By Tony Grossi
At the end of a season-ending 24-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers rife with cheap shots and personal fouls, it was coach Pat Shurmur who emerged most looking like he had been in a streetfight.
Red-faced and slightly trembling at times, Shurmur was angry with reports of his imminent firing, upset with officials at the end of the game, and emotional about what surely is the end of the line for him.
“Go call your league sources,” Shurmur responded a couple times to the unavoidable questions about his future as coach of the Browns.
In a departure from routine, owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner did not travel with the team here on Saturday. They arrived Sunday morning on Haslam’s corporate jet and then whisked out before reporters could pester them with the obvious questions.
Haslam and Banner were not at the facility when the Browns returned from Pittsburgh. Shurmur and GM Tom Heckert were not informed of their fate Sunday night, a source said. Both men apparently were resigned to the inevitable, however. FOX 8 News had video of Shurmur carrying boxes from the facility to his car. And Heckert had read the writing on the wall long ago.
In his opening remarks after the game, Shurmur lamented the fact that fumbles by “two rookie receivers” – Josh Gordon and Travis Benjamin – led to the 14-point differential in the outcome.
“What I would say at the end of the sason is that the future is bright for that group of guys,” he said. “I think the coaches that work with them are outstanding. That’s what my thoughts are as this team gets ready for an offseason, just like the 19 other teams (out of the playoffs).”
Shurmur maintained he didn’t know his future and said he has not spoken to Haslam or Banner “in quite some time. I saw them before the game but we weren’t close enough to speak.”
Pressed if he made a strong enough case to return, he said, “I have no regrets.
“I’ve watched how these players have improved and I have watched how they have come together as a team. I have watched how close we were in a lot of the instances to winning these games, and I think with a little bit more time this team will improve.
“I’ve said before, there’s a huge improvement between the first time you do something and the second. I think the same can be said of me.”
Shurmur’s plan for Monday is to have players gather as a team in the morning, then meet with coordinators and position coaches. He said he’ll have a list of players he wants to talk with one on one.
The official day-after press conference with Shurmur is scheduled for 11:30 Monday morning.
That could change overnight.
“You’re continuing questioning me on that,” Shurmur said after the fourth attempt to discuss his future. “I’m looking forward to coaching this team next year. If not, then what I’m going to do is I’m going to go coach and help inspire and help a team win games somewhere else. I’ve got kids in college. I’ve got mouths to feed. This is my profession. This is what I choose to do. That’s how simple it is in my mind.
“I’m not going to play ‘what if.’ Call your league sources, that’s all I can tell you.”
Players said Shurmur did not directly address his uncertain future after the game, but delivered a passionate and emotional message of thanks to them.
“To me, he was trying to hold back tears,” said linebacker D’Qwell Jackson. “With everything going on above his head, he was in a tough spot. He commended us for all the work we’d done to this point. Basically told us how proud he was of us and the effort we put forth.”
But the players are not naïve and they know change is coming.
“It’s the NFL. It’s business,” said Josh Cribbs, who likely has played his last game with the Browns. “It’s not necessarily a feel. You just know. I don’t have no control over it. A lot of things are inevitable, lot of changes are occurring on our team.”
Change is one thing that never ceases with the Browns. The next coach will be the sixth in 15 years since the franchise returned as an expansion team. One thing that doesn’t change is the losing. This marked the ninth time in 10 years the Browns have lost 10 or more games.
“This whole losing thing is getting old,” said cornerback Joe Haden. “I like the way the team is going. This is the best talented team I’ve been a part of since being in the NFL. I honestly like the way the team’s going, as far as talent. We have players that would start on other teams. When I first got here, I didn’t feel the same way.
“We just have to keep these core guys together that are making plays. It’s (the losing) gonna change. We have game-changing players on defense.
“When new ownership comes in, you have no control. But I think they see what we have, also. When there are changes at the top – I’ve never been in this position before – whatever he wants to do, I’m behind him. I’m here to play corner.”
As for the game, the ending characterized the chippiness with which both teams played. After several personal fouls, illegal hits and skirmishes, Browns quarterback Thad Lewis, the emergency starter, was knocked out on the next-to-last play by linebacker Lawrence Timmons. Shurmur stormed out to mid-field to rant to officials, claiming it was a helmet shot and should have been flagged. Josh Johnson came in and was ravaged into a fumble on the last offensive play of the Shurmur era.
In his first NFL appearance, Lewis was 22 of 32 for 204 yards. He tossed a 7-yard TD pass to Greg Little and was intercepted once. Running back Brandon Jackson, getting his first game action in two seasons with the Browns, had 54 yards in eight rushing attempts.
The Browns’ defense limited the Steelers to 212 total yards and 5 of 13 on third-down conversions. But quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had three touchdown passes to improve his career mark against the Browns to 15-1.
Several veteran players whose contracts are up were saddened by the realization that their last game with the Browns ended in another loss. The younger ones, such as Haden and others, seemed encouraged that they are closer than ever to winning, depending on Haslam’s selection of Shurmur’s successor.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to email@example.com
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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