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As the Browns keep winning, Pat Shurmur's future twists in the winter wind

Dec 11, 2012 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi


The Morning Kickoff …

Déjà vu all over again: It seems Pat Shurmur can’t win for losing.

After suffering the growing pains of a roster half-full with first- and second-year players, Shurmur has a three-game winning streak for the first time in 29 games as Browns coach.

And yet, the complaints roll on …

“Why did he challenge the spot at the 1-yard line on the Josh Cribbs run? What a waste of a timeout there.”

“Why doesn’t he play Brandon Jackson?”

“Why won’t he let Colt McCoy throw a pass? Is he afraid he will make Brandon Weeden look bad?”

Nothing Shurmur does is good enough at this point. There have been too many game management miscues, too many puzzling play-calls, too many blown games for him to get the benefit of the doubt from the general public.

My e-mail and Twitter account overflows with support for GM Tom Heckert, whose drafting laid the foundation of a possible future playoff team with players such as Joe Haden, T.J. Ward, Phil Taylor, Jabaal Sheard, John Hughes, Billy Winn, Weeden, Trent Richardson, Mitch Schwartz and Josh Gordon.

Shurmur has gained some support of late, but there is still a large percentage of the fan base that is dismissing his current win streak as a facsimile of the four wins in a row by Eric Mangini to close out the 2009 season after a 1-11 beginning.

But it’s really not the same.

Ring out the old, ring in the young: Mangini’s 2009 team was the oldest in the NFL that season; Shurmur’s team is the second-youngest.

Mangini’s team had two rookie starters; Shurmur’s had five in the Kansas City game, though four other rookies have made a total of 16 starts.

Mangini’s team beat non-playoff teams Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Oakland and Jacksonville to close out his first season at 5-11. Shurmur’s team has defeated Pittsburgh, Oakland and Kansas City to rise to 5-8.

There are games remaining against Washington, Denver and Pittsburgh – all teams with playoff hopes alive at this point.

Mangini’s table-running win streak saved his job. Incoming President Mike Holmgren knew that he and Mangini came from different football cultures and followed different philosophies. Nevertheless, Holmgren decided to retain Mangini as Browns coach.

A former coach, Holmgren couldn’t stomach firing a coach after one season – especially when he signed on as Randy Lerner’s surrogate decision-maker only in the final two weeks of Mangini’s first season.

Shortly after Mangini’s final win – wrapping up a 5-11 record – Holmgren announced Mangini would be the coach “for the 2010 season.” Given the fact Mangini had three more years on his Browns contract, this was not a mandate but merely a stay of execution. Holmgren fired Mangini after a second 5-11 season 12 months later.

Now what will Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner do with Shurmur?

Undeterred: Barely a week goes by without a candidate rumored to replace Shurmur as Browns coach.

On Sunday, the Boston Globe put forth the names of Alabama’s Nick Saban, Oregon’s Chip Kelly, and New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as the favorites to replace Shurmur.

The Globe report stated that they would be the choices if Banner replaced Heckert with Mike Lombardi as his personnel chief. Lombardi was an abysmal failure as a Bill Belichick’s lead personnel assistant with the Browns in the 1990s. But his association with Banner in 1997-98 is seen as his Fast Pass to a spot in the Browns organization nobody ever thought he would see again.

Haslam and Banner have maintained they will make a decision on Shurmur and Heckert after the season and have declined to address the rumors.

Banner already has reduced his potential hiring pool by restructuring the organization so that football operations report directly to him – and not to the owner. This move effectively has established an exit strategy for Heckert, whose contract with Holmgren gave him total football authority over the draft and final roster. By changing the job description of Heckert’s position, Banner has essentially given Heckert an invitation to move on.

Shurmur’s fate is in the hands of Haslam. As Banner stated at his introduction as CEO, “In this league, the owner picks the coach.”

It is no secret that as the biggest benefactor of University of Tennessee football in his former life, Haslam adored the work of Saban at Alabama. He knew he could never hire him at Tennessee. But if Saban wishes to climb one last mountain in his career and remove the stain of a failed two-year stint as Miami Dolphins coach, Haslam could replace Shurmur with Saban – no matter how many in a row Shurmur wins.

“Listen, I’m not worried about any of that,” Shurmur said Monday. “I can’t control that. I’m not worried about saving (my job). I’m worried about doing my job.”

Well played. Like his team of late.

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 tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

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