August 26, 2014

No magic number of wins for Pat Shurmur’s future with the Browns

To put yesterday’s 23-point victory in perspective, last year the Browns won all four games by a total of 16 points.1 In addition to that, the Browns put out a stat today that Rick also mentioned earlier about how many rookie starts the Browns have this season: The Browns lead the league with 72 with the Colts trailing a distant second with 44. This young team is wholly different than the one that was here a year ago and now that they’ve finally started winning some games it’s much easier to see just how different they are than when they were piling up losses.

That’s where most of the anti-Pat Shurmur sentiment emanated from this season.

While I think most people agreed that the team was more talented and more equipped to compete, that made it all the more frustrating as the team collected five straight losses to start the year. If the fans see a more talented team on the field and it still can’t seem to get over the hump, who else are they going to blame but the coach? And now that they have started winning some games, what does that mean for Pat Shurmur and his future? It’s a complicated question, but my answer is that it probably doesn’t mean much, I wouldn’t think. I think it’s too complicated for just an up or down vote.

Let’s just get this out of the way first. I am elated to see the Browns win. I wouldn’t have it any other way on Sundays if given the option. That being said, I never buried Shurmur based on losses alone, and I can’t protect him artificially because the team is finally winning some games. I’ve often said in other sports that winning under Mike Brown and Eric Wedge actually probably hurt their respective franchises because they became “un-fire-able” with the team records, regardless of what eventually came to light and resulted in their respective dismissals. My point is that sometimes a winning coach deserves to be fired and a losing coach deserves to stay. Winning three games in a row and five out of the last eight2 isn’t the end of the discussion for decision-makers like Joe Banner, I wouldn’t imagine.

I won’t split hairs and tell you that the Browns could have or should have won games by more points because I don’t think you can scientifically or mathematically prove these things. What I will say though is that the body of work and the overall portfolio still leaves me wondering if the Browns couldn’t do better in terms of their head coaching.

Some will say maybe we should just trust the players and take their lead. It doesn’t appear in any way, shape or form that they’ve given up on Pat Shurmur. They’re still out there doing everything they can to win on a weekly basis. Additionally, it’s impossible to ignore the development of Josh Gordon and Greg Little so far this season and exclude Pat Shurmur from the equation. I’m never a black and white kind of guy where something has to be all good or all bad. I’d be crazy to think there aren’t shades of gray especially with an all-encompassing job like NFL head coach.

Still, I find myself thinking about what Joe Banner has to consider this off-season. He has to decide if the young team is developing and improving, and I think the answer is obvious that it is indeed. If it is improving, how fast? Does he think that the Browns are a playoff contender next season? Let’s think of it like a Madden rating. Let’s say the Browns ended last year at a 60 and now find themselves with a team rating of about 70 on their way to 75. Pat Shurmur is responsible for the 10-15 points in improvement somewhat, but given the replacement head coaches available on the market, could that 75 be an 80? And even past the development curve analysis, if the Browns do make the playoffs, does Pat Shurmur give them the best chance to advance and eventually win a Super Bowl?

So when we talk about how many wins Pat Shurmur “needs” to keep his job, I get a little bit frustrated. This would assume that Pat Shurmur could win out, and public support for him would be so high that there was no way that Joe Banner could make a move and find a different head coach. This assumes a set of “rules” in the decision-making process that I just don’t think exist in reality.

I haven’t met Joe Banner and I’ve only read articles about him at this point, but I don’t get the sense that fan opinion polls – let alone another Dawg Pound Mike – could ever stop him from doing what he thinks is best to push the Browns to their highest possible level. To think that an extra three wins over the Redskins, Broncos and Steelers would make him think that sticking with Pat Shurmur is preferable to specific coaching option A, B, C sitting on his scouting sheet is ludicrous I think. Much like the Browns had a quarterback on the roster in Colt McCoy and felt free to go ahead and draft Brandon Weeden, I just don’t think a winning streak is going to trump what Banner thinks he knows about who is absolutely best to be the head coach next season.

