By Tony Grossi
Extra Points …
It’s getting interesting: There’s no getting around the fact that every game the Browns play extends the debate on the future of Pat Shurmur as coach.
It’s the situation created on Aug. 2 when Randy Lerner agreed to sell the Browns to Jimmy Haslam.
It’s the situation re-created on Oct. 17 when Joe Banner was announced as Browns CEO.
And it’s the situation reinforced each and every time Haslam and Banner fail to answer direct questions about Shurmur’s future and leave everyone – including the principals involved – reading between the lines.
Who’s staying? Who’s going? What has to be done for this to happen? Or that?
For better or for worse, the new guys have created an environment of anxiety up and down the organization. The players might have the strongest job security in the building – at least the young ones, of which there are many.
“We definitely are happy with the guys we have in there,” rookie receiver Josh Gordon said on Monday. “But with whatever happens, I guess players can only do so much but play, regardless of who the coaches are and what Mr. Haslam decides to do … keep the same one, we’re really not sure.”
Shurmur the flatliner: Shurmur takes a lot of grief for not showing enough outward emotion on the field or in press conferences. In truth, this flatlining trait in his personality is serving him well as the specter of Banner’s ax hangs over everything.
The Browns are now 4-3 after an 0-5 start. In four of those games, stellar cornerback Joe Haden did not play because of a suspension for testing positive for Adderall. Defensive tackle Phil Taylor and linebacker Chris Gocong did not play in those five games because of injuries. Meanwhile, a bunch of rookies were force-fed into the lineup and now they are starting to gel as a team.
Haslam’s most recent comments that the Browns should have more wins than their record on the surface sounded like an indictment of Shurmur. It was as if the new owner were saying, “Hey, we’d be 6-5 or better with a decent coach.”
Then again, he could have meant, “We’re close to being a playoff team. All we need is time for the coach and players to grow together.”
We’re always forced to read between the lines.
In Oakland, Shurmur had a relatively flawlessly-called game while his counterpart, Dennis Allen, failed to manage the end to give his team time to score twice.
“I’m the last one to be critical of a coach’s decisions,” Shurmur said.
Asked if he’s feeling any vindication as his team, after two wins in a row and some close losses before that, seems to be turning a corner, Shurmur wouldn’t take the bait.
“I don’t take this personal,” he said. “I really don’t. My concerns are always for our team and coaches. I really believe in this group that we have, and I really believe this is the foundation of something that can be really good. Even though I say that and believe it, until we start winning games, that’s what shows it. That’s really my concern.
“Some of the other stuff about me personally? What more can they say about me? I mean, really, I don’t listen to it, but I’m told frequently about it. I think that’s where the thick skin part comes in.”
Four games to go: Shurmur is now 8-20 as Browns coach. This year’s team – replenished by young, eager players – has matched last season’s win total with four games to go. The point total of 229 has exceeded last season’s total of 218.
The four rookies who make up the foundation of future team success – Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson, Gordon and Mitch Schwartz – have not only survived through 12 games, but are improving at their own rates.
Shurmur, in his second season, is more assured of how to be a head coach, something he never was at any level until a year ago.
“When you see young players doing things in this league because you expect them to, and you know that they’re not anywhere near how good they could be, then yeah, that’s good,” Shurmur said. “I look forward to seeing these guys have very productive careers … hopefully all of them here in Cleveland.”
|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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