The Browns hired Brad Childress as their offensive coordinator Friday, a move they hope will give coach Pat Shurmur the support he needs to spearhead a turnaround.
Childress, a former head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, will be expected to help reverse the fortunes of a dismal offense. With Shurmur juggling the duties of a rookie head coach and an offensive coordinator, the Browns ranked 29th in offense (288.8 yards per game), 30th in scoring (13.6 points per game) and finished the 2011 season with a record of 4-12.
Shurmur vowed to hire an offensive coordinator and even suggested he might forfeit his play-calling duties during his season-ending news conference this month. Shurmur will retain those responsibilities for now, but it has yet to be determined whether he will continue to call the plays with Childress aboard, a league source said.
Childress, 55, had been a logical candidate to join Shurmur’s staff ever since the Browns launched their search. He has roots in the West Coast offense, connections to the Browns and an agent whose influence on the franchise is well documented. Bob LaMonte represents Childress, Shurmur, President Mike Holmgren and General Manager Tom Heckert, among others.
Former Green Bay Packers and Texas A&M coach Mike Sherman was another presumed candidate. He and Childress reportedly interviewed for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ head coaching position, but Greg Schiano of Rutgers University landed the job Thursday. Sherman subsequently agreed to become the offensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins, replacing former Browns assistant Brian Daboll and foreshadowing a reunion between Childress and Shurmur.
After serving as an offensive assistant with the Indianapolis Colts and four colleges, Childress joined the Philadelphia Eagles in 1999 and began working with Shurmur under coach Andy Reid. Childress was the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach from 1999-2001 and their offensive coordinator from 2002-05, although Reid called the plays as the team went to four consecutive NFC Championship Games and Super Bowl XXXIX in 2005.
Shurmur, meanwhile, was the Eagles’ tight ends and offensive line coach from 1999-2001 and their quarterbacks coach from 2002-08.
“I know Brad very well,” Shurmur said Jan. 3. “He and I worked together for a long time. I think he’s a terrific coach.”
Childress served as the Vikings’ coach from 2006 until he was fired 10 games into the 2010 season, after the team stumbled to a 3-7 record. In 2008 and 2009, he guided the Vikings to consecutive division titles and records of 10-6 and 12-4, respectively. In 2009, the Vikings advanced to the NFC title game.
Childress called the Vikings’ plays in 2006 before assigning those responsibilities to offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell, who’s now with the Seattle Seahawks. Although Bevell assumed play-calling duties for the remainder of Childress’ tenure with the Vikings, Childress was heavily involved with the offense.
“Every play went through coach Childress, and everything was finalized through him,” Bevell told reporters after the Vikings fired Childress in the midst of a dramatic season. Childress’ tenuous relationship with quarterback Brett Favre and his decision to waive wide receiver Randy Moss without consulting owner Zygi Wilf made plenty of headlines.
Childress has 33 seasons of experience as a coach. He joins defensive coordinator Dick Jauron and senior defensive assistant Ray Rhodes as the third former NFL head coach on Shurmur’s staff. Childress compiled a record of 39-35 in the regular season and 1-2 in the playoffs while in charge of the Vikings.
The Browns explored the possibility of hiring an offensive coordinator before Shurmur’s first season as a head coach at any level, but they didn’t interview Childress, and their pursuit of other candidates didn’t pan out. They talked to Mike McCoy and Bill Musgrave about filling the role, but McCoy chose to keep the same job with the Denver Broncos, and Musgrave decided to leave the Atlanta Falcons and become Bevell’s replacement with the Vikings. Holmgren said he suggested that Shurmur call the plays after the organization’s original plan fell through.
The Browns, though, were plagued by gaffes and communication breakdowns on offense. During a news conference Oct. 20, Holmgren acknowledged that Shurmur needed a right-hand man “because that frees the head coach up and his preparation and how he can prepare for the game during the week.” After the season, Shurmur echoed his boss’ sentiment.
“More than anything, I think what it will do is allow me to just step back and look down on some things in some areas that I may be able to contribute more,” Shurmur said. “I think that’s a key piece. Keep in mind this: As the head coach of this team, I want to direct a team that is winning games. I have a general philosophy of how that works. You tweak it to do what fits best based on those principles to win games. I think that’s just natural that you have an offensive coordinator.”
Now that the Browns have a more common arrangement in place, they must hope the addition of Childress pays off. The team has desperately lacked a spark on offense for the majority of its expansion era, a main culprit in the franchise’s 11 losing seasons since 1999.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Browns blog at http://browns.ohio.com. Follow the Browns on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ABJ_Browns and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/browns.abj.