BEREA: In the wake of Joe Banner being named CEO of the Browns, just about everyone wants to know the fate of General Manager Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur.
The answers won’t be revealed until after the season, and the clock is ticking.
After being unanimously approved as the Browns’ new owner Tuesday, Jimmy Haslam said Banner would become his right-hand man effective Oct. 25 and President Mike Holmgren would retire at the end of this season, riding off into the sunset atop his motorcycle. Haslam also said Heckert, Shurmur and the rest of Holmgren’s regime would keep their jobs until the end of the year, at which time they’ll be evaluated.
Banner, the former president of the Philadelphia Eagles, will wield great influence in those decisions.
In his introductory news conference Wednesday, Banner said he hasn’t decided whether he’ll part ways with Heckert or Shurmur. But he also didn’t rule out cleaning house and starting over, which is usually what happens when a new management team seizes power.
Since Holmgren and Heckert took control in January 2010, the Browns are 10-28. Since Shurmur became coach last year, they’re 5-17, including 1-5 this season. Those dismal records, though, won’t necessarily spell doom for Heckert and Shurmur if the Browns can build off their 34-24 win over the Cincinnati Bengals and go 6-4 in the final 10 games.
For Heckert and Shurmur to save their jobs, Banner must be convinced the Browns are heading in what he considers the right direction. A minimum of seven wins, in my opinion, would be a necessity.
“You have to pick the right time to kind of begin the clock on continuity,” Banner said. “When you feel like you’ve got the organization set up with the right people then you have continuity. That doesn’t mean you’re already at success. It means you feel like, ‘You know what? We’re set up with the right people and the right vision that as I look down the road, I can see us getting where it is we want to get to.’
“Then you want to put a very large emphasis on continuity. I’ve talked to Jimmy, and he asked me what some of my priorities were. I said to him, ‘I want to be able to attract really good people and then create an environment where they’re going to want to stay.’ I think at the right time, you want to have that kind of an environment. We may have [it] now or we may have to go through a process getting to the point where we feel like we have that in place.”
When Holmgren joined the Browns, he made the mistake of keeping Eric Mangini as the coach for the 2010 season instead of firing him right away. The marriage was destined to fail from the start, because Holmgren and Mangini come from different football families — the coaching trees of Bill Walsh and Bill Belichick — and their philosophies didn’t mesh. They wanted different types of systems and players.
However, the situation with Banner, Heckert and Shurmur is different. They speak the same football language.
Banner and Heckert worked together for nine years with the Eagles. Banner and Shurmur did the same for a decade. Banner has also worked with Heckert’s top lieutenants, director of player personnel Jon Sandusky and director of college scouting John Spytek, and Shurmur’s coordinators, Brad Childress and Dick Jauron.
“There isn’t a single one that I don’t like personally, have a lot of respect for and I’ve seen them do their jobs extremely well in an environment in which I worked right with them,” Banner said. “I come in with a very positive attitude and impression about all those people and have good personal relationships with them.”
Regardless, Banner is a no-nonsense businessman. Heckert and Shurmur know it. They both have expressed the desire to finish what they’ve started with the Browns. They both know they might not get to.
“I’m at peace with what happens at the end of the year,” Shurmur said. “You play the season and then you’re evaluated.”
Heckert tore apart one of the oldest rosters and infused it with young talent. His draft last year helped the defense transition from Mangini’s 3-4 scheme to Jauron’s 4-3 system. His draft this year helped revamp a struggling offense with key pieces — running back Trent Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weeden, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz and wide receiver Josh Gordon. His three drafts have yielded many more good picks than bad ones.
“I don’t want to get into the specifics at this point,” Banner said when asked for his impressions of Heckert’s construction of the roster. “It’s just premature. I know Tom well. I like him as a person, and I respect him professionally a lot.”
Banner praised Shurmur’s work ethic, character and passion for his job. Despite those compliments, Shurmur needs a strong finish this season. In his only two seasons as an NFL head coach, he’s had to endure a lockout, a four-game suspension of the team’s best defensive player (cornerback Joe Haden) and a midseason ownership change. Banner, though, doesn’t seem fond of excuses.
The bottom line is Heckert and Shurmur are underdogs to keep their jobs beyond this year, and they’ll need to knock Banner’s socks off to have any shot at sticking around. Ten games remain, and the clock is ticking.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.