When he wasn’t interrupting would-be inquiries from the in-attendance media members following his team’s recent 41-27 loss at the hands of the New York Giants, Cleveland Browns head coach Pat Shurmur was offering responses which floated back and forth between non-answers and downright condescension. Fielding questions regarding his in-game decision making, many of which were specific to the third-and-one call which led to a three-minute implosion, Shurmur came to the podium with a chip on his shoulder and proceeded to bite the feeding hand, one reply at a time.
Shurmur questioned back when one reporter mentioned running back Trent Richardson being on the sidelines during the highly scrutinized call, barking “Are we sure about that?” prior to offering any semblance of an answer. Calling some questions “redundant,” the second-year head coach then went on a bit of a tirade about media members “writing furiously,” as if they’re not advised to document his we-have-to-go-back-and-watch-the-tape replies.
“I know we all need something to talk about,” quipped Shurmur. “Right? Right?”
What was once considered a “no-nonsense” approach has taken an abrupt turn toward abrasive, unpleasant and, at times, extremely unprofessional. Even worse, it’s merely another rung in the nightmare ladder that has been Cleveland Browns public relations over the course of the last two seasons.
A loss on the field can be caused by a multitude of items; talent, play-calling, execution and luck are just a few ingredients used to cook up a winner. The PR battle, however, doesn’t require a high-end 40-time. It doesn’t hinge on shuttle drills or standing broad jumps; no route-running abilities, no arm strength and certainly no ball security needed. All that’s required is an understanding and a willingness to comply. The media, by and large, is the team’s connection to the fans of this great city. The Browns can have all of the Instagram and Facebook accounts they’d like — with a PR staff that lacks in transparency and accommodation, and a head coach who continues to speak ill towards anyone who dare question him, the wedge between the fan base and this franchise will only continue to grow wider.
To borrow a phrase from The Who, “Jimmy, can you hear me?”
Prior to this NFL season, no team in Cleveland has lost more games on a percentage basis than the Cleveland Cavaliers. Yet, when compared to their baseball and football brethren, it is no surprise that the Wine and Gold has the fewest PR issues of any team in the town: their owner, general manager and head coach make in-person appearances at team events as well as on the television and radio (as opposed to phoning it in, irony and all), and their communications staff continues to be affable and accommodating, often replying to any inquiries within minutes, some times by phone. They provide unheralded access to media and fans1 alike, and, perhaps most important from a fan perspective, any issues that occur off of the court are addressed immediately be they of injury or personal matter.
The Indians, for all they do wrong, are continually prompt with press releases — including the recent hiring of Terry Francona despite post-season rules that are in place to hinder such — and the front office is always accessible, never hiding in times of tribulation.
This past Friday, however, Trent Richardson — a player who has had multiple knee operations in the last 12 months — was not on the practice field, sending the city into a chaotic whirlwind of speculation, what with their next contest being 48 hours away. Rather than immediately sending a press release to explain that their rookie running back was home, enjoying the birth of his third child — or even limiting the transmission to “personal matter that will still allow him to play on Sunday” — the Browns chose to handle it as poorly as any incident in the last two years2.
Not only did they wait until after the practice to address the running back’s status, they forced their head coach to take to the podium and field nine consecutive questions regarding the third-overall pick; the team even went as far as to allegedly call members of a local radio station to urge them to broadcast in a calming manner3. All issues which could have been completely avoided had they just been proactive and transparent. It’s the information age. If the information isn’t provided, and at a pace that is adequate for a viral fan base, speculation will take over for better or worse. And has been the case for most items with regard to the Cleveland Browns, it has undoubtedly been for worse.
Rather than controlling the controllable, those in Berea choose to let said speculation and questioning run rampant, and then become defensive and offended once it does. Eye rolls and all.
There is an entitlement that is inherent within the NFL; a billion-dollar industry that is, at it’s biggest of pictures, beloved by millions of Americans. But when one drills down to a micro, team-by-team level, it’s apparent that the Browns feel that they owe nothing to anyone, including those who continue to file into Cleveland Browns Stadium every Sunday afternoon. With the advent of the championship-winning Bill Belichick and his aversion to the media, it appears that head coaches feel that they too can act with complete disregard when they field questions following games, be they wins or losses. This tune has been carried on throughout the league and can be seen in other coaches like Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin and New York’s Tom Coughlin.
Belichick, Tomlin and Coughlin, however, have won multiple rings. Just like The Who got to trash hotel rooms by the dozen when they were at their pinnacle, the Brit Rock legends worked their way to that level of fame. The Browns are neither (no longer) headed by Belichick, winning football games, nor are they at the level of The Who.
The Who have at least been to a Super Bowl.
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)