PITTSBURGH: Pat Shurmur grimaced after hugging Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley at midfield before slowly walking toward the locker room with both hands in his coat pockets.
Shurmur then delivered what was likely his final postgame speech as coach of the Browns.
“He was trying to hold back the tears,” middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson said Sunday after the Browns fell 24-10 to the Steelers in their season finale at Heinz Field. “He put everything into it. He’s in a tough spot. The players, we appreciate him. We’d run through a brick wall for him, and it’s just too bad we couldn’t get a win for him.”
Did it feel like a goodbye?
“It’s not necessarily the feel,” special-teams ace and wide receiver Josh Cribbs said. “You just know.”
The new regime of owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner is expected to fire Shurmur and General Manager Tom Heckert today.
Haslam struck a deal Aug. 2 to buy the Browns from Randy Lerner for about $1 billion and will undoubtedly look to put his stamp on the franchise after its 12th losing season since the expansion era began in 1999.
“When somebody comes in and buys the team for a billion dollars, they can do whatever they want,” cornerback Joe Haden said. “If they want to bring in a new general manager and bring in a new coach, if they want to bring in new corners, if they want to bring in new running backs, they’re the new owner. So you can’t tell Haslam what to do. He’s going to be able to do whatever he wants, whatever he feels.”
Lack of communication
In his postgame news conference, Shurmur said he hasn’t discussed his future with Haslam or Banner. He has a team meeting scheduled with the players at 10:30 a.m. today at the Browns’ headquarters in Berea, and he is supposed to address the media an hour later. Coach Eric Mangini also was scheduled to hold a news conference the day after the 2010 season ended, but the plan changed because former Browns President Mike Holmgren fired him that morning.
“I haven’t spoken to Joe Banner or Jimmy Haslam in quite some time,” Shurmur said. “I’m not reading into anything. During the week, we all have different jobs we need to do, and they take us different places. So there just hasn’t been a lot of interaction in the last few weeks.”
Shurmur, 47, said he’ll coach elsewhere if he’s not with the Browns next season. The Minnesota Vikings might pursue him as an offensive coordinator, Jason La Canfora of CBS reported.
Before being hired by Holmgren on Jan. 13, 2011, Shurmur spent two seasons as the offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams.
“I’m looking forward to coaching this team next year if that’s the case,” said Shurmur, who has two years left on his four-year contract. “If not, then what I’m going to do is help coach and help inspire a team to win games in some role. I have kids in college. I have mouths to feed, and this is my profession and this is what I choose to do. That’s it. That is how simple it is in my mind.”
Shurmur went 9-23 in two seasons with the Browns, who have the sixth overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft.
“We didn’t win enough games,” Shurmur said. “I was never really worried about [next year], and I have no regrets.
“What I would say at the end of the season is that the future is bright for that group of [players]. I think the coaches that work with them are outstanding.”
Whoever succeeds Shurmur will become the Browns’ sixth full-time head coach since the expansion era began in 1999.
List of possibilities
University of Alabama coach Nick Saban, University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly, Penn State University coach Bill O’Brien and New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels are among the potential candidates on the Browns’ radar, according to reports.
Former Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden, Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Ray Horton, Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer, Jacksonville Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter are others who could receive interest.
As for Heckert, he was in good spirits before the game as he laughed and shook hands with reporters. He also seemed to be at peace with his future when he addressed the media Dec. 14 during what was essentially a farewell chat.
“If things don’t work out, I’m pretty confident that I think I’m going to get a shot somewhere else,” Heckert, 45, said then. He has two years left on a five-year deal.
According to reports, NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi, whose resume includes stints with coach Bill Belichick in Cleveland (1987-95) and Banner in Philadelphia (1997-98), is a candidate to head the Browns’ personnel department. On Sunday, Lombardi appeared on the network’s NFL Game Day Morning and said he hasn’t been contacted by the Browns. David Caldwell, the Atlanta Falcons’ director of player personnel, could receive interest from the Browns as well, according to Don Banks of Sports Illustrated.
Hired by Holmgren on Jan. 11, 2010, Heckert overhauled a veteran-laden roster built by Mangini and spearheaded a youth movement while remaining committed to building through the draft. The Browns finished this season with 29 players on their 53-man roster who had less than two full seasons of NFL experience. They also had a league-high 87 starts from rookies in 2012.
“It’s definitely not because he didn’t do a good job,” Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas said of Heckert’s expected departure. “It’s because there was an ownership change and sometimes they like to bring in their own people. I think Tom’s done an outstanding job flipping the team from little talent to having a lot of good, young talent and a bright future.”
No farewell present
The players wanted to give Shurmur and Heckert a parting gift by earning a season sweep of the Steelers for the first time since 1988. But instead of following their Nov. 25 triumph over the Steelers with another win, the injury-riddled Browns committed four turnovers, allowed three touchdown passes from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and dropped to 5-24 against their AFC North rivals since 1999.
“It was like a moment of silence,” rookie wide receiver Travis Benjamin, who had one of two fumbles that led to touchdowns for the Steelers, said of the mood in the Browns’ locker room immediately following their third consecutive loss. “Everybody was hugging and shaking hands with each other. We were wishing we could play another game together or another season together, but we already know how that goes.”
Shurmur and Heckert realized their time in Cleveland could be winding down once Haslam bought the team. Now it’s time to move on.
“[Shurmur] was the guy that led us,” Jackson said. “Between himself and Tom Heckert, they orchestrated this team that made major strides from the beginning of the season to where we are now. Our record didn’t indicate how much we’ve improved as a team. But that’s what it all comes down to. I’ve been in this business long enough to know it’s a bottom line. You either win or you lose. There’s no gray area.”
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.