The Trip to Destination Shurmur

As Browns fans, we are certainly a reactionary bunch, aren’t we?  No sooner was Pat Shurmur hired that segments of the population were suspicious, irate, enraged, confused, or inconsolable.   I guess I should get used to it, but I remain surprised every time the Browns do anything at the wide-ranging emotions that are unnecessarily flung about.  Of course in Browns town you might as well throw in a bit of conspiracy theory to boot.  That’s right, a conspiracy theory was hatched with the vigor and energy of Oliver Stone a half a bottle of vodka in at a party of 9/11 “truthers.”

Bob Lamonte runs everything in the Browns’ organization now, according to some.  Instead of just a raise of the eyebrows and a couple of question marks about the connection between all these guys, a full-blown campaign against “nepotism” and “cronyism” has been hatched around the internet and on Cleveland sports talk radio.

You do all realize that this is supposed to be fun, right?  It is supposed to be a wholly welcomed distraction from politics, and other real news.

First of all, nepotism is the way of the world in football.  Nepotism is the reason that many of you are so beside yourselves that Clay Matthews III is playing in Green Bay.  Nepotism is the reason that many of you have taken this thought and turned it into some kind of negative slam of Alex Mack, who has played great in Cleveland so far.  So the Clay Matthews example should teach us that nepotism isn’t necessarily a bad thing when the candidate is qualified for the job.

Pat Shurmur is a football coach who has most recently been an offensive coordinator for two years.  That makes him a reasonable candidate for an NFL head coaching job, does it not?  Yet some of you act like the Browns hired a guy who wasn’t on the precipice of his promotion.  As Clay Matthews teaches us, as long as a candidate is qualified for the job first, there probably isn’t any harm in some nepotism.

Obviously, you would like to think that there is more to it than that.  I want to think that Shurmur had the best interview out of the three candidates that Holmgren talked to (not including Jon Gruden and Bill Cowher.)

And what of the smallish number of candidates that Holmgren interviewed?  Holmgren said he was going to look high and low for the next coach of the Browns.  Then he only interviewed three guys.  I know why this sets off alarms for most of you.  When Randy Lerner conducted his “search” that resulted in hiring Eric Mangini, none of us were satisfied with the process as Mangini was snapped up a mere week after being fired by the Jets.  The reason though, is because Randy Lerner needed to do a lot more research before making a head coaching hire.  In fact, I think most of you would agree that Randy Lerner wasn’t qualified to make that hire at all.

Mike Holmgren on the other hand doesn’t need to do as much legwork to narrow the candidates down.  Do you think Holmgren really needs to interview John Fox?  Holmgren hasn’t been off on the other side of the planet watching soccer.  He was hired to be the man in Cleveland because of his tenure in the NFL and his knowledge of the landscape.  Would I have maybe liked to see him interview a few more people?  Sure.  I just don’t understand the jump from zero to sixty that so many of you seem to do because Holmgren didn’t.

It is true that we feel like we all own the team.  Without us, the Browns wouldn’t exist.  I get that.  Still, though, many of you treat the Browns like it is a public office that we elected.  You expect transparency and try to apply the same kinds of ideals to the team that we would to a municipality.  Many of you use the same language against the Browns that you would against a city that awarded a host of “no-bid” contracts.

Will Pat Shurmur be a good NFL head coach?  I sure hope so, but I don’t know yet.  I have concerns to, but not many conclusions yet.  I am concerned about the fact that he will be calling his own plays.  I am concerned at how that will limit the Browns’ ability to get a first-rate offensive coordinator on staff.  I am concerned about who will eventually be the defensive coordinator, and I am concerned with the future of current special teams coach Brad Seely.  So, it isn’t like I am one of those guys that says “IN HOLMGREN WE TRUST” and give them a free pass.

Let’s just all take a step back.  I care about all this stuff too.  I just want a bit of perspective.  I don’t think the Browns are above criticism.  Far from it.  I just don’t know why we have to jump straight into the criticism phase even before the first question is asked.

  • humboldt

    “the wide-ranging emotions that are unnecessarily flung about” – isn’t that what pro sports are all about Craig?