Obviously this encompasses a lot of moving parts like who might be available for the job and if Banner thinks his team truly is on the precipice. Still, when they say they will evaluate everyone and everything at year end, I fully expect them to reflect on not just what happened but where they think Shurmur’s capabilities project going forward. He certainly doesn’t hurt his case by winning games down the stretch, but to think he’ll automatically trump other available coaching candidates who might be available because he won three extra games to end a season seems a bit simplistic.

If Joe Banner thinks this team is ready to challenge for the playoffs in 2013 and he has doubts about Shurmur, you can’t think he’d be willing to waste an opportunity in the playoffs in his first full year as CEO of the Cleveland Browns because Pat Shurmur was able to finally win some games and sway fan sentiment. Banner knows how that sentiment is driven. It’s driven with wins, and I can’t imagine him doing anything to compromise winning next season even if it means he has to fire a coach on a six game winning streak who could potentially even sneak into the playoffs if the sun and moon align properly.

In the end, and as always, we’ll see. I just don’t think there’s any sense in talking about magical, pretend formulas that dictate behavior. If there were magical formulas, there’s no way we’d still be talking about the Browns potentially replacing Tom Heckert, right?

___________________________________________________

Footnotes:

  1. Indy 8, MIA 1, SEA 3, JAX 4 []
  2. or five out of the last ten if you like numbers based on ten []
  • mgbode

    I agree there is no magic number of wins. Though 3-3 in the division could certainly help state his case.

    The categories that I suspect Banner/Haslam will weigh when it comes to Shurmur:

    1. Philosophy – do we agree with the organizational philosophy as demonstrated by the current coaching staff? this includes offense(WCO), defense(4-3), along with other more abstract items: gameday decision making (and the philosophy behind them), teaching style, practice habits, coaching direction (video study, charts used, etc.).

    2. GM Decision – do we trust Heckert? if not, then do we want a new GM to help us select a HC so that the entire organization is on the same complete page from day1?

    3. Team Direction – is the team headed in the proper direction and with enough momentum to continue moving in this path? this is the one item that will play into the W/L columns more than the others, however it is not just that. It also will look at the development of the young players and the ability to mask player deficiencies and youthful mistakes along the way.

    The problem is that none of these are quantitative terms and there are a bunch more that will lead to the answer to the second question above as well. Interesting times.

  • ThatAlex

    The interesting thing is, based on those 3 criteria you listed, I think those could all potentially fall in Shurmur’s favor. But I don’t think that makes the FO any more likely to keep him. The biggest negatives often leveled against Shurmur are his game management and play calling. I’m sure Banner wants a coach in place he can trust to lead the team for several years. The debate is whether Shurmur has what it takes to win close, tight games when the season is on the line. Especially playoff games.

  • mgbode

    game management and play-calling fall into the 1st and 3rd categories (mostly the first though). part of it is philosophy and part of it is team direction based on past results.

    I can see all 3 categories falling in his favor, I can see none of the 3 falling in his favor. They are very qualitative in assessment and we do not have much of a window into the minds of Haslam/Banner as to how they are approaching the matter.

  • JK

    I say we keep Shurmur (like I have been saying almost all year) & here’s why:

    We’re a young team starting rookies at almost every important position. There’s no denying that we have got better every week it’s also quite evident that the team plays hard for Shurmur. Hiring a coach comes with a risk that we will hire someone not fit for the job, as well as worrying about bringing in new schemes. The way I see it right now if we keep Shurmur & have another solid draft, we will be in the running to compete for a playoff spot next year. If we hire another coach, we almost fully waive the white flag for next year just to implement a new staff. There are a handful of plays that would turn this season from 5-8 to 8-5 & if that’s the case we aren’t even talking about replacing anybody. I think it’s time for everybody to chill out a little and stop demanding a new coach every two years. Let him have another year with a team that has confidence and that knows how to win.

    Also the thought of getting rid of Heckert is absolutely asinine.

  • Natedawg86

    I don’t know why some coaches don’t realize they suck at game managment, and hire someone to just sit there and tell them to call a timeout when needed. I would do it for a few K a game. I will also stand behind him and tell him increments of the play clock…20…..15!…10!9!8!7!SIX FIVE FOUR THREE CMON WHAT ARE YOU DOING! All that for 40-50K a season. I think it would be worth it for the team.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    I’m guessing Banner will look further ahead than this. You can’t worry about interrupting an 8-8 team if you don’t think the coach can be an asset in a playoff scenario, for example. Without some better access to Shurmur it’s tough to say he projects to be that guy or not.

