Thursday, February 03, 2011

Commence the Angry Mob


For all the Cleveland Browns fans grousing over the hiring of new head coach Pat Shurmur, here’s a suggestion. Let’s wait until the guy loses 22 games over two years before we officially run him out of town.

And yet there are a number of folks ready to do just that mainly because these bar stool geniuses in the local media and populating various fan forums have been unimpressed with the coaching staff he’s put together. As if.

To this point Shurmur hasn’t even had the chance to alienate key players on the team at a sports banquet, bus the rookies to a forced volunteering opportunity at his football camp in New England or create, as one of his first acts as dictator-in-charge, a chart detailing every finable infraction. He hasn’t yet held a press conference to send the message that the media’s questions aren’t welcome and he hasn’t swapped draft picks with his former team so they can draft a franchise quarterback and the Browns can draft a center, even if he was a third alternate Pro Bowler this season.

In fact, Shurmur’s done nothing yet except be Pat Shurmur for all the good and evil that entails. His resume as an assistant is impressive but I suppose it means less to the depressing mindset of a fan base with a Ph.D in misery than does the bitching of ungrateful St. Louis Rams fans that were unhappy that Shurmur’s supposedly conservative play calling and careful nurturing of a rookie quarterback allowed their team to win more games last season than it had in the three previous combined.

The truth is that Browns fans complaining about the hire of Shurmur weren’t going to be happy with any hire short of Bill Cowher. They might have taken Jon Gruden in a pinch and they would have settled for John Fox. And what about Jeff Fisher? If we had just waited several weeks to see if Bud Adams would have been random enough to fire Fisher, maybe we could have got him in Cleveland. This Shurmur guy, another assistant who hasn’t been a head coach, how good can he be?

Then of course is the whole matter that the Shurmur hire looked pre-ordained. Shurmur and team president Mike Holmgren share the same agent, Bob Lamonte, so the speculation of course is that Holmgren was essentially doing Lamonte a solid by finding one of his clients more lucrative work.

It’s the kind of conspiracy borne out of the internets combined with lazy reporting. It got little play that Holmgren denied even knowing that Shurmur was a client of Lamonte’s because, well, how believable is that? There’s no reason to deal in facts when conspiracy and speculation are so much more fun.

Shurmur may not be the right hire for this team but there’s no way to know that right now. Indeed it is far easier to conclude that hires like Fisher, Fox and Gruden would have been a disaster than it is to conclude that Shurmur isn’t ready for the next step.

Fox had worn out his welcome with Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. It wasn’t that Fox was a bad head coach but more like ownership and management felt it was time to move on. If you want a baseball analogy think the Indians and Mike Hargrove.

Gruden would have been a far more mercurial hiring. Sure, he led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title in his first season with the team, but the chance of that repeating itself with the Browns was non-existent. His resume after that gets a bit sketchy. Sure it looks good compared to the third ring of Hell the Browns occupy but it was starting to look like Gruden did well with a team he inherited but couldn’t come close to replicating that success when he had to build one thereafter.

Besides, the harmonic convergence of Gruden and Cleveland passed two years ago, if it ever came about at all. Had owner Randy Lerner even the slightest patience when he fired Romeo Crennel, Gruden might very well be in Cleveland today. As it was, Lerner pounced on Eric Mangini without waiting to see if any one else might be available. In what was a mild surprise, Gruden was fired in mid-January, later than most coaches. Mangini was already under contract in Cleveland.

I think, too, that Gruden may never return to coaching. He seems to like sitting in the booth, collecting a decent paycheck and working far less hours than is required of a head coach. It may be that he returns eventually but the longer he’s out the less likely he is to come back.

As for that holy grail of coaches, Bill Cowher, he’s had at least two opportunities to come to Cleveland in the last two years and he hasn’t so much as batted an eye in this direction. He may return to coaching, but like Gruden each year he sits out it gets that much harder. Don’t underestimate the gig he has on CBS Sports. It’s fairly lucrative and requires a lot less work.

Given the coaches that don’t fit, exactly who then would the fans complaining about Shurmur have wished on this team instead? It’s hard to say because they don’t seem to have had a back up plan.

Other than the fact that Shurmur isn’t Gruden, Cowher or Fox, the other complaint seems to be that Shurmur is intent on calling his own plays. Some of this was fed by the fact that Shurmur doesn’t look to be hiring an offensive coordinator which already has sent Bud Shaw in a tizzy despite the lack of offensive production from this team for years when there were actual coordinators in place.

Well, as much as it would be fun to indulge that line of reasoning as sound, one need only look to the NFC Champion and Super Bowl participating Green Bay Packers to understand how ridiculous all that really is. McCarthy calls the plays in Green Bay and things seem to be working out just fine between him and the team.

And as long as we’re using McCarthy as a benchmark, let’s remember, too, that his resume looks suspiciously like that of Shurmur’s. Up until he became the Packers’ head coach he was an offensive assistant for Kansas City and then an offensive coordinator for New Orleans. Those are just some inconvenient facts for the lynch mob.

Of course, there’s always the chance that Shurmur could turn into Chris Palmer but why jump to that conclusion before he’s coached his first game? Has it really come to that?

Browns fans have a hard time accepting the fact that their team has very limited talent. They see players in uniforms lining up at each position and a certain level of competence is assumed. Unfortunately that’s rarely the case.

Every guru hired to come in and fix this mess seems to have left it in worse shape than when he got there. Phil Savage’s tenure at this point amounts to Joe Thomas. Mangini’s lasting legacy won’t be the 22 losses but the bungled 2009 draft. That could turn around, certainly, if Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi end up developing into the kind of credible front line receivers their draft status suggests, though nothing they’ve done thus far indicates either will grow beyond a decent third receiver. For now and for where it really mattered most, the Browns really didn’t take a step forward under Mangini’s two years.

More than anything else, Shurmur’s real fate will be determined by Tom Heckert and how well he does in the next few drafts. If Heckert swings and misses like each of his predecessors, then Shurmur will end up looking like a mistake as well. If Heckert is able to find some legitimate playmakers on both sides of the ball, Shurmur will be here for the long haul.

None of this is to suggest that coaching doesn’t make a difference. It does. But as with the Indians and Manny Acta and Byron Scott and the Cavs, when the quality of the product at the concession stands is higher than the talent on the field or the court, the head coach is the least of the problems.

3 comments:

M. said...

You mentioned The Looking Glass recently. Alice is my favorite heroine in fiction. I didn't know it as a kid, but her adventures and my own desire to go out into the world sparked the fire of the writer in me. It can be daunting showing up in a culture, a world, different from one's own,--and especially so when the locals expect nothing more than failure. Perhaps it could be helpful for Shurmur to view Cleveland as falling down the rabbit hole. Rabbit shit happens. Armed with courage and compassion, anything is possible. And while being prepared is a great motto, it's usually how we handle the curve balls we didn't see coming that have the lasting impact on our life experiences. Alice prevailed by sticking to her principals, her truth and her authentic self. Shurmur can arrive and leave with those same qualities in tact, as can we all. And like Marge Simpson's blue hair, he may even turn a few heads while in town. We are all strangers in a strange land, we just don't all know it. M.

M. said...

Editor's note: sometimes principals screw up when it comes to principles, even Homer Simpson knows that. Shurmur knows what he's taken on in Cleveland-- with the team and the fans. If his principles include full disclosure, the team and the fans will atleast be able to make sense of it all. That's more than either Homer or Alice could ever hope for.

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