By Tony Grossi
The tone of questions in the bye week turned decidedly against Pat Shurmur. After watching the Browns lose to Baltimore, 25-15, in a game marked by sideline confusion, questionable play-calls and a controversial fourth-down decision, contributors to this column subscribed to the opinion that changing coaches is now a foregone conclusion.
Hey Tony: Do you think the next Browns coach will be an experienced, proven winner, in the Gruden, Cowher mold? Will it be someone currently an NFL assistant with the drive and savvy to embrace the many roles a head coach must play? Will it be a successful college head coach from a competitive program with the ambition and confidence to make the transition to the NFL? Based on your observations of Mr. Haslam and Mr. Banner, what are your thoughts?
-- Mark, Wallingford, CT
Hey Mark: At this point, it’s premature to know for sure. My hunch is the Browns will not draw from the college ranks or from the big-name NFL coach’s pool. That leaves the young and hungry, NFL assistant coach as the most likely model for the next Browns coach.
Hey Tony: When will the media face the inevitable and start referring to Josh Gordon as Flash Gordon? It's such an obvious nickname for a level-headed kid whose performance both on and off the field is continuously improving. Thanks!
-- Al, Fairview Park, OH
Hey Al: Nicknames are great, but you have to earn them first. I am waiting for something like a game-winning catch. In truth, I’ve been the biggest Gordon fan in the media since he first arrived in July. He’s coming along fine.
Hey Tony: Please provide a Mike Holmgren update. At his farewell press conference he mentioned he would stick around in a meaningful capacity if he could add value. Has he been requested to so, or has he headed off into the land of umbrella drinks?
-- Wes, Dunnellon, FL
Hey Wes: Cue the Don Ho music. By the time the Browns get to Dallas next Sunday, Holmgren could be stirring a Margarita with a tiny pink umbrella.
Hey Tony: By no means am I a Pat Shurmur apologist (in fact I don't think he is grasping the details of his job quick enough to keep it past this season), but I don't think it's fair to say that Pat Shurmur "runs when he should pass" and vice versa. The job of NFL play calling involves many variables to which regular observers, even reporters who have covered the league for years, are not privy. Defensive tendencies throughout the game, opposing personnel/formations, past and present coverage schemes, and keeping the defense guessing are just a few. People forget that play calling includes not just the failed plays but those that work as well. As Shurmur pointed out, we had players open on different routes (deep routes possibly for TD's or long gains) on most of the 3rd down attempts. You have to admit everyone would change their tune had Weeden noticed and taken advantage of those opportunities. Rookie mistakes by our rookie players (like Obi lining up wrong), not bad play calls, are the main cause of our failure to achieve "the longest yard."
-Vince, Parma, OH
Hey Vince: I agree that a completed pass here, or a catch rather than a drop there, would make a drastic difference in the way we look at some of Shurmur’s controversial play-calls. Just like Brian Sipe’s fatal pass in the Red Right 88 game. If he had just thrown it to “the blonde in the bleachers” it wouldn’t have been quite as bad a play-call. The fact that receivers were open on 3rd-and-1 plays does not alone justify the call. If the quarterback doesn’t get the ball to the open receiver – for whatever reason – the play fails. The odds of completing that play simply are not as good as handing the ball to Richardson. Yes, Richardson is 2 for 7 on 3rd-and-1 attempts. Rather than give up on it, I would ask the coaches to explore why they can’t convert a simple yard with Richardson carrying the ball.
Hey Tony: When Pittsburgh transitioned to Mike Tomlin they kept their coordinators. If Shurmur goes would they keep Childress or Jauron?
-- Troy, Cincinnati, OH
Hey Troy: I think Jauron has a possibility of staying as defensive coordinator.
Hey Tony: Is David Cutcliffe, the Duke coach, a possible dark horse candidate, or maybe too old? It seems there might be a relationship there with the University of Tennessee, Haslam and the Manning family.
-- Ray, Tallmadge, OH
Hey Ray: Cutcliffe, 58, is an outstanding college coach, well-versed in offense and developing quarterbacks. I do not see him as a head coach candidate, however. His name did come up several years ago as a possible Browns offensive coordinator under Butch Davis, I believe.
Hey Tony: What has happened to Brandon Jackson? The Browns have paid him I think 5 million dollars in two years and last year he was hurt all year and this year he is inactive every week. Is he a healthy scratch every week or is there something physically wrong with him? Is he just not very good or is he in the doghouse? For what it is worth I get tired of Mike from Dover all the time. I think he needs some happy pills no one person can be that miserable all the time,
-- Jason, Wheelersburg, OH
Hey Jason: I thought Jackson had a chance to play after his performance in the final preseason game. However, it did not come to pass. His fate on the inactive list was sealed when a. Chris Ogbonnaya recovered from a high ankle sprain, and b. Montario Hardesty had a good game in relief of Trent Richardson in the second Cincinnati game.
