In fact, the Browns have 5 wins, one more than the entire 2011 season. So before you argue against it, this team has and IS improving. Is it because of or in spite of coach Pat Shurmur?
Once Jimmy Haslam III officially became the owner of the team in October, the attitude in Berea has seemed to change. In fact, the Browns are 5-3 with Haslam as owner. However during that time Shurmur and General Manager Tom Heckert have been looking over their shoulders. The consensus is these two were out of a job as soon as the final gun ended the season.
Many feel this Browns club has talent, put together by Heckert. Yet the GM has already been stripped of some power by new Team President Joe Banner. One of the first moves when Banner took over was to change the administration hierarchy so that all football decisions must go through his office.
Heckert now answers to Banner for any trade, draft or free agent signing. No longer does he have complete control over the 53 man roster. What does that mean? It’s the difference between Heckert being an assistant or GM in his next job. GM’s around the NFL usually have all roster decisions. If there is any dispute over a player, Banner wins yet Heckert will take the fall for a roster he has no control over.
Rumors say CBS analyst Mike Lombardi is in line for the Browns GM job should Heckert be fired. Lombardi was here with Bill Belichick before the team left for Baltimore. Lombardi got the reputation of undermining then GM Ernie Acorsi and got in good with Belichick. The draft’s under Lombardi were not impressive, as witnessed by Craig Powell and Tommy Vardell.
Heckert has put together a roster that is one of the youngest in the league. It could be the most talented roster since the team returned in 1999. They are playing with excitement and purpose. The Browns also had a chance to win every game this season, except for the second Baltimore game.
Certainly wins over Philly in the opener could have happened, Cincinnati was beat until late. The Browns had the Giants on the ropes, Indy got a few breaks to win by 4 and Dallas scored late and in OT to win. Let’s say Cleveland goes just 2-3 in those games, they now have a record of 7-6 and the playoffs aren’t a dream.
Shurmur might be a different story. He’s unliked by the media and the fans. His coaching decisions are questioned and he makes strange personnel decisions. Shurmur is boring and inarticulate, but then what football coach ever wants to talk with the media? His treatment is no different than how Bill Belichick was treated before taking the club to the playoffs n 1994. Make no mistake, Shurmur is no Belichick, but this is eerily familiar.
He’s seen as a buffoon outside of Berea. Shurmur early staked his job on Brandon Weeden. Still this team is responding. Shurmur seems to be more relaxed and you cannot question his game plans. Yet his in-game decisions could be better. The Browns are making the city anticipate 2013 with a legitimate reason. Still is it enough to keep Shurmur on the Cleveland sidelines another year?
Former team President Mike Holmgren was perplexed when Eric Mangini, whom he inherited as coach when taking the job, kept him for another season after the Browns won the last 4 games in 2009. That turned out to be a disaster. This could be the same scenario.
Oregon’s Chip Kelly and Alabama’s Nick Saban have been rumored to be ready to take over next year. The Kelly rumor may have the most legs. But discarding the Saban idea out of hand is not easily done. Saban was the Defensive Coordinator for the Browns under Bill Belichick and a former coach at Toledo. He also has a soft spot for the Browns.
There are three games left in this season. Washington at home this Sunday, then comes road affairs with Denver and Pittsburgh. Winning two out of three should save the jobs of Shurmur and Heckert. Meanwhile losing all three might seal their fate. Still if that happens, Heckert has proven himself to be an excellent administrator and GM. He should stay. Shurmur is not as easy.
That decision will have to play itself out.