CANTON: Browns coach Pat Shurmur tried his best to rally the members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon Club.
In his opening statement and a subsequent question-and-answer session, Shurmur engaged the crowd of about 320 people who packed Tozzi's on 12th restaurant Monday afternoon. He kept the mood light with several successful jokes, but he also spoke confidently about the future of the Browns.
For example, he wasn't shy about offering his assessment of the organization's decisions during the recent NFL Draft.
''I think we did great,'' Shurmur said. ''I don't care what anybody says. But we obviously started off the draft by making a historic trade, probably one of the greatest trades in draft history, when we traded with [the] Atlanta [Falcons] — our sixth pick to get to [No.] 27, eventually up to [No.] 21 — because we felt like we needed help in areas and based on the talent, based on what other teams around us were gonna do and based on what we needed, we felt like that was the perfect thing to do.''
He also heaped praise on quarterback Colt McCoy.
''I feel like he's got it,'' Shurmur said. ''He makes good decisions. He's an accurate thrower. He's mobile. He's got great command of the huddle. He's a leader. He's a guy that I think can be the guy to lead our organization, so I'm looking forward to getting to work with him.''
But despite Shurmur's optimism, the league's labor dispute presents a glaring obstacle he'll need to overcome in his first year as a head coach, and those in attendance wouldn't let him forget it. After all, the Browns can't install Shurmur's West Coast offense or defensive coordinator Dick Jauron's 4-3 scheme while the players are locked out and prevented from communicating with the coaching staff.
''I feel confident that whatever time we have, we'll get it taught,'' Shurmur said. ''. . . .I feel as though we've hired a tremendous coaching staff. We're doing things to keep ourselves sharp. Our systems that we're teaching are proven. They've won multiple Super Bowls, so we feel like that whenever we're up and running, when the players are [at the team's headquarters] in Berea, then we'll get it done.''
A member of the audience immediately grabbed the microphone and razzed Shurmur with this: ''That was wonderful coach speak you just gave us. Now tell us the truth.''
The crowd roared with laughter, and Shurmur's face turned bright red as he chuckled. Aside from that awkward moment, Shurmur appeared to be much more comfortable than he had been in other public appearances since being hired Jan. 13.
He was even poised enough to point out the Browns' progress during a brief lapse in the NFL's work stoppage.
''As we know for a couple of days there [in late April], there was a time when we could visit with our players,'' Shurmur said. ''As soon as [the lockout] was lifted, I had a quick meeting with my staff, and we got to the business of talking to everybody. We called everybody. The [players] that were in town came to the building, and then we were able to get them playbooks.
''So I was impressed by how quickly we reacted, and I think that was good. It was really good. It's fun to talk to them 'cause there was a couple of guys that prior to the lockout that I did not have a chance to visit with much, and that was a great opportunity to get that done. So we took advantage of that for sure.''
With the lockout back in place, free agency is still frozen. Nevertheless, Shurmur said the Browns are ready to pounce and fill their remaining needs once the league establishes rules and allows transactions.
''We know who we want to go get,'' Shurmur said. ''We just can't talk about it yet.''
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://browns.ohio.com. Follow the Browns on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ABJ_Browns and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/browns.abj.