July 30, 2014

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Tom Heckert knew his days as Browns GM were numbered months ago

BEREA — General manager Tom Heckert was fired Monday in a quick meeting at about 9 a.m.

He saw it coming months ago. Ever since new owner Jimmy Haslam brought in Joe Banner as CEO in October.

“As soon as Joe was hired, I knew it was not going to work out,” Heckert told The Chronicle-Telegram on Monday afternoon. “I was not going to stay without final say. Personally, I’m fine with that.”

Coach Pat Shurmur was also fired after two years and a 9-23 record. He was hired by Heckert and former president Mike Holmgren, who was ousted during the season.

“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 a news 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.”

Shurmur briefly addressed the team after his meeting with Haslam and Banner, then spent time with his family. Shurmur said Sunday he will continue coaching. He will be an offensive coordinator candidate across the league.

Heckert was already fielding calls about GM jobs, as five came open Monday.

“Some things are set up already,” he said.

Andy Reid was fired as coach of the Eagles, and Heckert said they could reconnect somewhere.
Banner, Heckert and Reid worked together for nine years in Philadelphia. Heckert and Banner left at different times, but both because they wanted more authority over football decisions.

Banner will have that with the Browns. He’s already started the search for a coach and head of the personnel department.

Banner disagreed with the notion he and Heckert couldn’t have coexisted, but didn’t give details as to why he made a change.

“I don’t think to dissect it is really going to be a constructive purpose,” Banner said. “If I even gave you an honest answer with even the smallest amount of criticism, I think it would be an unfairly negative portrayal of Tom.

“I just think as we looked forward and where we want to be two or three years from now, that we felt a change is what would put us in the best position to get where we want to go.”

Heckert may not have found a franchise quarterback — the jury’s out on rookie Brandon Weeden — but he’s been praised for infusing youth and talent into the roster.

“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.”

Heckert believes the Browns are set up for a strong future.

“I really do think it’s gonna be a good team,” he said. “We — not anymore – the Browns are on the way to having a lot of good players. The chemistry in the locker room is unbelievable. As long as they don’t screw that up, they’ll have a good chance.

“One of the things I prided myself on was finding good people.”

Banner said the roster will help attract a top coach.

“I believe that there’s a core here and I’d be surprised if we hired a head coach that didn’t see the same thing,” he said.

Shurmur was unable to overcome some difficult circumstances in his time in Cleveland.

After getting his first head coaching job after two years as St. Louis’ offensive coordinator, he was welcomed 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.

Receiver Greg Little said Shurmur was very emotional in his goodbye address.

“That’s what I would expect from somebody that pours their heart into it,” Little said. “I’m sure it’s like being told you have been cut from a team. I’ve never had that feeling, but I’m pretty sure it’s the exact same feeling: You didn’t have what it took.”

Weeden will have a new coach and GM when he begins his second season, and he took some of the blame for that.

“It’s not on Pat, it’s not on Mr. Heckert,” he said. “It’s all on us and we all feel a sense of responsibility. It’s just very unfortunate news.”

Haslam provided the walking papers and a backhanded compliment.

“Both of them left the organization better than when they came,” he said. “We just felt like it was necessary — to get to a championship level — to make these changes.”

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