  • Grif_E

    They could hide it behind a title like “Special Assistant to the Towel Boy.” The Towel Boy gets to put management experience on his resume; the coach saves face; team executes better; you get money; everybody wins!

  • tonton

    I think your second criteria is actually the first. If Haslam/Banner decide to fire heckert and hire a new GM there is almost a 100% chance that shurmur is gone.

    And regarding the whole piece I think what you say Craig is quite right although you always say 3 more wins but those 3 more wins mean an 8-8 season… which nobody believed was possible at the beginning of the season. And as you often say people are judged on their results and 8-8 for this team and this schedule is a hell of a result that haslam and banner will have to aknowledge. I’m not saying that shurmur is going to stay for that reason, but it would be the best reason.

    To conclude, I don’t believe that 8-8 is going to become a reality (but I hope it will) so none of this is relevant i guess

  • cmm13

    Regarding point 2 – Heckert and Shurmur.
    I can see a scenario with Tom staying and Pat being relieved of his play calling duties due to Banner and Haslam believing Pat is not using the pieces he has been given to their full strengths. (i.e. – Weeden in a no huddle to start the game, Trent and Montario together in the backfield, etc.)

    As I agree with your other two points I would also add:
    4. Candidate List – is there a pool of candidates BETTER than Pat that are interested in the job. No sense in ousting the current head coach for someone that you “hope” can improve the overall production of the team.

  • mgbode

    I certainly agree that Heckert might stay without Shurmur, but I find it hard to believe that Shurmur would stay without Heckert (and I think you agree with this assessment as well).

    great point on the candidate list. no reason to make a change unless you truly believe you can get someone better. that is now added to the list, thanks.

  • cmm13

    Agreed on not seeing a scenario with Shurmur staying and Heckert leaving.
    A new Owner/President/GM is the Ultra-Mega Combo which most certainly results in Shurmur’s FATALITY.
    ….now, FINISH HIM!

  • bridgecrosser

    Craig you are a good writer but that column about Madden ratings was completely oddball and unnecessary. I am certain of this.

    Go Browns.

  • http://twitter.com/willijjCLE Josh Williams

    The problem is, how can you prove your playoff pedigree as a 2nd year head coach with the most rookie starts in the NFL? I was totally against keeping Shurmur, but I wanted to keep him if only to have continuity for more than 2 years so that we can assess our players. Now he’s won 5 games? He can stay for two more years, but we have to keep making progress.

  • mgbode

    “how can you prove your playoff pedigree as a 2nd year head coach with the most rookie starts in the NFL?”

    by going 8-8, finishing 2nd in the division and 6th in the conference and setting up a rematch in Denver in the wild card round?

  • Ted

    I am asking an honest question here. Look at the reviews about GVart on the bbb site, thought twice about buying from them when i saw site is not secure. and i went to their twitter, many customers questioning delivery of items paid for. Are you sure gv is legit and trustworthy?

  • Henry Brown

    First of all, even without winning the last 3 games there is no way that Shurmur or Heckert should be fired at this point. Shurmur has done a fantastic job of keeping this team competitive, then winning, all season. Some of you should think back a few years to when this team was a complete dumpster fire under “big name” head coaches and then re-asses your opinions of him. If he wins the next 3, especially Denver on the road, he should be given an extension and a parade. This isn’t the same sort of winning streak as Mangini’s.

  • Harv 21

    I suspect these calculations may not be so relevant to the end of season decision.

    It’s dangerous to project our metrics for deciding whether to make a coaching change onto a guy who just paid $1x-large and his main man who has plenty of experience at this job. Our patience (or lack thereof), our expectations and our level of satisfaction are probably not the same as theirs. What struck me at the Haslam/Banner presser was the following two statements: 1) We are looking to establish true excellence at every level of the org, and 2) You won’t meet two less patient people. I don’t think they view Shurmur as an ongoing experiment a la Holmgren and Mangini. The two of them had plenty of time to conspire before the league approved the ownership move. Suspect they already have clear criteria as to what they are looking for and probably already know what they will do, whether the Browns win out, lose out or somewhere in between.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Ted, please email us at our tips address. Thanks.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    Honestly and without any snark, he could show his playoff pedigree by not wasting the first five games of the season and pretending his rookie QB was set to go without playing a single snap of preseason game #4 for example. That’s just one thing, of course and he’s had to deal with Joe haden and Phil Taylor being out, but still. Want your late-season run to mean something? Win at least one game early and it can/will.

