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Browns Browns Archive No Steps Forward, Two Steps Back
Written by Jonathan Knight

Jonathan Knight

shurmur haslamNow that Pat Shurmur has been fired - a move that became both inevitable and obvious since the day after he was hired - the Browns’ swashbuckling new front office can turn its attention to the question on every fan’s mind:

Who will they hire as their head coach two years from now?

No doubt there will be some interesting candidates out there in January 2015. Maybe some successful veteran coaches being forced out of a bad situation, some hot new coordinators, and  some up-and-coming college coaches. It’ll be like Sunday afternoon at Hometown Buffet - the Browns won’t know where to start.

What’s that, you say? What about the current coaching search?

Oh. Right.

That leads us to Jimmy Haslam, Cleveland’s version of The Most Interesting Man in the World.

He’s energetic. He wears orange ties. He’s both engaged and interested. He knows the difference between football and soccer. You certainly couldn’t say any of these things about the guy he bought out.

But there is absolutely no reason to believe ole’ Truck Stop Jim isn’t about to ignite the latest in a long line of Browns’ dumpster fires just like all those who came before him armed with torches and lighter fluid.

He’s enthusiastic and involved. Fantastic. So is Jerry Jones. So was George Steinbrenner. And, yes indeed, so was Art Modell. If you’ll recall, 15 years ago we were genuinely excited about Al Lerner’s hands-off approach because we’d had enough of a meddling, reactionary owner.

No doubt most - if not all - Browns fans feel good about Pat Shurmur hitting the road. It’s fair to say Shurmur’s hiring (or rather, his somehow not being turned down for the job two years ago) didn’t generate much enthusiasm. At best, Browns fans sighed and said, “Well, I have no idea who this guy is or why he was hired, but he’s Holmgren’s pick and in Holmgren we trust.”

First off - good call.

Secondly, why why why why why did anybody trust Holmgren two years ago? What precisely had he done to earn that trust?

Yes, he was a big name, and yes he’d had success in the NFL. But solely as a coach. His short tenure as a GM in Seattle ended with the title being taken away from him the way you put your kid’s Nintendo DS up on the refrigerator when he doesn’t do his homework.

So by all means, let’s hand him even more front-office responsibility and push him even further away from the one area in which he excelled.

Don’t look now, but we’re doing it again - unquestioningly throwing our complete faith into a slick rich guy who has done absolutely nothing to earn it. And then we have the nerve to wonder why we’re so miserable year after year. After year. After year.

What, exactly, has Jimmy Haslam done to earn our trust? For the last two months, he’s been like a newly elected president on inauguration day. There’s nothing to dislike because we haven’t even driven him off the lot yet. We get the obligatory shots of him in his luxury loge during the games and say - “Hey, he’s at the game! And he’s actually watching! He’s going to be an awesome owner!” Again, all upgrades over Randy Lerner, but all this proves is that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.

Maybe he will indeed be an awesome owner. It’s not impossible. But of course, neither is winning the Powerball while getting struck by lightning.

Unlike Holmgren, Haslam actually has nothing on his resume under the subhead “success in professional football.” He rose to business prominence thanks to a cunning understanding of the need for highway toilets and broke into the NFL by signing a check.

And why exactly should we be excited about any of the beefy, well-dressed gentlemen Haslam’s going to trot out to provide banal answers to insipid questions over the next few weeks? Don’t listen to any of the verbal chestnuts they’re going to recite off their note cards - use your head. Hunker down and ask yourself: is there anything different about this guy? And if so, is that a good thing?

No doubt it’s going to start at the top with the head coach. Or, as we should start calling him to make everything that comes after easier to understand: the new Pat Shurmur.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be teased with the unsubstantiated internet rumors about Bill Cowher and Jon Gruden and think, ‘Oh, this time it’ll be different because Jimmy Haslam wears orange ties.’ But when the Bleacher Report nonsense subsides and cold, hard reality smacks us in the face like a dead animal carcass, we’ll wind up with another handsome young coordinator who gives us no more reason to believe he’s cut out to be a head coach than Shurmur did. (Or even worse, a college wunderkind who ditto, ditto, ditto Butch Davis.)

