BEREA: With the Browns riding a three-game winning streak and clinging to slim playoff hopes, can coach Pat Shurmur do enough in the final stretch to convince the new regime he’s worthy of keeping his job beyond this season?
Owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner have professed they would evaluate Shurmur and other key members of the organization at the end of the season, and speculation about their pending decisions is rampant with only three games left. The Boston Globe, citing two unnamed NFL sources, recently reported that Alabama coach Nick Saban, University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly and New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are on the Browns’ radar as potential replacements for Shurmur.
“Listen, I’m not worried about any of that,” Shurmur said during a news conference Monday, less than 24 hours after the Browns throttled the Kansas City Chiefs 30-7. “I’m not worried about saving my [job]. I’m worried about doing my job, and that’s it. Just want to do my job.”
His job is to lead the Browns (5-8) to victories. And if they somehow find a way to defeat the Washington Redskins (7-6) at home Sunday, the Denver Broncos (10-3) on the road Dec. 23 and the Pittsburgh Steelers (7-6) on the road Dec. 30, an AFC wild-card berth isn’t out of the question. The Browns also would need other teams in the hunt to lose, but the bottom line is Shurmur’s men won’t have any shot unless they win out.
“I’m not going to focus on [the playoff picture], and I’m going to go right back to it,” Shurmur said. “Our energy, our efforts are all going to be directed toward the Redskins, and I think that’s where we need to be. It’s a little bit easier to be shortsighted and narrow-minded with three games to play, and I think we have to make sure we stay in the moment. We all know [our] chances and the math changes in those situations if you don’t take care of business this weekend, so that needs to be our focus.”
The Browns might catch a break if Redskins standout quarterback Robert Griffin III doesn’t play this weekend after mildly spraining the lateral collateral ligament in his right knee Sunday. The Browns are aiming for a four-game winning streak, a feat they haven’t accomplished since 2009.
“We’ve proven that we can finish a ballgame,” Shurmur said. “Now how many in a row we can do? We’ll see. We’ve proven that we can find a way to make more plays than the other team and win a game. We didn’t prove that to ourselves early in the year when we started 0-5. But I knew it was there. It was just a matter of doing it.”
Another Mangini run?
Former coach Eric Mangini kept his job for another year by guiding the Browns to victory in their final four games that season, finishing 5-11 and convincing former President Mike Holmgren he deserved to stay. Holmgren eventually fired Mangini and hired Shurmur as his successor after the Browns posted another record of 5-11 in 2010.
Although comparisons are often drawn between Shurmur’s situation and Mangini’s late push in 2009, there are key differences. Since Mangini’s tenure ended, youth has been infused into a roster overhauled by General Manager Tom Heckert, whose future with the Browns is also in doubt with speculation that NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi will replace him. It features 27 players with less than two full NFL seasons of experience, including 17 rookies.
Also, Mangini and Holmgren had different philosophies about how to run a team and which schemes to use. Shurmur and Heckert are from the same football family as Banner, as evidenced by their days working together with coach Andy Reid and the Philadelphia Eagles.
In Shurmur’s defense
Instead of focusing on the team’s record at the end of this season, Banner said he and Haslam would concentrate more on Shurmur’s leadership qualities while evaluating him. If the Browns continue their run, it would be difficult to discount Shurmur’s leadership as a contributing factor, and hitting the reset button would be a tougher sell for Haslam, who bought the team from Randy Lerner for about $1 billion.
“If you spend that kind of money, you can do what the hell you want to do,” cornerback Sheldon Brown said. “You can blow up anything. But I would feel bad for the young guys because there’s something to be said when a guy like a Heckert drafted you and a guy like Pat Shurmur is on board for you. When there’s a new face, you don’t know if that guy is for you. You don’t know if he really believes in you. So you’re always going to be walking down the hall looking over your back because you don’t know. Somebody could tell you something, but you really don’t know if it’s true or not. So from that standpoint, that’s what I worry about, and that’s what I feel.”
Perhaps those who favor continuity won’t need to worry after all.
But it’s a safe bet the Browns need to stay hot for Shurmur to have a legitimate chance.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com.browns.abj