Hey Tony: I don't know Pat Shurmur that well and he doesn't know me from Adam. I'm not sure Pat Shurmur even knows himself. It seems he is searching to find his identity and his team is a direct reflection of that. It may all stem from his inexperience, not only as a head coach, but also a play caller. He seems to react to public criticism far too much for a head guy in the NFL. If he is questioned one week about the way he handles the team, he will do the complete opposite the next. It appears he does it just to say, "There I did your way." I think the team is beginning to see his insecurity and the waffling in his decision making. This demeanor can't play well with them and he is at risk of losing the locker room. The recent comments from Cribbs and the no comments from Weeden may be signs he already has. It will be interesting to see what moves Flip Shurmur makes during the bye. Unfortunately for us, whatever he does won't be enough to win five more games, the number I think he must reach just to have a Flying J chance of returning next season. I just hope the veterans on the team keep the young guys focused on developing. As a season ticket holder I'm getting tired of watching exhibition football in November and December.
-- Dale, Barberton, OH
Hey Dale: I think a good game manager would have won the games against Philadelphia, Buffalo, Indianapolis and Baltimore. Maybe it’s unrealistic to count those four games as wins. So subtract any one of them and the Browns still would have a 5-4 record.
Hey Tony: Do you believe that Tony Dungy is ready to return to the sidelines? He falls into the group of Gruden and Cowher as former coaches who have won a Super Bowl. Knowing that a coach has never won a Super Bowl with more than one organization, do you think that Haslam would be open to bringing in some instant credibility in the form of Tony Dungy?
-- Aaron, Canton, OH
Hey Aaron: No, I don’t think Dungy will return to coaching. And when it comes to the future Browns coach, think young and hungry, not experienced and well-worn. It’s a roster filled with youth. I don’t think a veteran coach is a good fit.
Hey Tony: One name I am becoming more and more intrigued by for the Head Coach position is Nick Saban. I haven't heard a lot coming out of Cleveland about Saban and the Browns but everywhere else says it could be a perfect fit. Great football mind, great with a young team, has ties to Cleveland, and he's a huge son of a ...... Have you heard anything about this and would his strange departure from Miami hurt his chances being rehired in the NFL?
-- Eliot, Cape Coral, FL
Hey Eliot: Here’s the reaction of a possible Saban jump to the Browns from one
NFL team executive: “At Alabama, Nick reports to one person – the president of the university. Why would he leave that situation to come to Cleveland and report to two men – the CEO and the owner?”
Hey Tony: I checked the Browns' coaching roster and it lists 20 coaches. Why do the Browns need 20 coaches?
-- Rich, Middleburg Heights, OH
Hey Rich: The breakdown is one head coach (Shurmur) and 19 assistant coaches. That’s pretty much par for the course in the NFL, these days.
Hey Tony: Just read your article about the bye week and I totally agree the offense needs to pick up the pace and get the play calls in there as fast as possible. As you alluded to, having 2 offensive coordinators (Chilly and Shurmur) choose a play is no way to do it. It seems like every time the Browns line up on offense they have about 4-5 seconds to snap the ball. Doesn't that make it awful hard for a QB to read the defense for any pre-snap reads, especially a rookie QB? Not to mention making it very uncomfortable for the offense with a very noticeable lack of rhythm. Also, is this just the nature of a WCO that it takes longer to get a play call in than other offenses? I don't notice other teams having this problem.
-- Dave, Cincinnati, OH
Hey Dave: Play-calls in the West Coast offense are long and laborious. Coaches should take a tip from Oregon’s Chip Kelly and eliminate the words to improve the tempo of the offense. Many of Oregon’s plays are called with one simple word. What a concept.
Hey Tony: It's obvious Pat Shurmur doesn't understand or use advanced statistics to help make crucial 4th down play calls. If he did, he'd see overwhelmingly why 4th &1 at opponent 41 should be a go for it no brainer while 4th &2 deep on your end of the field is a bad idea. I gotta figure coaches and teams around the league look at this stuff. Why don't the Browns?
-- Greg, Chardon, OH
Hey Greg: I can’t explain it. Perhaps Shurmur’s 4th-and-2 call was influenced by Jimmy Haslam’s negative reaction to his 4th-and-1 punt in the Indianapolis game. If that’s the case, it’s unfortunate.
Hey Tony: What has become of safety Eric Hagg? Is he injured or was he over valued. The Browns had such high hopes for him and it seems they have changed their mind. Was he that bad?
-- Mike, Copley, OH
Hey Mike: Hagg lost the starting job after a poor performance in Game 2 in Cincinnati, both at safety and on special teams, I was told. After Hagg was demoted to backup safety, Usama Young came in and made some plays and has continued to hold down the starting role. It doesn’t mean they’ve given up on Hagg. Oftentimes, a young player responds to a demotion by working harder and becoming a better player because of it. Hagg’s time will come again.
Hey Tony: Is it possible that Cleveland doesn't want to fire Shurmur midseason because Jauron and Childress will both be head coaching candidates and making one interim HC might alienate the other?
--Mike, Lemoore, CA
Hey Mike: I don’t think that’s an issue. More likely, Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner don’t want to go back on their word that everyone will be evaluated after the season. Maybe they shouldn’t have said that.
