By Bruce Hooley
It’s safe to assume by now that the bye week won’t be the goodbye week for Pat Shurmur as Browns head coach.
If owner Jimmy Haslam has stifled the urge to fire Shurmur this long after the 25-15 loss to the Ravens, Haslam indeed must be committed to waiting until season’s end to make whatever changes he deems necessary to reroute the fortunes of his downtrodden $1 billion enterprise.
So Haslam passes his first test to prove he’s not Daniel Snyder, Jerry Jones nor any reasonable facsimile fans feared when Haslam promised heavy personal involvement in plotting the Browns’ present and charting their future.
That’s good news, because it eliminates a potential hurdle for Haslam to overcome when his axe inevitably falls on Shurmur, probably on New Year’s Eve, the day following the Dec. 30 season finale against the Steelers.
The sort of splashy hire Haslam hopes to make -- must make to reingivorate fans’ belief in him and the franchise going forward -- might have blanched at working for an owner who promises season-long support in mid-October and strays from that by early November.
Of course, not every coach would be bothered enough to decline Haslam’s offer, since there are only 32 such jobs in the world. But the elite, proven coach who has choices from among the available jobs might be less inclined to cast his lot with someone whose promise carries a three-week shelf life.
None of that changes the fact that Shurmur should be gone and will be gone unless the Browns stage a second-half miracle finish to turn 2-7 into 8-8 or 7-9.
That’s unlikely to happen for several reasons, including the team’s youth, its difficult schedule and the cumulative negativism that creeps in when winnable games against Philadelphia, Buffalo, New York, Indianapolis and Baltimore consistently settle on the right side of the win-loss ledger.
We’ve miscast these Browns, however, if we believe any of those reasons are the biggest reasons they won’t approach a .500 finish.
While it’s a drain to field rookies at crucial positions and to play games outside the division against the NFC East and AFC West, the Browns‘ consistent proximity to victory shows their chief drawback the absence of a dynamic, decisive leader on the sideline.
Some teams “lose close” because their coach and his staff keep them in games they don’t belong. That can’t be argued with the Browns, since virtually every post-game is dominated by another maddening “could have been” that shines a spotlight on Shurmur’s questionable decision-making at crunch time.
From failing to vary the play calls to babysit Brandon Weeden through the opener against Philadelphia, to coming out flat against Buffalo, to an ill-advised third-and-one pass late in the half against the Giants that sparked a 17-point New York barrage, to punting on fourth-and-1 at the Indianapolis 41 with 6:41 remaining, to going for it on fourth-and-2 at his own 28 with 3:53 left against Baltimore, Shurmur has proven himself the Roseanne Roseannadanna of coaching, because, with him, it’s always something.
So hunker down for seven more games of that thrill ride, where the roller-coaster almost always ends with one wheel off the track and Shurmur assuring us, “We battled…it’s a process…(and) I get it.”
Bruce Hooley hosts The Hooligans from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”
Email Bruce firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz
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