Another Black Monday is upon us, and I don’t know whether to be excited or afraid.
New Browns owner Jimmy Haslam’s sweeping changes began in earnest after the Browns finished a 5-11 season with a 24-10 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Coach Pat Shurmur was fired late early this morning after compiling a 9-23 record in his two-year tenure. The Browns also parted ways with General Manager Tom Heckert, whose power would have been diminished in Haslam’s and CEO Joe Banner’s reorganization.
But several Browns veterans to whom continuity is a pipe dream seemed almost numb to the third regime overhaul in the past five seasons.
Six-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas laughed at the suggestion that he’s almost become conditioned to change.
“A little bit. How many head coaches? I don’t know. I’ve been through a few,” said Thomas, who will play for his fourth in 2013.
Kicker Phil Dawson has spent his entire 14-year career in Cleveland and might have taken the field for the last time wearing orange and brown on Sunday. Arriving in 1999, Dawson has played for six coaches, counting interim Terry Robiskie in 2004.
Asked if he longed for stability for the team he loves, Dawson said, “I wouldn’t know. This is my normal.”
Shurmur arrived in the post-game interview room with a red nose, which may not have been from the 18-degree wind chill at Heinz Field. A few players described Shurmur’s post-game speech as emotional.
Shurmur said he had not spoken to Haslam or Banner “in quite some time,” even though both were on the Browns’ sideline before the game. Shurmur also seemed resigned to his fate when he said, “The future is bright for that group of guys,” which sounded like he didn’t expect to be back. Pressed on that, Shurmur said, “I don’t know. Again, I haven’t spoken to Jimmy or Joe. You need to call your league sources,” a shot at the media.
Shumur hugged Steelers coach Mike Tomlin after the game, then walked off the field by himself. The Browns filed into the locker room in an eerie silence, Shurmur trailed by his son Kyle.
Before the game, Shurmur stood alone near the 40-yard line, watching his players from afar during warm-ups. He seemed to be surveying the scene for what could have been his final time at the helm of an NFL team.
Shurmur seems like a good man who faced a daunting task when owner Randy Lerner’s sale was announced on the first day of training camp, but Shurmur left as another in a long line of Browns coaches who should have remained coordinators. He joins the late Bud Carson, Chris Palmer, Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini as other Cleveland examples of the Peter Principle, although Mangini might have succeeded with a real general manager.
Heckert was ousted because Banner wants his coach to have control of the 53-man roster, not his GM. Browns receiver Greg Little said, “It’s quietly been spoken around the league that we’re a team that’s right on the cusp,” but Heckert’s three-year legacy will be his failure to find a franchise quarterback. At the top of that list will be being outbid by the Washington Redskins in trade proposals with the St. Louis Rams for the right to draft Heisman winner Robert Griffin III. Heckert coveted his draft choices, even though he struck a deal with the Atlanta Falcons on draft day 2011 that gave him the ammunition for such a franchise-defining move.
In the press box at halftime, Heckert seemed at peace with his situation and confident that he will land another job.
Fans and those who have covered the Browns for years are not nearly as upbeat.
Haslam’s energy, command of a room, wealth from his Pilot Flying J truck stop empire and experience as a Steelers minority owner excites those beaten down by the 12th losing season in the expansion franchise’s 14 years. But Banner’s willingness to play the role of bad cop to Haslam’s good cop raises red flags. So does Haslam’s Oct. 16 comment that “football will report to Joe,” a role Banner never held during his 19 years with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Just as disturbing are continued rumors that Banner will bring in Mike Lombardi to be his player personnel director. Now with the NFL Network, Lombardi held that post under coach Bill Belichick from 1991-95 and their drafts were underwhelming. Lombardi talks a good game and might be the perfect yes-man for Banner, but does not seem like the type of bright, forward-thinking high-level executives Haslam covets.
For me, the most comforting thought in the upheaval is that Haslam reserved the right to change his mind on the people he hires the minute he walked in the door on Aug. 3.
Haslam doesn’t seem one to tolerate bad matches, like ex-Browns president Mike Holmgren did when he gave Mangini a second season. When Haslam was exploring NFL ownership, Banner came highly recommended from several people in “pro sports,” likely in the NFL office. But in a year or two if Haslam doesn’t believe he and Banner are a good team, or if he doesn’t believe Banner and a pro personnel man like Lombardi are the right combo, it seems like Haslam will correct his mistakes.
“You pick the right people,” Haslam told the Beacon Journal on the day he was introduced in Berea. “I’ve been involved in our company for 35 years and nobody bats 1.000. I’ve made some bad hires. I’ll just reference the organization I came from (the Steelers), three head coaches in 30 years and the same basic people. That’s what we have at Pilot Flying J. If you get the right people in place, generally good things happen. That’s my main job -- to get the right people in the right place.”
The statue of the late Al Lerner, Randy’s father, may still lord over the Browns’ entrance this morning even though to some it represents 13 years of bad decisions. But as the Browns massive changes begin, I cling to the hope that even if Haslam bats .500 as a rookie, he will eventually get it right.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.