August 20, 2014

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Browns lose finale to Steelers, with coach Pat Shurmur and GM Tom Heckert expected to be fired Monday

PITTSBURGH — Pat Shurmur stood alone in the middle of Heinz Field early Sunday afternoon watching his players warm up one last time. Owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner talked on the sideline about 35 yards away.

Shurmur could’ve reached his bosses with a pass, yet they didn’t converse.

“I have not spoken to Joe Banner or Jimmy Haslam in quite some time,” Shurmur said after a 24-10 loss to the Steelers concluded the season. “I saw them before the game but not close enough to speak.

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“I’m not reading into anything. During the week, we all have different jobs we need to do and they take us different places, so there just hasn’t been a lot of interaction in the last few weeks.”

This is how eras end in Cleveland. With a loss to the Steelers, awkward situations and tense moments waiting for the hammer to drop.

Shurmur is expected to be fired today, but the Browns had made no announcement by Sunday night. Shurmur was scheduled to meet with the media at 11:30 a.m. after addressing the team.

“That is all I know is happening tomorrow,” he said.

General manager Tom Heckert is also expected to be fired today. He smiled and laughed as he passed reporters in the pressbox before the game.

Heckert arrived in 2010 and has turned the roster from old and declining to young and improving. He also hired Shurmur, who said he wasn’t anxious to learn his fate.

“I’m looking forward to coaching this team next year if that’s the case,” Shurmur said. “If not, then what I’m going to do is help coach and help inspire a team to win games in some role.

“I have kids in college, I have mouths to feed and this is my profession and this is what I choose to do. That’s it. That is how simple it is in my mind.”

Shurmur went 9-23 in the first two years of his four-year contract. He won four games in 2011 and five this year, which ended with a three-game losing streak.

The Browns were missing quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy (shoulder sprains) and running back Trent Richardson (ankle) on Sunday, but got a solid performance from quarterback Thaddeus Lewis in his first NFL game. He went 22-for-32 for 204 yards, a touchdown, an interception and an 83.3 rating, but Cleveland was done in by turnovers.

Shurmur coached until the end. He screamed at an official, repeatedly pumping his left arm after Lewis was knocked out of the game in the final two minutes. Shurmur wanted a roughing call on linebacker Lawrence Timmons but didn’t get it.

After the final seconds ticked off the clock, he exchanged hugs with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and a Pittsburgh assistant. Then he stuffed his hands into the pockets of his puffy Browns coat for the long, solitary walk off the field and into the tunnel, where he got a kiss from wife Jennifer.

“I was excited to play this football game,” Shurmur said. “Before the game, I asked the players to spend three more hours together, doing what they love to do.

“What I would say at the end of the season is that the future is bright for that group of guys. I think the coaches that work with them are outstanding.”

Shurmur’s shaky job status has been a topic for months, and Sunday morning featured more rumors and reports of possible candidates to take his spot. CBS’ Jason La Canfora reported the Browns and Eagles could battle for Oregon’s Chip Kelly, while ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported Penn State’s Bill O’Brien could be on Cleveland’s short list.

La Canfora also speculated Shurmur would be a hot offensive coordinator candidate and could land in Minnesota.

“It’s safe to say there have been rumors since the beginning of training camp,” Shurmur said. “I enjoy doing my job and they were a great group of players to work with.”

He delivered an emotional postgame speech that applauded the effort of the players.

“To me, he was trying to hold back the tears,” linebacker and captain D’Qwell Jackson said. “He was passionate about it. He put everything into it.

“He’s in a tough spot. The players, we appreciate him, we’d run through a brick wall for him and it’s just too bad we couldn’t get a win for him.”

Jackson has been through two coaching changes in seven seasons in Cleveland. Rookie Travis Benjamin, who had a costly fourth-quarter fumble, could be staring at his first.

“It was like a moment of silence,” he said of the locker room atmosphere. “Everybody was hugging and shaking hands with each other. We were wishing we could play another game together or another season together, but we already know how that goes.”

Heckert’s three drafts restocked the roster and impressed the locker room.

“It’s definitely not because he didn’t do a good job,” left tackle Joe Thomas said of his possible firing. “It’s because there was an ownership change and sometimes they like to bring in their own people.

“I think Tom’s done an outstanding job flipping the team from little talent to having a lot of good, young talent and a bright future.”

Shurmur was hit with the lockout after he got the job in 2011, then had the sale of the team from Randy Lerner to Haslam announced on the first day of training camp this July. He was also handed one of the youngest teams in the NFL.

“We didn’t win enough games,” Shurmur said. “But I have watched how these players have improved and I have watched how they have come together as a team. I have watched how close we were in a lot of the instances to winning these games, and I think with a little bit more time this team will improve.

“I have no regrets.”

How will he feel about his time in Cleveland if he isn’t retained?

“That is a ‘what if’ question and I’m not going to answer that,” he said. “That is a question for after, if there is an after.”

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

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