Pat Shurmur certainly deserved to be fired. More specifically, he never deserved to be hired in the first place. But regardless of whom the Browns hire in his place, by firing him they’ve just doomed themselves to at least two more 10-plus-loss seasons, which would make it a not-so-lucky seven straight.

And I don’t think we really have a grasp of how categorically impossible that is to do in today’s NFL.

Put simply, the NFL is designed for idiots to succeed. To its credit, it’s the one league in pro sports that not only embraces parity but actually rewards stability over quick-fix hirings and annual overhauls.

The only way to consistently fail in the modern NFL mirrors the only way to get genuinely lost anywhere in America. Remember the episode of The Brady Bunch when they go on vacation to the Grand Canyon and Bobby and Cindy wander off and can’t find their way back? (Please say no.)

They figure they’re not far away from their camp, so they keep marching around. What they don’t realize is that not only are they actually getting farther away from where they want to go, but that by continually moving, they’re actually preventing themselves from being found.

This is the Browns. (And the first time in recorded history they’ve ever been compared to Cindy Brady.) The only way to stay lost (in real life and the NFL) is to keep wandering around. Just quit thinking, sit the hell down, and sooner or later, you will be found.

The Cincinnati Bengals are the perfect example of how complete morons can enjoy success in the NFL. They are still probably the cheapest, least intelligent, worst-organized franchise in professional football. They have no superstar players and, at best, an average coaching staff. 

Yet they just made the playoffs for the second straight year and third time in four years. Why? Because Mike Brown is too cheap (or stubborn) to fire a coach in the middle of a contract, so Marvin Lewis, his staff, and - most importantly - his system, inadequate as they all may be, endure.

Do that, don’t trade away draft picks to pick up overrated driftwood like Brandon Weeden, and you’re set. Consequently - and not exactly by design - the Bengals have more stability than 90% of all teams in the NFL. They can’t help but enjoy occasional modest success - which isn’t much, but it looks like Christmas in Paris to Browns fans right now.

This isn’t to say Pat Shurmur should have kept his job. But by firing him, the Browns just took another colossal step backward. If you believe this is the only way to then take a step forward, fine. But you’ve probably also felt that way about every backward step the Browns have taken in the last 12 years. And by now, we can’t even see where we started from.

Two years from now, when the Browns fire whomever they’re about to hire, we’ll see that - despite his woeful game decisions and clock management and personnel acumen and inability to make adjustments - we actually would have been better off keeping Pat Shurmur. Just as the Bengals have proven to be better off keeping Marvin Lewis through all the times they should have fired him.

So here’s a quick preview of what the next two years hold: the new coach will come in and chuckle at the roster, good-naturedly pointing out he’ll need to overhaul two-thirds of it in order to bring in - drumroll and blast of trumpets, please - his kind of players. That will include parting ways with a handful of guys you feel good about right now and a couple of assistants who truly did make the team better, even if Shurmur didn’t.

And with a rookie coach, there goes any hopes of the .500 mark in 2013. His first two decisions will be to stick with Brandon Weeden for a year just because it would be bad PR not to and to change the team’s 4-3 defensive philosophy. He’ll then go about the process of blowing up a bad defense to make it even worse and quickly decide (as the rest of us did long ago) that Weeden ain’t the answer. He’ll then have to put his plans to bolster the defense on hold in order to draft a quarterback in the early rounds of the following year’s draft.

And there goes 2014, and consequently, the coach’s career in Cleveland.

Two years from now, Jimmy Haslam will stand up at the same podium, wearing the same orange tie and say, “No, no, no...this is the guy. Yup. This one. He’s going to fix this industrial accident we call a football team.”

And we’ll stupidly take his word for it and get excited about it. Until 2017, when we’ll start to get excited about the candidates who might be available in 2019.

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