  • Chris M

    There are a couple of reasons why fans and media are incensed and questioning the move, and I don’t think any of them are unreasonable.

    1) After promising an “exhaustive coaching search”, Holmgren hires the first guy he interviews, and he did so before the playoffs were even close to being over. God forbid they should interview a couple coordinators who were recently in the playoffs. Mularkey of course was, but he didn’t appear to be a serious candidate.

    2) The first guy he interviewed (who was subsequently hired) is the son of a guy who coached for him in the 90’s. Who also happens to share the same agent as Holmgren, and Holmgren claimed that he did not know that they shared representation. I, for one, don’t buy that for a moment.

    3) There are now 3 head coaches on the Browns payroll. No real need to explain this any further.

    I honestly believe that these are legitimate concerns. Are people a little more fired up about it than they should be? Maybe. But with the way things have been going around here, isn’t it at least partially understandable?

    I think Shurmur should get a fair shake, but the whole process with which he was hired stinks to a lot of people, especially in a region as filled with corruption as Northeastern Ohio is. I’m not saying it’s right or it’s wrong, it just is.

  • Mark

    Craig, you fell victim to one of the classic blunders – the most famous of which is “never get involved in a land war in Asia” – but only slightly less well-known is this: “never get into an argument with Frowns about the irrational.” It’s pointless. Best just to pop in to Crazyville every once in a while to get a lay of the land, then get out. If you visit too long or get involved in the discussion, you are done for. You can’t win. Better to view it as performance art.

  • Omega King

    I remember that I made a comment on the connection after the new broke – but more as an interesting aside than to point out an unfolding plot line. I think the point of this article is mostly right – even if there was some degree of favoritism here, it doesn’t mean that Shurmur will be a bad hire, or an undeserving candidate.

  • Du

    Thank you Craig.

    On the way to Alpine Valley Saturday (no, didn’t get stuck on the lift), I was listening to Goldhammer spew at the mouth about nepotism. Yet, AG presented very few other legitimate arguments against Shurmur being hired.

    Yes, he is unproven – So was Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh

    Yes, it is true that the Rams were not in the playoffs – Romeo Crennel was the hot coordinator a few years ago. How’d that work out for us? (Same goes for Charlie Weiss).

    Finally, @Chris M – Holmgren promised a wide search. Just because it was completed in about two weeks does not mean it was not a wide search. I would venture to say that Holmgren has been doing his search since last season.

  • Garry Owen

    Good article. Let’s get a little perspective: If you really want to have righteous indignation about nepotism, spend 5 minutes (maybe less) studying North Korea. Now there’s something to get emotional about. Besides, deep down, isn’t the “hope” of nepotism exactly why we were all so thrilled with the Holmgren hiring? I would have loved to see Mangini stay, but I guess I’m ready to hop on this train of nepotism if the final destination in Super Bowl land. At least Holmgren’s not starving us to death and sending us to concentration camps. Yet.

  • Sean

    EXCELLENT post. In the absence of winning and greatness, negativity and conspiracy rule.

  • Cleveland Frowns

    Mark’s right about artistic masterpieces and pretending like there could be losers when people ask reasonable questions. Thanks, Mark.

    I’ll just add:

    1) The Browns are in fact a public trust, and you don’t do Cleveland or humanity any favors by suggesting otherwise.

    2) The genetics of the Matthews family has no reasonable place in this discussion. Any moron can watch the games and see that the younger Matthews can play. Evaluating coaches is different in a million ways.

    3) The Plain Dealer ran a front page headline story today about Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Bill Mason handing out jobs to his daughter, and other friends and family members. Should they have not bothered?

    4) You’re overstating the case, anyway. Nobody’s saying Holmgren’s decision can’t work out or that Shurmur won’t be great. It’s just that the process raises eyebrows, and certainly doesn’t inspire confidence in open-minded decisionmaking and dynamic leadership.

    5) Most importantly, you completely omit the fact that the Shurmur hire comes on the heels of what many view as a questionable decision to fire a coach who looked like the first Browns coach since ’99 to be building a team that Cleveland could be proud of. That context is highly relevant. To say folks “shouldn’t jump straight into criticizing Shurmur” misses the point that nobody’s really criticizing Shurmur. What they’re criticizing is the decisionmakers or a decisionmaking process that led to the decision to dump Mangini in the first place. At some level the two can’t be separated. So, if you grant that, what’s really the point of this post?

