April 19, 2014

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New Browns owner fires coach and GM, promises stability is on the horizon

BEREA — Owner Jimmy Haslam vowed to stop the merry-go-round, but not before he gave it another push.

Haslam and CEO Joe Banner fired general manager Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur on Monday, a day after the season ended with a 24-10 loss in Pittsburgh and a 5-11 record. Haslam bought the team from Randy Lerner in the fall.

Shurmur was the fifth coach fired by the Browns since they returned in 1999, and Heckert the fifth personnel chief.

“We’re well aware that this has been a carousel and it’s Joe and I’s job to find the right coach and the right GM and bring stability long term for the organization,” Haslam said late Monday morning.

Within hours of dropping the hammer, Haslam’s focus had fully shifted. The search for the next coach was under way.

“The interviews will start as quickly as we can get permission and get together,” Banner said.

Many of the candidates are involved preparing for bowl games or heading into the NFL playoffs, which could delay interviews and a final decision.

“Sooner is preferable, but whatever time it takes to get the right person, we’re going to take,” Haslam said.

FoxSports’ Alex Marvez reported the Browns have received permission and will interview Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter this weekend during Atlanta’s bye week. The Eagles and Chiefs also will interview him.

The plan is to hire a coach before the lead personnel executive, who could have the title of general manager or player personnel director. NFL Network analyst and former Browns executive Mike Lombardi remains a candidate for the personnel job.

“We made the determination that the greater impact on our future was going to be the head coach, that we need to make sure we find two people that fit together well and complement each other well and that we wanted the skill set of the head coach to kind of drive what we’d be looking for in the position that we would hire after that,” said Banner, who will oversee the football operations and be heavily involved.

“Time will tell if that’s right and if we can find the right two people that are both high-quality and fit together as well as we hope.”

Banner wants the coach to have final say on the regular-season and gameday rosters. The broader decisions of draft picks, trades and free-agent signees will be made collaboratively among Banner, coach and GM, and the hires will help determine who will lead the decision-making process.

Haslam wouldn’t discuss names of possible coaching candidates. He said the search will be conducted behind the scenes and not in the media.

Alabama’s Nick Saban, Oregon’s Chip Kelly and Penn State’s Bill O’Brien are believed to be on the list. San Francisco offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Arizona defensive coordinator Ray Horton and Indianapolis’ offensive coordinator/interim head coach Bruce Arians are also expected to draw interest throughout the NFL.

Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had been linked to the Browns but said Monday he won’t try for a head coaching job and will remain in New England.

Banner put no restrictions on Shurmur’s replacement, who will be the 14th full-time coach in Browns history. Banner said he had no preference between an offensive and defensive coach and is open to hiring a college coach, a former NFL head coach or an NFL assistant.

“We’re going to explore all avenues,” he said. “The key is to get the right person.”

Haslam and Banner agree with many in the NFL who feel the job is among the most attractive of the seven coaching positions that opened Monday.

“This is going to sound self-serving, but I think you’ve got a stable ownership here now that I think is involved at the proper amount,” Haslam said. “I think you have a real NFL veteran in Joe. I think as you all know this is a tremendous football town that yearns for a winner. I think all of that makes for this to be a job that a lot of people would have interest in.”

Banner added: “Most of these top coaches are focused on finding a place where they think they can win and we think we can make a very good case why this is the best opportunity in the league right now.”

Heckert and Shurmur expected to be fired but weren’t happy that a meeting wasn’t scheduled until Monday after weeks of rumors. They were fired about 9 a.m.

Heckert arrived in 2010 and Shurmur in 2011. The Browns went 9-23 under Shurmur, and both have two years left on their contracts.

“It was a very tough decision, it was an emotional decision,” Banner said. “We just felt like in the terms of the ultimate goals we have as we look down the road, a change gave us the best chance to do that, but that wasn’t an easy decision and time will tell whether it was the right decision.”

The Browns have been striving for continuity since their return. But they haven’t won a playoff game and have only two winning seasons.

They have lost at least 11 games in five straight seasons, tying for the second-longest streak in NFL history. Oakland had seven such seasons from 2003-09, and Tampa Bay five from 1985-89.

All the losing kept the revolving door spinning.

Lerner thought he had found the correct formula to stop it with president Mike Holmgren, Heckert and Shurmur. They shared an agent, a history and philosophy.

But Lerner sold the team in the middle of the rebuilding process, Holmgren was jettisoned and further change was inevitable. Haslam has stated since he arrived that continuity can only come after finding the right guys.

“The model franchises in this league — Pittsburgh, New England, Indianapolis for a while — those are the places that had continuity each year,” linebacker Scott Fujita said as the players cleaned out their lockers. “Once you find the right formula, you’ve got to stick with it.”

Haslam believes the first step is landing the correct coach.

“Strong leader, tough, demanding, organized, good attention to detail and able to motivate people,” Haslam said of the qualities he wants.

The rest of the coaching staff remains under contract. They will be allowed to interview with other teams, but the next coach may want to retain some. The scouting staff is still under contract and will continue on the job.

The players were sad but not surprised to hear about the firings.

“They are doing it for a reason and they think it’s the right thing for this organization,” rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden said. “Mr. Haslam, this isn’t his first rodeo. He and Mr. Banner know what they’re doing.

“Whichever direction they go, they’ll think it’s the best for this team and this city. We have full confidence in those guys.”

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