in January when Holmgren was hired as the Seahawks' coach and GM after seven seasons in Green Bay.

"He had great enthusiasm for someone who had coached as long as he had coached, and I fed off that," said Holmgren, who didn't agree to accept the Seattle job until Shurmur gave his approval.

Shurmur returned to the Green Bay area for treatment of esophageal and liver cancer, which was found during a routine checkup in May. Shurmur died at his recently completed home in nearby Suamico, where he and his wife had planned to retire.

"Fritz was a great friend and a great coach, but most importantly he was a great individual," Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson said. "He was spiritual and highly motivated. Fritz will be sorely missed by family, friends and fans of professional football."

Packers offensive coordinator Sherman Lewis, who worked alongside Shurmur for the past seven years, last spoke to Shurmur 10 days ago.

"He was probably the most respected person in our profession," Lewis said. "Everything you're supposed to be as a teacher, he was. We all feel terrible."

Shurmur remained in contact with friends and former players in Green Bay, even while his condition worsened.

The Packers' locker room was in a somber mood Monday, with several defensive players declining to speak with reporters. Green Bay safety LeRoy Butler, who along with his wife was especially close to Shurmur's family, declined comment.

"It's tragic," Packers quarterback Brett Favre said. "We all hate it. We knew it was going to happen, that it was just a matter of time. We considered him one of the family, even though he moved on to Seattle."

Shurmur spent five seasons with the Packers and was instrumental in the team's run to consecutive Super Bowl appearances. He also served as a defensive coach with the Phoenix Cardinals, the Los Angeles Rams, the New England Patriots and the Detroit Lions.

Shurmur joined the Packers in 1994, replacing current Green Bay head coach Ray Rhodes as defensive coordinator.

"We were still talking football with him, even when he wasn't doing real well," Packers linebacker Bernardo Harris said. "Fritz rode me a lot when he was here. I really had somebody on me, trying to help me improve, and I appreciated that."

Shurmur was the Rams' defensive coordinator from 1983-90, and in 1989 he developed a 2-5 "Eagle" defense to deal with personnel shortages. Los Angeles finished fifth in the NFC that year.

He spent three years in Phoenix before joining the Packers.

Shurmur was known as a defensive innovator and a premiere teacher of the game. He wrote four books on defense and coached for his entire adult life, beginning in 1954 as a graduate assistant at his alma mater, Albion (Mich.) College.

He was a defensive coach at the University of Wyoming from 1962-70 and head coach at the school from 1971-74. A native of Wyandotte, Mich., he held a master's degree in education and received an honorary doctorate from Albion in 1997.

Holmgren assigned Shurmur's duties in Seattle to linebackers coach Jim Lind, who received Shurmur's endorsement. Holmgren was choked up at times during a press conference after the Seahawks' practice.

"It will take a little while" to get over Shurmur's passing, he said.

"We were very close."

A funeral mass will be celebrated Friday at St. Francis Xavier Cathedral in Green Bay.