  • Garry Owen


  • Chris M

    I think everyone should defer their opinions until Mark makes his known. That way we can all agree with him, not get called “crazy”, and avoid any thoughtful discussions about anything.

    The funny thing is, if anyone utters anything except “In Holmgren we trust”, this is what they are met with.

    It is possible to disagree or question the thoroughness or process with which the Browns went about hiring a coach, and still be willing to give Shurmur a chance.

  • Cleveland Frowns

    Chin up, Chris. It’s just a fact of life that the majority of people don’t like asking hard questions. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong to ask them.

  • Garry Owen

    If you could travel faster than the speed of light, could you also watch yourself arrive?

  • Cleveland Frowns

    If you’re an insect that sees with its antennae, then the answer is probably yes.

  • Craig Lyndall


    1) No. The move to Baltimore in fact proves that the Browns are far from a public trust. Pretending that it is probably does harm to the Browns fanbase by giving unreasonable expectations. Isn’t thinking of the Browns as a public trust exactly what empowered Dawg Pound Mike in his charade a year ago?

    2) Football families produce football people. The Matthews example is to prove to Browns fans that they do in fact favor nepotism, at least selectively. So it does have a place. The Ryan brothers are another example of why you are wrong though.

    3) This is an ACTUAL story because citizenry is paying the salaries, not Randy Lerner. Part of the problem with the nepotism and cronyism argument is that it is conflation of the Browns with the government and politics. Stop doing that.

    4) I don’t think I am. I think a lot of this article was fueled by sports talk radio this weekend.

    5) I did omit it, because that is a valid criticism should you want to make it. I was only talking about what I view to be invalid criticisms, or overstated criticisms. If that is what you want to say, then fine.

    When people (not necessarily you) get all into a lather talking about Mangini, and hiring processes, and Bob LaMonte and everything else all without taking a breath it is just as dumb as simply saying “In Holmgren we trust.”

  • Cleveland Frowns

    Appreciate that. Especially 3, 4, 5, and the summary. Thanks.

    Re: 1), It’s understood that the Browns are technically different from the government, but my point is that we’d all be better off if we treated them as more the same. Failing to recognize that the Browns are, in fact, a public trust is what’s keeping Modell out of the Hall of Fame. The fact that they really are is also why he wasn’t allowed to keep the team name, colors, history. And you’re right, it also helped Dawg Pound Mike pull off his stunt. I’d argue that the stunt would have been harder to pull off if the “Browns as public trust” model was more fully embraced.

    On 2), I just think players are a lot different than coaches. Also, the Ryans are vastly overrated, of course. :-O

  • Mark

    Sorry if I offended anyone with my comment. I really meant for it to come off with a laugh but I guess I missed. Oh well.

    I have no problems with questions if I believe you are genuinely looking for answers. Given the reaction of the “oh my god, what did Holmgren do” crowd, I have my doubts.

    I think a lot of this is pointless. Holmgren isn’t going to give you the answers you want so we will just have to wait and see how Shurmur and the Browns perform next season. Only then will we be able to tell if Holmgren’s methods produced what we all want. To me, all the rest of this hand wringing is pointless.

  • bobby

    In regards to the timeliness of the hire, I think people are overreacting. Other then Denver, who else had a hire after them?

    Also, I think its safe to assume that Holmgren, whether right or wrong in doing so, had started to contact people before the actual firing. To piggy back that, I think every coach/ GM/ Pres or VP of FB Ops has a list of coaches, or personnel people that they have worked with, heard about, or whatever that they keep their eye on. So I just dont buy that Holmgren didnt do his HW before making this hire. I believe him in saying they got a list of 10 then took it down to 3. Would anyone feel better if he interviewed 10 guys and Shurmur was hired? As for Mularkey, the reports were he was preoccupied and didnt really click with the FO.

