Why Bears should consider Vikings OC Pat Shurmur for head-coaching gig

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Pat Shurmur, left, has helped head coach Mike Zimmer, right, to a 12-3 record. (AP)

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer cut off the third consecutive question about offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur on Wednesday with a quip.

‘‘Is this an interview?’’ Zimmer jokingly asked Chicago reporters. ‘‘Is this an interview for him?’’

Not yet, but check back in a week.

When the Bears inevitably part with coach John Fox after their regular-season finale Sunday, they’ll begin their hunt for a coach who can help turn rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky into the face of the franchise.

General manager Ryan Pace would be wise to look closely at Shurmur — and not just to mine for insider knowledge of the NFC North rival Vikings.

Perhaps no offensive coordinator has done more with less this season. The 12-3 Vikings will be playing for a first-round playoff bye against the Bears, despite losing their starting quarterback and running back two months ago.

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An injured left knee limited quarterback Sam Bradford to two starts — the season opener and the game against the Bears in Week 5 — before he went on injured reserve. Rookie running back Dalvin Cook, drafted No. 41 overall to replace Adrian Peterson, suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in Week 4.

While running back Latavius Murray has been average in 11 starts, quarterback Case Keenum has been a revelation in 13. His 98.1 passer rating is about 22 points better than his mark last season with the Rams. He has thrown 21 touchdown passes and seven interceptions and has lost only three games.

In his first full season as the Vikings’ coordinator, Shurmur helped put the finishing touches on receiver Adam Thielen’s transformation from an undrafted Division II college player to a Pro Bowl player. Zimmer compared Thielen to former Cowboys star Michael Irvin on Wednesday.

‘‘I think he’s been very adaptable, trying to fit the scheme to the players,’’ Zimmer said of Shurmur. ‘‘I think he did a nice job in the offseason of coming with a plan of using the guys we had and trying to use them to their strengths.

‘‘And then, obviously, after Bradford went down and really when Cook went down, being able to adapt to those. . . . I think he’s done a good job in calling plays. But more important, probably, has been using the players to their strengths.’’

Shurmur, who is on the NFL Career Development Advisory Panel’s list of head-coaching candidates, has put his imprint on Keenum.

‘‘When [Keenum] messes up, he gets on him pretty good,’’ Zimmer said. ‘‘He talks to him about what he expects of him and tries to settle him back down. And then being able to communicate and be on the same language and work together to understand the thing that Case likes, as well.’’

Shurmur, who coached the Browns in 2011-12, has spoken with Zimmer about the finer points of coaching, such as scheduling.

‘‘I think he’s aware of maybe some of the things that went wrong in Cleveland and what can go right,’’ Zimmer said. ‘‘And what has gone right here, maybe.’’

A lot has gone right. Vikings defensive coordinator George Edwards is on the candidate list distributed by the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which promotes minority inclusion, as well as that of the development advisory panel.

Edwards doesn’t call the Vikings’ defense, though. Zimmer, the Bengals’ defensive coordinator in 2008-13, does — though he is flirting with the idea of giving that up if Edwards stays.

‘‘He does everything other than call the game on Sunday,’’ Zimmer said.

The Bears will have to follow league protocol to interview Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich and Eagles quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo, among others, because their teams have a playoff bye. NFL rules mandate an interview can happen only during the wild-card bye week and in the coach’s home city.

A victory Sunday would earn the Vikings a first-round playoff bye. Pace, theoretically, could return to Minneapolis soon.

Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.

Email: pfinley@suntimes.com


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