September 17, 2014

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Shared vision put in place: Browns new coach Pat Shurmur, front office have same goals, philosophies

BEREA – Jennifer Shurmur said her husband, Pat, started talking about becoming a head coach when he got his first full-time coaching job at Michigan State in 1990.

Two decades later, the dream turned into a packed-media-room reality as Shurmur was introduced Friday as the 13th full-time coach in Browns history.

“Truthfully, I think the time’s right right now,” Jennifer said after the 45-minute news conference. “I think Pat’s ready now.”

Browns fans desperate for a return to the playoffs hope she’s right.

Shurmur looked comfortable sitting between president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert behind a set of microphones. Shurmur worked with Heckert for eight years in Philadelphia, and has philosophical and family ties with Holmgren. The common bonds are what the triumvirate believe can turn the Browns from bottom-feeder to contender.

“I understand the thirst for winning, I think we have a collective view of how to get it done,” Shurmur, 45, said. “Our goal is to win the AFC North, to compete in the playoffs and win Super Bowls. I think the relationship that I have with Tom and Coach Holmgren is part of the strength of what we’re going to embark on.”

Holmgren, Heckert and Shurmur believe in the West Coast offense, which Shurmur will implement. He will call the plays during the game.

“That’s an important piece, and that really is the fun part,” he said.

The trio believes in running the ball, but also that a competent passing attack must be a priority. Holmgren and Shurmur grew up as quarterback coaches who became offensive coordinators – Shurmur spending the last two years in the role in St. Louis. They didn’t understand previous coach Eric Mangini’s pound, pound, pound mentality.

Heckert and Shurmur spent so much time together with the Eagles they know they look for the same things in a player. Forget speaking the same language or being on the same page, they’re in the same clause in a sentence.

“I don’t think you can understate that,” Heckert said.

The apparent cohesiveness has been missing in Browns headquarters for too long. General manager Phil Savage and coach Romeo Crennel were briefly united by the failed power play of president John Collins after the 2005 season, but Savage and Crennel quickly grew apart and never truly saw eye to eye.

Holmgren, Heckert and Mangini tried their best to mesh different philosophies in 2010, but it wasn’t a fit. So Holmgren fired Mangini on Jan. 3 and looked for someone that would round out the organizational trio of president, GM and coach.

Once he decided he wouldn’t return to the sideline, Holmgren promised a “wide” coaching search, then took some heat because he interviewed just three candidates.

But he revealed Friday that he talked to former head coaches Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher and John Fox to gauge their interest.

Gruden and Cowher elected to remain in television for 2011, and Fox took the Denver job Thursday.

“One of the big considerations was offense versus defense,” Holmgren said, referring to Fox’s history as a defensive coach.

“There’s a defense?” Shurmur kidded. “Typically I don’t tell jokes. But we have talked about that.”

Holmgren said the search committee came up with 10 quality names, but he wanted to narrow it to the top three for interviews: Shurmur, Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. Shurmur was first, on Jan. 7, and wasn’t eclipsed. He signed a four-year deal believed to be worth around $11 million.

Heckert identified Shurmur as a future head coach early in his years with the Eagles. Heckert and coach Andy Reid would talk about his bright future.

“It was just a matter of time, and luckily for me it happened here,” Heckert said.

Holmgren didn’t need too much convincing. Shurmur’s late uncle Fritz was Holmgren’s defensive coordinator in Green Bay and Pat would visit the Packers. Fritz was a finalist for the Browns head job in 1989, losing out to Bud Carson.

“It’s a great family, clearly,” Holmgren said. “I suspect Fritz is up there smiling down now on this thing.”

The connections don’t end there. Reid is a Holmgren disciple and taught Shurmur the “Holmgren Way” and the West Coast offense. Holmgren and Shurmur kept in contact throughout the last decade, and Holmgren recalled a conversation last spring about the quarterbacks entering the draft, including Cleveland’s Colt McCoy.

Despite all the background information, Holmgren needed to believe for himself. He made a lot of great assistant hires during his 17 years as a head coach – Reid, Gruden, Steve Mariucci, Ray Rhodes – but said picking a head coach is a different ballgame.

“There’s the football part of it – he wouldn’t be a candidate if he wasn’t a good football coach – then the character of the person is hugely important to me,” Holmgren said. “Then a feeling, an instinct if you will, about how he will deal with the whole group, how he will present himself to the team standing up there, how he will get people to do sometimes some things that they don’t want to do.

“That’s what the interview is about. This is the first head coach I’ve ever hired, I trust it will be the last. I don’t want to do it again.”

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