    Now you can argue that Mangini should not have been fired. I would argue there are plenty reasons. 5-11 record in consecutive years to name 1. Its funny to talk about the FOs decision making and not look at Mangini’s in his work in cleveland. How many games could he have won if he had made better, or sometimes it would seem and decision on the field? And I don’t understand how one cannot grasp that Mangini and the FO (H&H) have fundamental differences in the way they picture a football team. basic ones and 34 to 43 D. WCO to whatever we had last year (I think it was some sort of morphed attempt at power and WCO). But even down to the type of player. Mangini liked size over speed. He thought a 34 D was about power as opposed to speed. Looking at Holmgren’s and especially Heckert’s past teams I think shows a difference in the type of player they look for. I just dont think Mangini and H&H were on the same page and he was doomed.

  • Anthony

    I too had to listen to Goldhammer this weekend talk about how that Browns were just using nepotism and how the Broncos hire of Fox is the best thing in the world.

    But I tend to take the opinion against anything AG has to say. So if this hire is nepotism then sign me up.

  • Chris M

    @ #17 – “And I don’t understand how one cannot grasp that Mangini and the FO (H&H) have fundamental differences in the way they picture a football team.”

    Holmgren coming out and directly saying that he isn’t opposed to working through these fundamental differences may having something to do with that.

    Now that we can watch Daboll in Miami as he just got scooped up, we can probably tell next season whether it was the playcalling or the personnel.

  • MattyFos

    “As Browns fans, we are certainly a reactionary bunch, aren’t we?”

    I like to call Cleveland fans fickle. We are a fickle breed. I’m actually surprised that some people have started a conspiracy saying “Holmgren is intentionally setting this team up for failure so he can jump ship to coach another team and not have to worry about Cleveland for 5+ years!!!!!!!!11!1”

  • bobby

    And he did work with that for a year. Did it turn our good results? thought so.

  • CollisionBend

    Ugh. I just want the Browns to change their uniforms back to what they were before The Departure – I think they looked a lot better then than they do now.


  • Chris M

    @ #21 – The moral of your story? Every coach gets 1 year to win the Super Bowl.

  • Tommy

    The idea that Holmgren would hire someone that he didn’t believe would succeed is ridiculous. Even if he hired someone that he thought was more easily controlled, therefore giving him the ability to scratch his coaching itch without actually becoming a head coach, he still believes this will allow the team to succeed, which is all that matters.

    Just by looking at Shurmur’s resume, there is no doubt that the hire is most likely based on familiarity (whether it technically qualifies as nepotism or “cronyism” doesn’t really matter), since the rest of the league was not exactly proclaiming him as the next young stud head coach and he didn’t show up on any other lists of candidates for HC vacancies (at least that I’ve heard).

    So as with any case of hiring/drafting/choosing based on familiarity it can be 1 of 2 cases as I see it:

    1) Familiarity and fondness breeds bias and the decision is made based on these emotions rather than an objective and thorough analysis of all potential candidates. Important to note that the hire is not made as a “favor”. The candidate is truly believed to be an outstanding candidate and the individual making the decision does not see the bias. (See: Browns fans who put Buckeyes at the top of all their draft wish lists, or fantasy players who draft their favorite teams’ players way before they should)

    2) Familiarity allows the hirer to see value where others do not based on the candidates public resume and other measureables.

    Anytime you have to make a decision involving a person/thing you are more familiar with than the others, it is very difficult to eliminate bias. Sometimes, you can even harm the decision making process in the opposite direction by being too concerned with the familiarity bias dilemma and overcompensating.

    Here’s to hoping this hire was made based a lot more on #2 than #1.

  • Andrew

    I couldn’t agree more. Most Browns fans are a little dumb and a lot crazy. Nice piece, well done.

  • Cleveland Frowns

    I think Tommy is right on here. Good stuff.