  • C-Bus Kevin

    I appreciate your nuanced approach to the question of Shurmur’s future, but I really think it is as simple as how he finishes the year. Here’s the list of accomplishments if they win out.

    -3-3 in the division
    -season sweep of closest rival
    -defeated a scorching hot Broncos squad
    -doubled win total from previous season.

    As sports fans, we are often left parsing the most insignificant details when evaluating performance. However, I think the NFL is a results-based business. If I was the owner, I would view 8-8 as a significant improvement, and I would keep Shurmur. Anything less gets a bit tougher.

    In the end, I think the answer will be self-evident. If they finish 8-8, they’ll keep Shurmur because he improved the record of the team. If they finish 6-10 or worse, he’s gone because he did not improve the team enough.

    It’s only 7-9 where I feel like I could go either way.

  • mgbode

    i certainly hope that owner/ceo are thinking about things more than just the w/l and that has nothing to do with wanting to keep or get rid of the guys now. it’s just you have to be able to see the forest through the trees (where is that metaphor coach when i need him)

  • C-Bus Kevin

    “I think it’s time for everybody to chill out a little and stop demanding a new coach every two years.”

    Exactly. If he finishes 8-8 (or even 7-9), by what logic are you firing him? Keep the band together long enough to find out if they can write any hits. I get what Craig is saying about playoff scenarios below, but let’s crawl before we walk and walk before we run, sprint, etc.

    If the team actually finishes with a much better record than last year, you keep Shurmur. At least we won’t have to have one of those terrible conversations about ‘losing…but looking better while doing it’ or something.

    Just keep winning Pat! You can save your own job!

  • C-Bus Kevin

    For me, it’s not the win/loss record…it’s what the win/loss record means. I am saying that in three weeks, the answer will have presented itself.

    Think of it this way. If the Browns finish 8-8, we’ll have seen them sack RGIII 4 or 5 times, hold the Broncos to less than 20 points of offense and knocked the Steelers out of the playoffs in a span of three weeks to cap a 6 game winning streak. Are you firing that coach? I think not.

    On the flip side, if the opposite happens, we’ll have seen RGIII go for 300 yards passing, Manning throw 4 TDs, and the Steelers cap their “season of struggle” with a playoff spot sealing victory over the Browns. That coach? That coach is on the first train out of the station?

    You pickin’ up what I’m puttin’ down?

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    I’m not sure that you can assume three straight wins will look that good. In addition, because Shurmur’s specialty is the offense, I think they’ll be looking a little bit more closely at that than what Dick Jauron has been coordinating. Going back to my first point, I just don’t think it’s as cut and dry for this ownership group and CEO Joe Banner.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    Not the proper forum, but I’m happy to say publicly that yes they are legit and trustworthy. We’ve met these people face to face and I have every confidence that even if/when problems arise with an order or shipping they will do the right thing to try to fix it for the customer.

  • WFNY_DP

    That’s the rub: 8-8 would mean having won eight of the last 11 games. Obviously, you can’t throw out the 0-5 start, but if you’re looking at positive trends…….

  • Scotty P

    I say we keep Pat.

    Reason 1. The majority says “we are unsure still about Weedon”. Well having him in his third different offense in 3 yrs will not help his progression as an NFL player. See how many off cord Jason Campbell had during his time in Washington alone, how well did that work out for him.