Hey Tony: What is your take? We have seven games left. I know that interim coaches rarely do anything. But in this case we have to focus on the progress of the team. Shurmur is a goner. Does the team progress more with him in the next seven games than if we have an interim coach -- say Dick Jauron? Does he hire an interim offensive coordinator; the play calling has been abysmal. Would anyone competent want the job? Would Jauron want interim head coach job?
-- Tom, Santa Monica, CA
Hey Tom: Now that the bye week has passed without a change, I doubt there will be one until after the season. I thought all along that Jauron would be the likely interim coach if a change were made. Looks like a moot point now.
Hey Tony: I think I have a solution Shurmur can’t seem to find for the Browns 3rd and one situation. Put either Taylor or Rubin as lead blockers for Richardson. That should work better than the BS they have been doing. Remember when the Fridge used to do this for Chicago? Or put one of them two in the backfield to hand off to? Keep up the great unbiased Browns reporting.
-- Tom, Cleveland, OH
Hey Tom: They say that all fads come back into vogue sooner or later. I guarantee it would only take one respected coach (Bill Belichick? Mike McCarthy?) to do what you suggest for it to come back as a trend. It would also take a team without a smash-mouth lead blocker to try it. Taylor or Rubin as a lead blocker? I’ll say this: I’ve heard worse ideas than the one you propose.
Hey Tony: Is it too much to ask our QB/Coach to: 1) run a believable play action pass? Weeden's are atrocious 2) Impose your will on the defense on 3rd and 1? 3) Stop automatically searching for the running back or tight end running a route 3 to 4 yards short of the 1st down on a 3rd down play? Weeden looks scared on 3rd down - he's afraid of making a mistake. What say you?
-- Ronnie, Harrison, OH
Hey Ronnie: 1. I actually thought Weeden was better at play-action earlier and has regressed. Either way, he has to improve. Selling play-fakes is a fundamental component of NFL quarterbacking. 2. Been a staunch advocate that the team needs to put these situations on the shoulders of the offensive line. 3. I agree that a few INTs have resulted in the Shurmurization of Weeden. He’s bordering on the “Captain Checkdown” persona that also plagued quarterbacks Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy under Shurmur. Five trips inside the 20-yard line without a single pass into the end zone is a travesty.
Hey Tony: I have flip flopped a few times about Shurmur and the Browns coaches. After last week I thought they had possibly turned the corner and had shown promise. After this week’s amateur game calling and lack of any organization I think I have concluded that this coach does not know how to win. He has made many mistakes and has led the team to a 2-7 record. Even in the 2 victories he almost game the game away with poor calls. The Browns could have won more than half their games this season. PLEASE....bring a new winning coach to Cleveland. No retreads, no over the hill guys, no more young unproven coordinators.
-- Alex, Orlando, FL
Hey Alex: No retreads, no over-the-hill guys and no young, unproven coordinators? What does that leave? A college coach?
Hey Tony: A lot of attention has been given lately to 4th down decisions, and performance and play calling on 3rd-and-1 for the Browns offense. Though it's certainly true that strategy and execution in these situations could be much improved, one area that I have also found maddening is the number of pass plays run on 3rd-and-4 or -5 in which a TE runs almost directly towards the sidelines, is thrown the ball only a yard or two downfield, and is promptly tackled. Has the coaching staff been asked about this in media sessions, or offered any explanations for it? It would seem this type of route has very little chance of being effective, except possibly as a hot route against a big blitz, and has little value even as a check-down pattern. Yet we see it thrown repeatedly, and it leads to the 4th down situations that are in turn handled poorly. Are these plays a result of a missed read, or error in execution? I am curious if you have any explanation for this. (Hopefully there is a good one, as seeing this play has caused my blood pressure to rise...)
-- Chris, Toronto, Ontario
Hey Chris: All pass plays have a checkdown route to be used as a last-ditch bailout for the quarterback to avoid a sack. Coaches would probably tell you that these horizontal passes to the tight ends or back are not the desired option on the third- or fourth-down plays that you note. Basically, if the quarterback is checking down to this feeble pass, it means he has missed on the two or three desired options in the play.
Hey Tony: Longtime fan of yours and the Browns. (Born and raised in Green Bay, WI) I know a lot of people are clamoring to fire the head coach which I feel could be the right move but my question is what responsibility for WR ineffectiveness and years of QB issues falls on the WRs coach and Mark Whipple as the QB coach? Time to make a change there? Thanks. Keep up the articles that get me through this.
-- Tim, Green Bay, WI
Hey Tim: This year the Browns added senior assistant coach/offense Nolan Cromwell to help with WR coach Mike Wilson. The team still leads the NFL in drops, according to statistical services. As for QB issues, the team has so many QB gurus in the building – Mike Holmgren, Shurmur, Brad Childress, Whipple – perhaps the problem there is too many voices ringing in Weeden’s ears. Ultimately, though, it’s the responsibility of the head coach to mesh everything together and have his offense operate efficiently.
|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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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