The fifth head coaching hire of the Browns' expansion era hasn't created the type of seismic waves of change that some fans have been seeking for years. While some were expecting a savior to turn around a stumbling franchise, the Browns instead have delivered what appears to be a novice to the position.
Quite possibly because Pat Shurmur does not have the high-profile name associated with Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, or even John Fox, the hire has so far been characterized as more of a reflection of Team President Mike Holmgren. In this sense, the key word thrown around over the past day has been "trust" – as in the head of the Browns' organization must know what he's doing.
After all, the book on Shurmur is a light read. As even most casual fans have come to realize, Shurmur's NFL experience consists of nearly a decade as Quarterbacks coach in Philadelphia, followed by two years as the offensive coordinator in St. Louis.
Not exactly the stuff of coaching legends, but then again this move should be thought of as part of the overall progress of the Browns' franchise – and not an evaluation of a single coach.
For the first time in over a decade of expansion play, the Browns have finally used a top-down approach to hire a head coach. Instead of making what ultimately became a piece-meal type of hire in the instances of the team's last three head coaches, Holmgren has perhaps made the most definitive statement in years regarding the future of the Browns.
And in doing so, he just performed a very simple task. Holmgren simply hired a head coach – nothing else. Unlike previous hires such as Butch Davis and Eric Mangini, this new Browns' head coach will not be responsible for also shaping a bloated, yet ineffective front office or influencing the overall direction of the franchise.
Or in other words – Shurmur was hired just to coach.
What a novel idea.
Of course, despite the experience and expertise that Holmgren brings to his position, it's still worth asking another simple question…
Who is Pat Shurmur and why is he the Browns' new head coach?
While we can all speculate on Shurmur's credentials, perhaps the best answers to this question are found throughout the St. Louis media – the ones who clearly have a better insight into the Browns' new on-field leader.
First, from the Department of They Did What?!
Did you see anything about the Rams offense that was innovative, creative, explosive? I don't think so. The Rams have been predictable, overly conservative, and downright boring to watch on offense. You can't explain it all away by saying that they're lacking in talent. I don't buy that. They drafted and signed a quarterback for $50 million guaranteed. They've got one of the best power running backs in the game. They've spent a fortune drafting and signing free agent offensive linemen. They should be better than 26th in the league in total offense.
The coaching staff has to take responsibility for that. Shurmur got the job in Cleveland largely because of his relationship with Mike Holmgren. They've worked together in the past and have the same agent. Maybe Shurmur will do a great job in Cleveland now that he's out of the shadow of the control freakish Steve Spagnuolo. Maybe Shurmur has dozens of creative plays he'll be free to use now, and make the Browns a contender again. I checked out a couple of Cleveland Browns message boards and they don't seem upset with the hire.
If you only consider the first paragraph of the above, you could easily mistake this text for a rant against Brian Daboll. In this sense, the parallels are eerily similar. Much like the Browns' offense under Daboll, the Rams were deemed the unholy trio of "predictable", "conservative" and "boring." Not exactly the most encouraging of characterizations as Shurmur prepares to take over a Browns' offense that has been called worse.
However, the reference to Rams' head coach Steve Spagnuolo as "control freakish" should lend some more insight into Shurmur' potential. Much like Daboll, Shurmur was handcuffed by a rash of injuries, a limited amount of offensive talent and an overly conservative team approach in St. Louis.
And speaking of things all too familiar to the Browns….
Interestingly, veteran Dallas Morning News reporter Rick Gosselin -- one of the most respected NFL scribes in the country -- ranked Shurmur as the second-best assistant coach in the league in 2010. That ranking took into account all the limitations he dealt with.
Nonetheless, fans believe Shurmur is a moron. By failing to demand his dismissal, I became an accomplice to his alleged crimes.
Depending on the source of Rams' analysis, Shurmur is either a solid offensive mind or a complete idiot. Naturally, the fan view doesn't leave much wiggle room. Considering that fans target either quarterback play or an offensive coordinator's play calling when an offense struggles, this view makes perfect sense. Here, St. Louis fans are not sad to see Shurmur go.
But then again, these same fans may be a bit spoiled….
Whatever the outcome, I don't see Shurmur's departure sounding any sort of death knell for the Rams and their developing offense. He seemed to do a nice job working with a rookie quarterback this year, but it isn't as if Shurmur is some sort of Mike Martz-like offensive genius. The lack of creativity by the Rams on offense this year had more to do with inexperience and a lack of talent on the field than it did a coaching preference, but even given better talent, Shurmur's offense isn't going to be the reincarnation of the Greatest Show on Turf.
In terms of an immediate comparison, Shurmur was fighting an uphill battle. Considering that St. Louis fans were treated to a half decade of the league's most dynamic offense – think Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt – anything less than the "Greatest Show on Turf" was nothing short of an insult.
Of course, in Cleveland – such memories of an efficient, fun offense have to time warp back into the late 1980's teams led by Bernie Kosar. Let's just concede that in taking the Browns' job, Shurmur knows how to pick his spots.
Speaking of quarterbacks, the most repeated sentiment regarding Shurmur is his development of rookie Sam Bradford….
And make no mistake, Shurmur did an excellent job in fast-tracking Bradford as a rookie starter. You can criticize some of the play-calling, as I have. But that doesn't diminish Shurmur's effectiveness in acclimating Bradford to the NFL. And Bradford and Shurmur bonded. They had a close working relationship. You may not like Shurmur, but it would be petty to deny his valuable role in getting Bradford ready.
As it relates to the Browns, it looks like Shurmur will get a chance to again demonstrate his ability to tutor a young quarterback. Perhaps this is the biggest selling point in hiring Shurmur, as it's becoming evident that part of Holmgren's master plan was to link Colt McCoy to an offensive-minded head coach. Now that the quarterback and head coach are seemingly in place, Holmgren's upcoming moves during the offseason should further cement his process in Cleveland.
But then again – "process" is a dirty word in Cleveland. Does anyone else hear that "ticking" sound?
He's on the clock more quickly than the rest because of several factors.
The Browns aren't in disarray as they were in previous regime changes, for one.
Even Mangini critics must admit he put important building blocks in place. The second consecutive 5-11 record didn't show it, but anyone trying to be the least bit fair would agree the Browns made improvements against a difficult schedule.
So Shurmur will have to show the change was absolutely necessary, and that can't be done with another 5-11 or 6-10 season.
Obviously, Shurmur will face the same legions of critics that howled at the previous four Browns' head coaches. Just like any other NFL fan base, Browns' followers both deserve and demand some type of overall improvement. And of course, here the clock has already begun ticking.
However, the idea of "change" is a bit of a misnomer. To simply contrast Shurmur with Mangini is misguided. In so many respects, Shurmur is not replacing Mangini – but rather he is taking a key spot within an organization now controlled by Holmgren. While this difference could be construed as a matter of semantics, Shurmur was chosen for the position based on his familiarity and experience within a Holmgren-style of coaching – rather than his overall NFL track record.
Unlike Mangini, who had to institute a much-needed overall change in culture, Shurmur is being cast in a position that will have the overwhelming support of everyone in Holmgren's organization.
In this sense, the "change" was made not in the past couple days, but rather a year ago when Holmgren became Team President.
So, to get back to the original question regarding just who Shurmur is – he is simply Holmgren's hand-picked coach. While the St. Louis fan base is overjoyed at his departure and the St. Louis media is a bit conflicted, the question may not prove all that significant.
In the end, Shurmur's success or failure as a head coach in Cleveland will only prove to be a validation of Holmgren.