    Reason 2. At some point in order for the Browns to be consistently winning they need to start being consistent. New ownership probably will want “their guys” in the front office next year, but obviously players are responding to Pat and his regime. lets ride it out at least another year.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    i almost reflexively hit dislike to this. ive been down on shurmur for quite some time. but one has to allow for the possibility of learning and improving. hell, we invested a lot in the on the job training for him, perhaps there’s a return available.

    to me, the area where i still would like to see growth is in the touchy-feely ‘maturity’ area. the snippy, defensive responses to failures stay with me and it still calls his ‘management skills’ into question.

    commenter bupalos made a good inventory of the hierarchy of browns’ needs over on frowns. (apologies for the cross-link if it breaks policy.) he makes the point that on field coaching is probably not the primary determinant in wins/losses; that stability and talent infusion are. it’s something to think about.

    color me inclined to vote against another year for shurmur but willing to listen to ‘pro’ arguments.

  • JK

    The main question is who do you replace him with?

    As well as almost all of our rookies are developing under our current staff, are you willing to risk a regression with them sending us back into the basement for at least another 2/3 years? I’m excited for another off season and Heckert led draft to put us where we need to be.

    I don’t really see why it’s so hard for everyone to see that we haven’t been winning recently because of a lack of talent. We now have players that are exciting and can actually do some things; guess what happened? We’re winning. Keep them together for cryin out loud, I don’t care if they lose the next 3 games (I’m predicting 2-1) you have to love the direction the team is going with the pieces we have, why disrupt that to send us back to potentially where we were 2 years ago?

  • Toddyus

    Toasty!

  • sealedhuman

    Cincinnati is the only decent team that we have defeated this year. Why have wins against Pittsburgh (with their 38 year old 3rd string QB taking his first snaps of the year and half of their roster missing), Oakland (3-8) and Kansas City (2-11 right after a tragic murder-suicide) changed everyone’s collective mind about Shurmur?

    I agree that Haslam and Banner will most likely decide Shurmur’s fate based on philosophy rather than record. Keeping Mangini around for an extra year was Holmgren’s worst mistake. I doubt Haslam will make the same mistake.

  • Jeremy

    I countdown the clock at home, so why not stand on the sideline and countdown the play clock for Shurmur. Also, give me the damn red flag and I’ll let you know when you can throw it…

  • sealedhuman

    Cincinnati is the only decent team that we have defeated this year. Why have wins against Pittsburgh (with their 38 year old 3rd string quarterback taking his first snaps of the year and half of their roster missing), Oakland (3-10) and Kansas City (2-11 after a tragic murder-suicide) changed everyone’s collective mind about Shurmur?

    I agree that Haslam and Banner will decide on Shurmur’s fate based on philosophy rather than record. Holmgren’s biggest mistake was keeping Mangini because of guilt and his meaningless win streak against Oakland, Kansas City and Jacksonville. I doubt Haslam will make the same mistake.

    Just as three consecutive loses shouldn’t out a coach, three consecutive wins should not save a coach.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    i agree that ‘who is the replacement’ is the question to be answered prior to firing him (or anyone).

    ive conceded that shurmur has improved but his starting point was very low. i wont nitpick on play calling and ill bite my tongue on peculiar use of the challenge flag.

    but here are three items that still bother me while acknowledging growth and appreciative of wins:

    1. i continue question his ‘game-planning’ skills. even after the chiefs game, he’s been outscored 145-66 in the 1st qtr. this seems a fair metric on ‘game prep’ and it hasn’t improved.

    2. with both colt and weeden, he’s jammed them into his system without regard for their individual strength (colt’s mobility and defense reading; weeden’s comfort level in the shotgun). i’d like the coach to adapt to (and maximize) his players’ unique talents. i havent seen this from shurmur.

    3. when belichick loses he’ll always say something along the lines of ‘players have to play better’ and followed by ‘coaches have to coach better.’ ive heard shurmur be critical of his players, i dont think ive heard him critical of himself.

    w.r.t. to your talent-related argument, it could also be said that the talent is overcoming the coaching.

    hey it’s great that we’ve beaten two of the worst teams in the league and charlie batch. but i would like to see a game where the coach and his gameplan were the difference before getting too enthused.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    hey btw:
    #freeoribiasi

  • Natedawg86

    I don’t think he has done a bad job with the flag, but you can’t get outcoached on clock management!

  • JK

    That 38 year old QB was good enough to beat BAL, Oakland on the road, and KC had won the week before this tragedy… All I see are lots of excuses in trying to hide from facts

  • depressed@work

    cannot afford to continue to allow him to call plays