BEREA: Pat Shurmur arrived at work Friday at his usual early hour, looking forward to his first full-squad training camp practice and unaware that his world was about to implode.
Since January, Shurmur had thrived in normalcy. In 2011, he saw a lockout rob his Browns of organized team activities and three minicamps; they would have received an extra one because of his hiring months earlier. The rookie coach needed those extra days just as much as his rookie players.
This past offseason, with no labor strife to wreck his schedule, Shurmur seemed more comfortable. He opened up and showed his personality. He spoke more candidly. He seemed in control of things he’d delegated or overlooked when he arrived. He hired offensive coordinator Brad Childress, an old friend from the Philadelphia Eagles, to lessen his burden and allow him to sit in on other meetings, like special teams. He knew the players by name instead of by number and knew their wives’ names, too.
He felt strongly that the Browns have improved. Even with the third-toughest NFL schedule in 2012, optimism reigned in the third year of the five-year plan of President Mike Holmgren and General Manager Tom Heckert.
Then came the news, broadcast via email to employees in the Browns’ Berea headquarters before owner Randy Lerner’s statement was released at 9:39 a.m., that he was negotiating to sell the team to Knoxville, Tenn., billionaire Jimmy Haslam.
With word of the impending sale came a mountain of pressure for Shurmur to win now. And with it the smothering realization that even an 8-8 season, which would be a remarkable leap from 4-12, might not be enough to save him and his staff.
The reality could have hit him like an avalanche, if the way he answered questions at his post-practice news conference around 4 p.m. was any measure. He was short, fiery, almost angry, saying in his first few breaths, “I’ve got nothing to add, absolutely nothing to add,” before expressing concern about his coaches’ future. His predecessors, Eric Mangini and Romeo Crennel, would have handled it better. They dutifully answered questions about team crises, even if it was none of their own doing. (See Savage, Phil, and “Go root for Buffalo.”)
By Saturday, Shurmur had reined in his emotions. He seemed more like the pre-bombshell Shurmur, even as he realized that his heart isn’t leaving his sleeve anytime soon.
“I am kind of a [jerk], but I do try to keep that from you,” Shurmur joked. “I’m probably in trouble for saying that; I really don’t care.”
Lerner’s deal with Haslam seems on the fast track, with Forbes reporting Saturday that Haslam, a minority owner of the Steelers since 2009, will purchase the Browns for $920 million. While Shurmur isn’t going to be replaced this season, he does not seem like the type of coach Haslam would want to make a splash with in the NFL.
No one would be surprised if Haslam made a run at Bill Cowher, even though Cowher rejected Lerner’s overtures in early 2009 and Holmgren spoke to Cowher before hiring Shurmur. While Cowher has hid behind his loyalty to the Rooney family while working for CBS since 2007, Haslam could offer Cowher money and power if he restructures the organization.
If not Cowher, Haslam could pursue Sandusky native Jon Gruden, now at ESPN, or a big name from the college ranks.
The uncertainty could weigh on Shurmur, 47. But Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown doesn’t believe that will be the case.
“The only thing we’ve got to do is handle the situation the right way, stay out of trouble, do all the little minute things, and win games,” said Brown, who spent 2002-08 with Shurmur in Philadelphia. “At the end of the day, he can look himself in the mirror and say, ‘I gave my heart and soul. I did what’s best.’ If it doesn’t work out here, he’s been around this game a long time, it will work out somewhere else.”
Holmgren also believes Shurmur is up to the challenge.
“Pat grew up in this business, his family has been very involved,” Holmgren said. “He’s a big boy, he understands what’s going on. Pat is an outstanding coach. Whoever comes in, if there is an ownership change, they’ll recognize that. You’re judged on your record. That’s just the way it is.”
As hopeless as his situation may have seemed Friday morning, Shurmur cannot let worries about his future dominate his thoughts. He must continue to grow as a coach, as he has in the past six months. He must stand confidently and let his natural presence show. He must keep his jerk moments to a minimum, or behind closed doors.
He may have only 16 games to prove himself. But that can serve as a rallying cry, not a cry of anguish.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at https://ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.