During the lockout, new Browns head coach Pat Shurmur has made the media rounds, hosted a Browns Backers luncheon and has helped out some youth football talent. Whether genuine or necessary to his new role as Browns' head coach, Shurmur has tried to ingratiate himself into the Cleveland community and has appeared competent and gracious in doing so.
However, before the inevitable rush to training camp and a frenzied game of catch up begins, Shurmur could take the process a step further by checking out some Browns history. And before you start replaying grainy Jim Brown videos in your mind, the history I'm referring to is much more monumental and relevant to today's Browns than Otto Graham in sneakers or Brian Sipe throwing a wounded duck during the playoffs.
For a simple refresher on the Browns, Shurmur has to look no further than the last three head coaches of the team's expansion era — or at the least — not read or listen to any fan rants regarding the quarterback position.
Butch Davis, Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini all committed one fatal error during their respective tenures as head coach of the Browns. Each shuffled their starting quarterbacks to the point of exhaustive futility, which derailed their careers and set the Browns' organization further behind.
Shurmur, who at the moment appears to have said all the right things regarding 2010 rookie Colt McCoy, will no doubt be tempted at times during the preseason to wonder what he has in veterans Seneca Wallace, Jake Delhomme, or whoever else may be lurking on the team's roster in the next month or so.
However, recent expansion history suggests that Shurmur should be single-minded when it comes to his quarterback of choice. Otherwise, the upstart head coach will have already lost the battle.
It's easy to dismiss now, but heading into the 2003 season, Butch Davis basically owned the city of Cleveland. Or, at the least, Davis had consolidated his grasp on the Browns thanks to a surprise playoff berth the prior year. Compared to the misery of the Browns' first two expansion seasons, Davis' then two-year tenure appeared to be the foundation of a future winner.
The newly crowned Davis held a quarterback derby between former top overall draft pick Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb, the mythical backup who had nearly guided the Browns to a playoff win. Davis allowed his quarterback competition to drag out through the preseason, before finally deciding on Holcomb, who at the time had started only three career regular season games. Davis affirmed his decision by stating that he had "a gut feeling."
The competition itself was a bit of a farce, as neither quarterback displayed much evidence to suggest that they fully deserved the job. In most respects, Couch, who had guided the Browns to the brink of the playoffs before breaking his leg, should have been considered the default starter. Holcomb, who had relieved Couch in the past and sparked the offense, wasn't fully prepared for the rigors of playing the entirety of games.
By the season's third week, Holcomb and the Browns had finally scratched out a win, but the journeyman quarterback was so savagely beaten that he never fully recovered. Meanwhile, Couch continued the kind of unbalanced play that marked his career while Davis had lost his safety net. When Holcomb recovered and struggled himself, Couch then filled the Holcomb role. In the process, most of the roster was divided and the team never found an identity during a season of high expectations.
There wasn't much of a debate heading into the season, as veteran Trent Dilfer was established as the team's starter over third-round pick Charlie Frye. However, as the season wore on and Romeo Crennel realized the limits of Dilfer, he switched to Frye - much to the displeasure of Dilfer. At the time of Crennel's move, the Browns were fairly competitive, but clearly represented a team in full blown rebuilding mode.
However, Dilfer was vocal regarding his benching and in a warped manner, betrayed the role of a veteran placeholder - the exact position he was signed to fill. The former Super Bowl champion quarterback still thought he had some mileage left in his career, despite given the context of his declining skills and the Browns' unique situation. The situation did not exactly become toxic, but the presence of an non-supportive and whiny Dilfer certainly didn't help Frye and the Browns exceed.
The mother of all Browns' quarterback competitions was held in 2007 between Frye and Derek Anderson. Frye had suffered through an erratic 2006 performance and Anderson was still relatively unknown at the time. Adding to the intrigue of the competition was the non presence of Brady Quinn, whose lingering holdout cost him a role in the debate.
Crennel shuffled between Frye and Anderson in what became a laughable display of ineptitude — both on and off the field. Neither quarterback played particularly well and Crennel's passive manner enabled the indecision to continue well into the preseason. The inane nature of Crennel's competition was framed by the often overmatched coach flipping a coin to determine an early starter.
The situation was exacerbated, then deemed meaningless after Frye melted down in the season opener against Pittsburgh and was traded a few days later. Anderson emerged as the team's starter and his play ultimately saved both Crennel and GM Phil Savage's job. However, the precedent was set as throughout the season, calls were made for Quinn to take over, despite Anderson's inordinate amount of success.
While Davis had a hunch and Crennel just couldn't make a decision, Eric Mangini was on a mission to both reform the culture of the Browns along with affirm his own power in 2009. Not wanting to rely on the past performances of Anderson and Quinn to make an early starting quarterback decision, Mangini instead wanted to see both players execute his new system of offense.
The results were a painful extraction of clandestine language that at times appeared both unprofessional and unnecessary. Neither quarterback could do much to generate offense, simply based on the complete lack of talent found on the 2009 roster. However, the debate dragged until late in the preseason, with Quinn declared the winner.
Yet, Quinn was instantly on the hot seat, as Mangini wouldn't declare a Week Two starter. Citing the need to carry a "tactical advantage" into games, Mangini undermined the worth of both quarterbacks and never allowed his offense the chance to form any continuity. Eventually, each player both started and relieved games. Yet in the end, none of the moves made any difference.
The debate has already begun — at least if you pay attention to online forums or talk to any Browns fan. The likely 2011 starter Colt McCoy is either too small, too inexperienced or doesn't possess the kind of arm required to throw in the windy weather off Lake Erie. Seneca Wallace also doesn't have a big arm and supposedly can only make reads for half of the field. And we all know Jake Delhomme is a broken down turnover machine.
However, none of these characterizations matter.
If Shurmur decides that any one of these three quarterbacks should become the team's starting quarterback, then so be it. Regardless of any external factor considered in the decision, the Browns are now Shurmur's team. With so many other changes occurring to the team's roster and coaching staff, juggling starting quarterbacks should not be the top of Shurmur's list.
As history tells us, it just doesn't work.