A year older, a year wiser and giving just as much — if not more — than he is taking, Cleveland Browns head coach Pat Shurmur appears to be a mentally improved version of the man who attempted to construct an entire make-over on a limited budget within a limited amount of time just one season earlier.
He takes in training camp from the same spots on the practice field. He wears the same practice field uniform; Pat typically opts for the khaki pants which house a tucked in team polo or long-sleeve t-shirt. He still focuses primarily on the offensive side of the ball, allowing the veteran coordinators to fine tune the defensive players. While play calling and clock management within the regular season remains to be seen, the coach’s demeanor, both with his team and with members of the media, is noticeably different.
As Joe Haden, easily one of the team’s most talented players, stomped off of the practice field on Wednesday afternoon, despite there being roughly 30 minutes of practice remaining, the rumor mill immediately began to swirl. Was his eviction related to the Adderall incident that continues to teeter in NFL limbo? Did he get injured? Neither. He was verbally reprimanded for being too aggressive while practicing in shells, had what is being dubbed a “heated exchange” with his head coach and was promptly shown the giant garage door that separates the field from the team’s training facility as four-letter words echoed through Berea.
Similar to the formal handshakes once shared by linebackers Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong, Shurmur appears to be Strictly Business. He’s trading in city where the baseball team has lost 21 of their last 25 games, forcing the manager to essentially fall on the sword. He’s employed by a team that has just been sold to a new owner, rendering his own future just as uncertain as many of his colleagues.
The Holmgren disciple descended upon Cleveland, replacing a no-nonsense head coach in Eric Mangini, a man who turned the practice fields into a large track wherein mistake makers would be forced to run laps around their practicing teammates. This was a stark contrast to Mangini’s predecessor in Romeo Crennel, who was frequently criticized for his country club-like atmosphere. Shurmur admits that he spent most of last season getting a feel for everything, including but not limited to the city, the duties of a head coach and the 53 personalities which permeated his roster1 Having a full summer with his team, the second-year play-caller thanks more allotted time together (despite no two-a-days) for his growth when it comes to the psychological aspects of his job.
But this demeanor extends well beyond the practice field as Shumur’s verbal quips have made frequent appearances in the media tent following the day’s festivities. Whether it has been defending his quarterback after a nine-pass preseason outing or the toughness of a fourth-round draft pick catching passes in the middle of the field, slamming the microblogging site Twitter, or squashing the narrative-based twisting of statistics, Pat Shurmur has shown a side that was not present in a 2011 full of overused football speak, war-based cliches2 and circular logic.
Last week, when asked if rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden would be able to “bounce back” from a “less than great” first preseason game (talk about a pre-written column), Shurmur fired back with a non-answer shrouded in a hypothetical.
“I don’t know,” said Shurmur. “You guys are painting his performance as less than whatever number one. Number two, I think he’s a very resilient guy so when he has a bad play, or two or a bad series or two, I see him bounce back extremely well.”
Multiple times, when addressing questions about Weeden, Shurmur has, and rightfully so, entertained a tone which borders on patronization, stopping just shy of using air quotes when re-using words which were crow-barred into the initial question. Earlier this week, with a reporter who was obviously working on a column about the wiry size of rookie wide receiver Travis Benjamin, Shurmur interrupted an initial question which was phrased as if the team had drafted the Miami product despite internal concern about his liberally listed 5-foot-10-inch, 170-pound frame3.
“Who was concerned?” Shurmur quickly quipped. It was not until the questioner stammered a bit and said, “um…well, people” that the head coach continued on with a half smirk, ensuring that everyone else in the tent knew how he felt about the narrative-based question that had been lobbed his way4.
“I think he has come out and done the things you need to do as a receiver,” Shurmur stated. “He’s naturally very fast. He’s displayed an ability to run good routes. He catches the ball, and what I’ve seen him do is catch the ball in traffic. I don’t know who was concerned, but whoever they were, you can let them know, he’s making good progress.”
One can only imagine the inherent frustration in the line of questioning, especially since it wasn’t long before that another reporter referenced the current injured status of prize first-round draft pick Trent Richardson as a “silver lining,” pertaining to the increased snaps provided to reserve running back Montario Hardesty5. For a split second, it appeared as if Shurmur’s eyebrows were going to jump right off of his head due to the speed of the abrupt raise they had received.
Had Shurmur possessed the youthful swagger of one Bryce Harper, a handful of voice-recording bros would have undoubtedly been made aware of their clown questions.
Such is the life, however, of a second-year head coach who certainly experienced his fair share of rookie mistakes. Questionable play-calling mixed with questionable and often times robotic answers to critical questions surrounding in-game decisions, generally leading to the coach backing himself into a bit of a corner, forced to use cliches as a means to step into the proverbial clear. The Cleveland Browns are the meal ticket for a lot of media outlets, be they television, radio, in print or on the web; with the vast number of individuals covering the team at any given time, the demand for stories can tend to far outweigh the supply.
The Browns, this season alone, have already provided a slew of stories that have written themselves — injuries to integral players, pending suspensions, and a billion-dollar transaction involving the swapping of majority ownership rights, just to name a few. Nipping the Joe Haden situation in the bud, Shurmur refused to discuss it in detail following practice, claiming immense respect for the player and saying that his only regret was rooted in the language in which fans in attendance undoubtedly heard. In reprimanding Haden, Shurmur showed not only the defensive back, but the other 89 men in Browns training camp that he is no longer a rookie head coach in over his head. He may not be forcing players to run laps, but discipline is not merely a request.
And for the media members asking follow-up questions on a matter which they had already been told would not be addressed?
“If you want details,” said Shumur, “you’re going to have to find them on Twitter.”
Photo: Craig Lyndall/WFNY
- His pre-season media rounds emphasized such. While not focusing on the past, Shurmur would tell anyone who would listen that a full off-season is of the utmost importance. [↩]
- Battling, for starters. [↩]
- Seriously, do any other cities troll their home teams with the same frequency as Cleveland? New York? Maybe? [↩]
- The individual would later say that it was “a friend.” [↩]
- You know, because a third-overall draft pick being injured before a single in-game down is a good thing. [↩]