September 3, 2014

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(Updated) Browns fire GM Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur

BEREA — Pat Shurmur is out after two years as Browns coach.

Tom Heckert is gone after three as general manager.

Both were fired this morning with two years left on their contracts. The team announced the moves in a news release.

The Browns went 5-11 and finished the season Sunday with a 24-10 loss at Pittsburgh.

Shurmur posted a 9-23 record and is the second straight Browns coach to last only two years, following Eric Mangini.

First-year owner Jimmy Haslam and new CEO Joe Banner wielded the ax. They took over in October and promised to make decisions following the season.

They are scheduled to meet with the media at 11:30 a.m.

“We felt that these moves were in the best interests of the Cleveland Browns and our future,” Haslam said in the news release.

Shurmur said Sunday he will continue coaching. He will be an offensive coordinator candidate across the league.

“I am extremely proud of the players on this team, who I felt made tremendous strides and helped to make the Cleveland Browns relevant again,” Shurmur said in the release. “This group of players will achieve success soon, and there will be a part of me that will feel very good when that happens.”

Coaches mentioned as a possible replacement include Alabama’s Nick Saban, Oregon’s Chip Kelly and Penn State’s Bill O’Brien. Indianapolis’ Bruce Arians, Denver’s Mike McCoy, San Francisco’s Greg Roman and Cincinnati’s Jay Gruden are among NFL assistants who will be considered for head coaching spots across the league.

NFL Network analyst and former Browns personnel executive Mike Lombardi, San Francisco director of player personnel Tom Gamble, Baltimore assistant GM Eric DeCosta and Atlanta director of player personnel David Caldwell could be candidates to run the personnel department.

Shurmur was unable to overcome some difficult circumstances.

After getting his first head coaching job after two years as St. Louis’ offensive coordinator, he was greeted by the NFL lockout. It robbed him of an offseason program to install new offensive and defensive systems and prevented him from meeting some of his players until training camp in July.

Shurmur came back for his second season energized by a full offseason program, only to be greeted by the announcement of the sale of the franchise on the opening day of training camp. Suddenly the stability and long-term rebuilding project he expected were gone.

Yet one of the youngest rosters in the NFL remained.

“I think we came into a less-than-ideal situation when we got here,” he said last week. “It’s a little different thought process when you’re working with so many young ones. There are certain things you’ve got to keep hammering home that when you’ve got a veteran crew you talk about other things.

“We have not won enough football games and I know that’s the way this things works, but in our situation I see improvement and I’ll leave it at that.”

Heckert was hired by former president Mike Holmgren in 2010. Holmgren was jettisoned when Haslam took over.

“I leave the Browns feeling very good about many of the things we accomplished here and the direction in which I believe this team is headed,” Heckert said in the release.

Heckert may not have found a franchise quarterback – the jury’s out on rookie Brandon Weeden – but he gained acclaim for infusing youth and talent into the roster. He expects to find another job quickly.

“He’s a great general manager,” said cornerback Joe Haden, Heckert’s first draft pick in Cleveland. “I can tell by the way he drafts players. You can look and you see his draft picks are out there on the field just basically balling for the team.

“This is such a young team, and all of his players are out there playing. That says a lot.”

Shurmur was never embraced by Browns fans. He was a little-known assistant who shared an agent and background with Holmgren and Heckert.

Then Shurmur got off on the wrong foot in his first game in 2011. The Browns lost when the Bengals caught the defense late getting out of the huddle to score the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Shurmur cleaned up the game-management issues in his second season. Part of the cure was the addition of offensive coordinator Brad Childress. Shurmur tried to handle both roles as a rookie and admitted that was a mistake.

Shurmur also was criticized for his play calling, his fourth-down decisions and his defensive demeanor in news conferences.

But he should get credit for bringing along a young roster that got a league-high starts from rookies. Receivers Josh Gordon and Greg Little improved throughout the season and could form a solid tandem for years.

“No matter what happens, I think he got the team moving in the right direction and the franchise, so I think he’s got a lot to be proud of no matter what happens,” left tackle Joe Thomas said of Shurmur.

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