BEREA — Four games remain in the Browns’ season. Whether coach Pat Shurmur’s tenure lasts any longer is among the hottest topics in Northeast Ohio.
Shurmur’s future has been uncertain since Jimmy Haslam bought the team and announced he’d evaluate all personnel and make decisions after the season. The assumption was the new regime would want its own man, but the Browns (4-8) have a two-game winning streak following a 20-17 win Sunday in Oakland and Shurmur is making a late push to stick around for a third season.
Haslam said last week he’s still waiting until the end of the season to make any decisions, but sees progress in the team and feels it’s close to being a playoff contender.
“It’s always good to hear good things,” Shurmur said Monday. “But I do know that what’s important for me, and it’s very narrow-minded, is this next game — period. And then whatever gets determined gets determined.
“But what I can control right now with this football team is what happens this week, and that’s where my focus is.”
The Browns host Kansas City (2-10) on Sunday with a chance for their first three-game winning streak since the last four games of the 2009 season. That stretch earned Eric Mangini another year, as new president Mike Holmgren felt it was unfair to fire a coach after one season.
The decision backfired when Mangini followed up with another 5-11 season and was fired. The current situation looks similar to 2009 on the surface, but there are important differences.
This roster is filled with youth — 17 rookies and 10 in their second year — while Mangini’s was loaded with players hanging on to life in the NFL. Holmgren and Mangini had opposite offensive, defensive and coaching philosophies, whereas Shurmur, general manager Tom Heckert and new CEO Joe Banner share a history and background with the Eagles.
Shurmur’s focused on the present, but realizes the future of the team he’s developing and is excited about it.
“When you see young players doing things in this league and you know that they’re not anywhere near how good they can be,” started Shurmur, who’s 8-20, “then that’s good and I look forward to seeing these guys have good careers, very productive careers, hopefully all of them here in Cleveland.”
The Browns have not only won two straight for the first time since Weeks 2 and 3 of 2011, the victories included noteworthy accomplishments. They beat Pittsburgh last week for only the second time in 18 tries, and used a 94-yard drive to cement the win against the Raiders. Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, rookie running back Trent Richardson, rookie receiver Josh Gordon and second-year tight end Jordan Cameron made significant contributions to the most important drive of the season.
“We know this is a winning business and we found a way to win two football games, so we’re growing,” Shurmur said. “I felt us improving throughout the beginning of this season and we couldn’t get over the hump. Now we’re finding a way to get over the hump.”
The Browns have won four of their last seven and have been lauded nationally for playing hard every week. Banner also complimented the coaching staff for its hard work and keeping the players motivated despite the lousy record.
“I feel good about where we’re going, we’ve just got to keep going,” Shurmur said. “It’s easy to let that momentum stop. That’s what I’m guarding against and I think our locker room understands that it’s important you jump right back in the process.
“As long as I’m here, you’ll get tired of hearing me say, ‘jump back in the process,’ because I think that’s most important. Initially for the season it’s 16 processes and how well you get that right, because that gives you the best opportunity to be successful on Sunday.”
Shurmur’s been a lightning rod for criticism since he arrived. He wasn’t the big name many fans wanted, didn’t have a first offseason because of the lockout, then the defense was late getting out of the huddle in his first game and the Bengals scored the winning touchdown. The attacks never stopped.
He was asked if the recent success was personal vindication.
“I don’t take this personally. I really don’t,” he said. “My concerns are always for our team and our coaches moving forward. I really believe in this group we have and I really believe this is the foundation of something that could be really good.
“Some of the other stuff about me personally — what more can they say about me? Right? I mean really, think about it. I don’t listen to it, but I’m told frequently about it. I think that’s where the thick skin part comes in.”
Shurmur, who had two years as an offensive coordinator before getting the Browns job, feels he’s getting better as a head coach. He was successful with a fourth-down sneak on the crucial drive Sunday after fourth-down failures earlier in the year.
“Any time you do something more and more you get better at it,” he said. “It becomes clearer. There are things I see better now.
“There’s other things that come into this now. I know my coaches and players better. I understand how everybody on our team is going to respond in most situations.”
Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin has seen the growth.
“He’s getting more comfortable and he’s knowing the players more,” he said. “He’s getting acclimated and has a feel for our opponents, coming in and playing the Steelers to the Ravens and the Bengals is pretty difficult every year, so this conference and division is hard to get acclimated to.”
Gordon has been one of the success stories of the season. He set career highs Sunday with six catches for 116 yards and his fifth touchdown.
“We definitely are happy with the (coaches) who are in there, but whatever happens, players can only do so much but play,” he said. “Whatever Mr. Haslam decides to do with a new regime or keep the same one, I’m really not sure. Regardless, we have to show up on Sundays and do our jobs.”
Sounds like his coach.