When Pat Shurmur's name surfaced as a candidate for the Cleveland Browns head coaching position it was met with apathetic fanfare. Then, he was hired. Who was this guy?
No one knew much about Mike Tomlin when the Pittsburgh Steelers hired him, and same goes for John Harbaugh in Baltimore, Mike McCarthy in Green Bay and Lovie Smith in Chicago. In recent weeks, Joe Philbin was hired in Miami, Dennis Allen in Oakland. Huh?
None of those coaches had that "sexy" name when hired. Today, Tomlin, Harbaugh (John or Jim), McCarthy or Smith are all consider among the league's best.
Shurmur has a long way to go even before being mentioned in the same sentence as a Tomlin, Harbaugh (John or Jim), McCarthy or Smith. Yet, those "sexy" name coaches have to start somewhere. Shurmur's start was not very impressive. His first season in Cleveland will be remembered — first and foremost — for the Browns' final record: 4-12. As a result, if it was up to Joe from Parma or Harry in Euclid, Shurmur would be shown the door and the Browns would hire one of those "sexy" named coaches.
"It's not enough wins," Shurmur said in his postgame press conference following the 13-9 loss to Pittsburgh on Jan. 1. "I want this game to be the last game of the year where we're talking about other things, about where we're playing our playoff game, who we're playing against and those types of things."
Let's deal in reality; Shurmur will be the coach for the 2012 season. He shares the same philosophies as the Browns president Mike Holmgren and the general manager Tom Heckert. The entire front office is on the same page — for good or bad — for the first time in a long time.
Before the intensity of the 2012 offseason ramps up, let's evaluate the performance of Shurmur in 2011.
First the cons…
The Browns made one of the most egregious errors on Christmas Eve. With 3:21 remaining before halftime on the road against the Baltimore Ravens, the Browns were driving with no time outs and trailing 17-0. The Browns began a drive at their own 16-yard-line. Ten plays later, the Browns had a first and goal at the Ravens' 5-yard line.
Instead of spiking the ball on second down, the Browns handed off to Hillis for no gain. The time ran out. Halftime. Still 17-0. The Browns would lose the game 20-14. Even if that error was Wallace's fault, the blame falls on the head coach's shoulders.
The Peyton Hillis saga showed the inexperience Shurmur had when dealing with the media. Sure, off the field Hillis was a problem for most of the year. Yet Shurmur's vagueness on answers surrounding Hillis' illness and subsequent injures only led to more speculation. In a world of instant social media and 24-hour sports networks, speculation spreads like wildfire. Shurmur needs to eliminate room to speculate with clearer answers.
If you've watched the NFL playoffs, you noticed the New England Patriots using tight end Aaron Hernandez as a running back. It worked. The Browns tried that Nov. 13 to disastrous results. Trailing 13-12 to St. Louis, the Browns had a first and goal from the Rams' 8-yard line. On second down, the Browns attempted to hand off to tight end Alex Smith. Smith fumbled. Although the Browns recovered, they remained conservative and played for the go-ahead field goal. On that field goal attempt, there was a bad snap that caused Phil Dawson to miss the 22-yard field goal. The Browns lost 13-12.
What was the thinking behind that play call?
"We tried to hand him the football and he dropped it, that's the thinking," Shurmur said after the game. "For the moment that it was in there, that's what happened we've got to do a better job. We can focus on what we want to focus on, but we lost the game. That's genuine."
It was a microcosm of confusing play calls that occurred throughout the season.
Inexperience as Head Coach
All three areas displayed Shurmur's inexperience as a head coach. That doesn't mean he'll always make those mistakes, but the overwhelming responsibilities of an NFL head coach came to a head in 2011.
And now the pros…
Perhaps the one sign that Shurmur is learning from his first-year mistakes is his willingness to bring in an offensive coordinator. It worked so well on the defensive side, where Shurmur is less experienced. Veteran Dick Jauron got the most out of a young Browns defense. They were fifth in the NFL in points allowed per game at 19.2 behind playoff bound teams in Pittsburgh (14.2), San Francisco (14.3), Baltimore (16.6) and Houston (17.4).
Now, it appears an offensive coordinator will come to town. This is good. Shurmur has enough on his plate as the head coach. He needs to delegate, just like he did the defensive duties. The results may be more favorable.
History of Working with Young QBs
Whether the Browns quarterback is Colt McCoy or a rookie, he will be young entering next season. Shurmur has a great track record when it comes to working, molding and improving young quarterbacks.
In 2010, Shurmur worked with then rookie quarterback Sam Bradford in St. Louis. In his first season, Bradford set the NFL rookie records for completions (354) and attempts (590), while his 3,512 passing yards were the second-most by a rookie in league history, behind Peyton Manning's 3,739 in 1998.
Before joining the Rams in 2009, Shurmur spent 10 season in Philadelphia where he served as the Eagles' quarterback coach from 2002-08. During that span, Donovan McNabb had three Pro Bowl selections while the Eagles were 70-41-1 in the regular season with one Super Bowl appearance.
Passion, Desire, Drive
It was evident in his demeanor in minutes following the Browns regular season finale that Shurmur has a passion, desire and drive to win a lot of football games in Cleveland. He was sorely disappointed in his first season and there is no doubt he will strive to improve this team. Shurmur got to this position by his hard work and his ability to coach professional football players.
That is why one season is neither enough time nor a fair amount of time to cast judgment on Pat Shurmur as an NFL head coach.
Shurmur learned a lot in his first season. We all know that with lack of talent on the Browns' offense, Paul Brown himself wouldn't have done much better. Patience is lacking in Cleveland and deservedly so. It is time to start winning, but in order to start winning the stability needs to occur in the front office. The Browns are on that path and it includes Shurmur as the head coach.
And, really, for every great coach in the NFL, he has great talent. The Browns are beginning that process to improve their talent right now. It's happened on defense and now Shurmur's offense needs the influx of speed and playmakers. The final verdict on Shrumur's abilities as a head coach and offensive guru will arrive once the talent does.