The Vanderbilt Commodores have had many legendary quarterbacks suit up in black and gold over the years.
Jay Cutler set the gold standard from 2002 to 2005. Jordan Rodgers, Austyn Carta-Samuels and Patton Robinette helped lead the program to new heights from 2011-2014.
And then there’s Kyle Shurmur.
Vanderbilt’s senior signal-caller is set to play his final collegiate game on December 27 when the Commodores take on Baylor in the Texas Bowl, and it’s safe to say he’ll see his name called at some point in the 2019 NFL Draft taking place in Nashville.
With just one game left to play, we can begin to take a look at where Shurmur sits in Vanderbilt’s illustrious history of stellar quarterbacks.
And who better to ask than some of those quarterbacks themselves?
Over the last 20 years, Vanderbilt has started to become a quarterback-friendly school. In fact, four of Vanderbilt’s top 10 all-time passing yards and touchdown leaders have played in the 21st century (Cutler, Shurmur, Rodgers and Chris Nickson).
On top of that, Vanderbilt has more wins against Tennessee and more bowl games since 2000 than any time period between 1950 and 2000.
There are certain qualities that make Vanderbilt such an attractive place for a quarterback to play.
“I think one of the first things is the qualities of a quarterback that make them successful,” said Carta-Samuels, who is now an assistant quarterbacks coach at Missouri. “You kind of look at those things and match that up with Vanderbilt’s DNA as a university, and you’ll see that a lot of them coincide in terms of striving for excellence in everything you do. It’s so integral at quarterback. A Vanderbilt student is going to do that same thing. Intelligence is such a big part of the position. You’re not going to get an unintelligent quarterback that goes to Vanderbilt.”
The Vanderbilt name on the front of the jersey also carries with it a certain attitude. It doesn’t carry the same respect that other names carry, so the players must go out and prove themselves two times over.
“The quarterback that commits to Vanderbilt isn’t the one that has offers from Alabama and Georgia and all these other big schools,” said Rodgers, who is now an analyst for SEC Network. “They are generally quarterbacks that are very talented and maybe overlooked a bit. Maybe that’s part of that chip, part of that mental makeup that has made some of these quarterbacks really successful back to Jay Cutler as well. He carried that perennial chip, that attitude that you need to be successful at Vanderbilt because it’s a unique set of circumstances.”
That’s exactly what happened with Shurmur. Despite being ranked seventh out of all quarterbacks in the 2015 class and ranked 110th in the ESPN 300 recruit rankings, the only SEC team to give him an offer was Vanderbilt. He also received offers from Central Michigan, Cincinnati, Illinois, Pitt and Temple.
According to his ESPN scouting report, “Shurmur is flying under the radar and probably shouldn’t be.”
On May 30, 2014, Shurmur committed to Vanderbilt and would quickly go on to become the foundation for head coach Derek Mason’s Commodores.
Anchoring The Ship
Shurmur entered the 2015 season as a backup, and there was a question as to whether or not he would redshirt that season.
After a few games, that was no longer an option. Starting quarterback Johnny McCrary struggled mightily, throwing 10 interceptions in the opening portion of the season, good for the most in the SEC.
His first start came on October 24, 2015 against Missouri, which turned into his first win and Mason’s first SEC victory as Vanderbilt’s head coach. Shurmur went 10 of 20 for 89 yards before McCrary went back under center in the second half.
He didn’t have the time to adjust and ease his way into the position. He had to learn on the fly, which is no easy task.
“In comparing your freshman year to any of those other years, you truly are moving within your own head, moving at a million miles per hour,” Carta-Samuels said. “To try and take something over, especially when it’s handed to you unexpectedly, is something that in that time, you’re truly for lack of a better reference, trying to plug holes and stop the bleeding constantly. You’ll never have this tactical plan behind going into the game with precision and an idea of what’s going on. You’re still just trying to learn while you’re trying to execute.”
“It puts you in a really precarious and difficult situation. For him to be able to, like I said, plug the dam and stop the bleeding, and really keep the boat afloat, and then to push this thing into overdrive and have a ton of success offensively and be as efficient as he has, it’s just shown a true maturation in him.”
Shurmur played in five games during his freshman season, throwing for five touchdowns and 503 yards on 44 completions. From there, he blossomed into a one of the SEC’s top quarterbacks.
“I think he’s been that constant force in the offense,” said Robinette, who is finishing up medical school this Spring. “There’s been a lot of changes in personnel there. Keeping things consistent and leading the team, and he’s obviously done a really good job with that.”
What makes that even more impressive is that he has had to do so under a head coach that was trying to learn himself. Shurmur helped guide the Commodores to a bowl game in Mason’s third year ever as a head coach at the collegiate level. He has been the anchor that has helped keep the Commodores afloat while Mason has figured out how to steer the ship.
“He was a green true freshman in the midst of a very difficult transition from a coach that had unprecedented success for a couple of years to a new head coach who had never been a head coach before,” Rodgers said. “He was teaching the guys around him as he was learning himself how to be a winner with a coach that, admittedly early in his career, was still learning how to be a head coach. I think that goes a long way for Kyle’s legacy, that transition and getting this team back to the position of being able to go to another bowl game.”
Accolades and Admiration
By the time the Texas Bowl wraps up at NRG Stadium later this month, Shurmur will very likely finish his career as, at least statistically, the greatest quarterback to ever play at Vanderbilt. He has already broken Cutler’s record for most passing touchdowns all-time, and he is within reach of the records for passing yards, completions and attempts.
He needs just 119 passing yards, seven completions and seven attempts to break those records.
Although, if you ask Shurmur about all those accolades, he’ll shy away.
“He comes in here and y’all see him, he’s real cool. Y’all have no idea,” wide receiver Kalija Lipscomb said after Shurmur broke the touchdown record against Ole Miss this season. “He’s screaming inside. He’s too cool. It’s great. I’m going to miss my guy when he’s gone.”
What Shurmur might be more outwardly proud of are his team’s accomplishments during his four years under center. He will leave Vanderbilt as just the third quarterback in school history to appear in multiple bowl games (Larry Smith and Rodgers are the other two).
In addition, Shurmur is the only Vanderbilt quarterback since the 1920s to have beaten Tennessee three times in a row. Not even Cutler can say he did that.
“As good as Jay was and being a first-round draft pick, you can’t overlook that, but Jay never had a season where he won six games,” Rodgers said. “Kyle Shurmur has done something consistently with this program that no one has ever been able to do. We had some success when I was there for a two-year spurt, but Shurmur has been able to win more games and consistently keep Vanderbilt there for a number of years, even through a coaching transition.”
While there have been tough moments for Shurmur and this program, namely the stretch run of the 2017 season, there is no doubt that the Commodores will have a tough time replacing Shurmur. It’s rare to find somebody that can lead a program for four years and be successful.
He’s also accomplished all of this with the slim margin of error that comes with being a quarterback in the Southeastern Conference. Despite some errors here and there, Shurmur has been able to make a name for himself on West End.
“If you look over the years, he’s played mistake-free football, and that’s important everywhere, but especially important at Vanderbilt,” Robinette said. “He’s done a really good job of being consistent and managing the game appropriately and avoiding turnovers, which is one of the things that a Vanderbilt quarterback has to do to be successful.”
In the end, consistency could be the biggest component in Shurmur’s legacy. While the program was undergoing seismic shifts around him, both in terms of players and staff, Shurmur was the focal point that kept everything together.
And there’s no one on this team that wants to cap off his career with a trophy in Texas more than Kyle Shurmur.