  • Tikihat

    @ Frowns:
    1. In Fact the Cleveland Browns are a Privately Held Entertainment Company. They are most specifically not a public trust in any form.
    2. When discussing nepotism, genetics certainly come in to play. But the whole nepotism argument is flawed when arguers press for other members of the Holmgren Coaching Tree.
    3. Unlike a County Prosecutor, the position of Browns President is NOT an elected position.
    4. Holmgren was not hired to bring open-mindedness to his position. Lerner had plenty of open-mindedness. He was hired to bring his experience and knowledge to the Browns Front Office.
    5. This is a good point. After so many years of miserable football, many of us(and I include myself here) were willing to settle for just better football. Mangini’s team showed improvement. One more year and we could see better football. However this overlooks something that Holmgren addressed after letting Mangini go. He said he was hired in order to bring a Championship to this city, and he wasn’t going to settle. Holmgren, applying his knowledge and experience, decided that Eric Mangini couldn’t bring a Championship to Cleveland. Therefore, he needed to go.

  • Chris

    Thank you Tommy. I’ve been searching for the words to say what you just did. All the conspiracy theories being bandied about are based on the unspoken presumption that Holmgren is acting for solely selfish purposes and not worried at all about getting the Browns going as a playoff caliber franchise.

    I find that presumption absurd.

  • Harv 21

    Only 3 interviews? Should have had 6 – no, make that 7- to qualify as an adequate search, and taken two -no, three more weeks. Same agent? Yep, Holms must owe him something, not vice versa like the story goes. No Gruden, no Fox? Holms’s ego requires a guy he knows will come a-knockin’ on his door and remind him how great he is. It’s all bad, gotta be.

    We try to make ourselves the most despicable of them all, a football version of Red Sox Fan circa 2003, loving and proclaiming his pathetictude. Probably be best if the FO has as few local ties as possible, to ward off woe-is-me infection. Too long here and they’ll be quoting The Boss: It’s a town full of losers and I’m pulling out of here to win.

    I’m with Craig on this one.

  • The Needle

    What Tommy said IS what Frowns and indeed those who view the situation as he does have been saying. It is nepotism/corneyism and it could go either way. Nepotism.croneyism in any context is not necessarily negative.

    Maybe Goldhammer was saying it is negative, but most of us have been saying it just is what it is for the reasons outlined by Tommy above in #24.
    I would prefer the hire not look like a clear example of nepotism or corneyism, but that does not doom it to failure.

  • ben

    fact: most Browns fans have trouble tying their shoes in the morning.

    /s/ A concerned Browns fan.

  • C-Bus Kevin

    I know this comment is coming way too late, but to those who say that “only 3” interviews is not enough for a wide search, you are being unreasonable, and you have never witnessed a hiring process.

    When you accept resumes for a position, any position at any company, you do not interview every single person. You look through those resumes and pick the 3 or 4 candidates that you feel would be the best for the job.

    Interviewing 6 or 7 candidates as Harv suggests is not a good way to find the best candidate. By interviewing that many people, you are making it difficult to remember the qualities about each candidate that you like. Sure, you can take notes as a hiring manager, but the impressions left by the candidates will start to blend together if you interview too many.

    Also, your pre-interview research can often turn up red flags that would lead you to believe that interviewing a particular candidate is a waste of time. For instance, if you talk to a former associate and find out they have a substance-abuse problem or constantly behaved poorly at the office in their previous job.

    On top of that, it is not very nice or considerate to interview a candidate that you have no intention of hiring. It wastes both the candidate and the managers time, and it gets the candidate’s hopes up for no reason.

  • ben

    @32: I read this line, “On top of that, it is not very nice or considerate to interview a candidate that you have no intention of hiring,” and chuckled to myself as I said, “Rooney Rule.”

  • C-Bus Kevin

    @ Ben…You point out the most basic conundrum created by the Rooney Rule…you end up interviewing candidates that you have no intention of hiring.

    While I think that you are correct in your belief that the logic behind the rule is flawed, I still think it is necessary. Without the Rooney Rule, coaches would likely ONLY be found through a network of “coaching trees” and other closed groups.

    I’m not saying that all GM’s and team owners are racist. I’m just saying that people tend to associate with people of similar backgrounds as themselves, and the Rooney Rule helps candidates break through that barrier.

  • Harv 21

    @ C-Bus: you misread my “6-7 interview” comment. If I used sarcasm font I’d be in hated all caps 50% of time, almost Denny-esque. I agree with you.