September 1, 2014

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New coach in town: Holmgren taps Shurmur for Browns job

BEREA — Smart, organized, diligent.

The men who played for and worked with Pat Shurmur chose those words Thursday to describe the 13th full-time coach in Browns history.

Cleveland fans can only hope those attributes will help Shurmur reverse the fortunes of a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since 1994.

New Browns coach Pat Shurmur jogs with the St. Louis Rams during training camp in August. He was hired Thursday after spending two seasons as Rams offensive coordinator. (AP photo.)

New Browns coach Pat Shurmur jogs with the St. Louis Rams during training camp in August. He was hired Thursday after spending two seasons as Rams offensive coordinator. (AP photo.)

Shurmur, 45, was hired Thursday to replace Eric Mangini, who was fired Jan. 3 after two seasons. He is the fifth coach since the Browns returned in 1999.

Shurmur has never been a head coach, but has 23 years of coaching experience, including 12 in the NFL. He spent the last two years as offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams.

“It’s an honor and a privilege to join an organization with such a rich history and tradition as the Cleveland Browns,” Shurmur, who will be formally introduced at a news conference today at 11 a.m., said in a news release. “I am looking forward to this challenge and can’t wait to get started in helping to build the Browns back to one of the elite teams in the NFL.”

Shurmur is the final piece of the triumvirate charged with leading the franchise’s return to relevance. President Mike Holmgren oversees the entire organization. General manager Tom Heckert runs the personnel department. Shurmur, who reportedly signed a four-year deal, will be directly in charge of the product on the field.

When Browns owner Randy Lerner determined midway through the 2009 season that he needed to reconstruct his football operations department, this is what he had in mind. A clearly defined organizational structure, with the people in the three most important positions sharing a philosophy.

“I have the utmost respect for Coach Holmgren and Tom Heckert, and I am impressed with the direction in which they have this franchise going,” Shurmur said.

He has an offensive background and runs Holmgren’s beloved West Coast system. He spent eight years as an assistant coach in Philadelphia while Heckert was in the Eagles front office. The three are represented by high-powered agent Bob LaMonte.

Shurmur was the first candidate interviewed by Holmgren and Heckert last Friday.

“I came away from our interview very impressed with him as a person, his extensive knowledge of the game and his track record of success as an assistant coach in this league,” Holmgren said in the news release. “Most importantly, I feel as though he possesses the necessary qualities which make him the right man to lead our football team.

“Pat is a bright, young man who grew up in football and around the coaching profession.”

Former Raiders and Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden was the fan favorite to get the job, but elected to stay at ESPN. Falcons coach Mike Mularkey and Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell were the other candidates known to interview, but neither had the connections to the Cleveland front office that Shurmur does.

Shurmur’s uncle, Fritz Shurmur, was defensive coordinator when Holmgren won the Super Bowl as coach of the Green Bay Packers.

Holmgren, a head coach for 17 seasons, taught the West Coast offense to Andy Reid in Green Bay. Reid became head coach of the Eagles and taught it to Shurmur, who’s expected to run the West Coast on the North Coast.

Holmgren made it clear in the hours after he fired Mangini that the next coach must be able to develop quarterback Colt McCoy, who just finished his rookie season.

“Absolutely that is going to be one of the considerations in the search,” Holmgren said.

Enter Shurmur.

He helped Philadelphia’s Donovan McNabb make three Pro Bowls and set franchise records in seven years as quarterbacks coach. Sam Bradford, the No. 1 overall pick by St. Louis, is a serious candidate for rookie of the year.

Not only did Shurmur help McNabb continue his Pro Bowl career and reach his only Super Bowl in 2004, he had success when McNabb was sidelined by injury. The Eagles managed to go on late-season runs and win playoff games with No. 3 A.J. Feeley in 2002 and backup Jeff Garcia in 2006.

Bradford started all 16 games, completing 60 percent of his passes for 3,512 yards, 18 touchdowns, 15 interceptions and a 76.5 rating. He set NFL rookie records for completions (354) and attempts (590), while his passing yards were the second-most by a rookie in league history, trailing only Peyton Manning’s 3,739 in 1998. Bradford’s 18 touchdown passes tied for fifth, and he set an NFL rookie record with 174 consecutive attempts without an interception.

“I really enjoyed working with him last season and he truly helped my transition from college to the NFL game,” Bradford said. “I think he will be a really good head coach.”

McCoy got a late and unexpected start to his career, then missed three weeks with a high ankle sprain. He played eight games, going 2-6 as a starter. He completed 61 percent for 1,576 yards with six touchdowns, nine interceptions and a 74.5 rating. He did enough for Holmgren to believe he can be the long-term answer, so Shurmur will be responsible for making that come to fruition.

Shurmur helped the Rams improve from 1-15 in 2009 to 7-9 this season. The offense improved in nearly every category, including scoring (114 more points), total yards, time of possession and third-down percentage. They committed 21 turnovers, tied for the ninth-lowest in the NFL.

The Rams still ranked just 26th in scoring (18.1 points) and yardage (302.9), and Shurmur drew the ire of fans for his play-calling in the loss to Seattle in the regular-season finale that cost them a playoff spot.

Well-respected Dallas Morning News reporter Rick Gosselin ranked Shurmur as the second-best assistant coach in the league in 2010. He took into account working with a rookie quarterback and a limited receiving corps.

“I knew it would not be long before Coach Shurmur got a head coaching job in this league,” Rams Pro Bowl running back Steven Jackson said. “He was a good coordinator for the Rams and on Sundays, he got the most out of his players and always had us in a position to win the game.”

The first thing on Shurmur’s to-do list is to pick a coaching staff, starting with the coordinators.

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is under contract, but other names are getting mentioned for the job, including former head coaches Dave Wannstedt, Dick Jauron and Mike Singletary. A decision on whether Ryan will be retained is expected Monday.

“Glad we got the head coaching spot filled! We love 2 continue playing 4 rob! #justsayin,” rookie cornerback Joe Haden tweeted.

Offensive coordinator Brian Daboll doesn’t have a history with the West Coast and isn’t expected to return. He interviewed in Miami on Wednesday. Possible replacements include former Vikings head coach Brad Childress and Vikings coordinator Darrell Bevell.

5 issues facing new coach Pat Shurmur

  1. For a first-time head coach, having the right coordinators is critical. That usually means finding guys with experience. President Mike Holmgren had success picking assistants when he was a head coach, so he should be a valuable resource.
  2. The Browns defense improved in Rob Ryan’s second year as coordinator in 2010. He’s under contract and open to returning, but Shurmur is expected to go with his own man.
  3. Shurmur is sure to switch to the West Coast offense. If he wants a 4-3 defense, the Browns would be making an overhaul on both sides of the ball. That’s doable, but would be made much more difficult if there’s an extended lockout.
  4. Shurmur made his name in the NFL getting the most out of his quarterbacks. He needs to do the same with Colt McCoy, who just finished his rookie season.
  5. The Steelers and Ravens. The Browns’ bitter rivals have become playoff fixtures and show no signs of slowing down.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com.