BEREA, Ohio (AP) — One day after another dismal season ended with a loss in Pittsburgh, the Browns fired coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert, the first moves in an expected overhaul by new owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner.
Shurmur went 9-23 in his two seasons with the Browns, who will embark on yet another offseason of change — the only constant in more than a decade of futility. Cleveland has lost at least 11 games in each of the past five seasons and made the playoffs just once since returning to the NFL as an expansion team in 1999.
The Browns just can’t seem to get it right.
Haslam intends to change that in Cleveland.
“We’re well aware that this has been a carousel,” Haslam said. “It’s our job to bring stability. Our goal is to find the right person. The two of us feel a tremendous responsibility to get it right.”
Haslam and Banner will immediately begin their search for a new coach — the Browns’ sixth since 1999. They did not disclose any coach or GM candidates, and Haslam said he’s confident the Browns will be able to land a quality coach, who will inherit a young, talented roster.
“I think this is a very attractive job,” Haslam said.
Already, the list of possible coaches to take over for Shurmur includes some of college football’s top names. Haslam may want to make a big splash and land either Alabama’s Nick Saban or Oregon’s Chip Kelly, who both still have bowl games ahead. Penn State’s Bill O’Brien is also believed to be on the Browns’ short list.
There is also reported interest in several NFL assistants including Indianapolis’ Bruce Arians, New England’s Josh McDaniels, Denver’s Mike McCoy, Washington’s Kyle Shanahan and Cincinnati’s Jay Gruden.
Among the general manager candidates are: Atlanta player personnel director David Caldwell, San Francisco director of player personnel Tom Gamble, Baltimore assistant GM Eric DeCosta and NFL Network analyst and Mike Lombardi, who worked with Banner in Philadelphia and for the Browns when Bill Belichick was Cleveland’s coach.
Haslam said the new coach will have final say on Cleveland’s roster. He’s also not concerned that the Browns may have to outbid several teams to get the coach they prefer. Haslam made it clear he would wait as long as necessary and reiterated the only goal was “getting the right person.”
Banner declined a chance to evaluate the Browns’ current roster, but is confident a team that had 17 rookies this season is headed in the right direction.
“The foundation is here, the team is better, but we have a ways to go,” Banner said. “”We have a core here, and I’d be surprised if the coach we hire doesn’t see it the same way.”
The Browns were competitive this season under Shurmur. They just didn’t win enough.
Cleveland was still in the playoff mix earlier this month, but a three-game losing streak to close the season — they were blown out by Washington and Denver in consecutive weeks — ended any chance of Shurmur saving his job.
Shurmur was emotional when he addressed the Browns after he was told by Banner and Haslam that he would not be back next season. He has two years remaining on his contract.
“It’s what I expected from someone who pours his heart into it,” wide receiver Greg Little said. “This is his life. This is what he wakes up and does every day. He improved every year.”
Shurmur said he leaves the Browns with some satisfaction.
“I am extremely proud of the players on this team, who I felt made tremendous strides and helped to make the Cleveland Browns relevant again,” Shurmur said in a release. “I want to thank them, as well as my entire coaching staff for making the past two years enjoyable.
“This group of players will achieve success soon, and there will be a part of me that will feel very good when that happens.”
Shurmur’s fate may have been sealed on the first day of training camp in July when Haslam’s intent to buy the Browns from Randy Lerner for $1 billion was announced. It may not have mattered how Shurmur did this season because Haslam, a former minority owner with the Pittsburgh Steelers who built his fortune with Flying Pilot J travel centers, was intent on bringing in his own people.
Banner’s arrival forced out president Mike Holmgren, who hired both Shurmur and Heckert but left before the end of his third year with Cleveland.
Shurmur, who has two years remaining on his contract, was dealt a difficult hand from the start.
His first season with the Browns was complicated by the labor lockout, depriving him a chance to work with his players in the offseason or installing his offensive and defensive systems. He chose not to hire an offensive coordinator, holding down both positions in his first year, a decision he later said was a mistake.
Shurmur made his share of mistakes. He had some game-management issues and his play calling was often questioned. However, the 47-year-old seemed to be getting better in his second season, and he deserves credit for developing one of the league’s youngest teams. The Browns had 17 rookies and 26 players with two years or less of experience on their roster.
Heckert, who came to Cleveland from Philadelphia, succeeded in upgrading the Browns’ talent. He overhauled an aging team, infusing the Browns with solid young players through the draft. In April, he selected running back Trent Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weeden and offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz, all of whom had solid first pro seasons.
Heckert also gambled and nabbed wide receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft, a choice that seemed risky but paid off as the 21-year-old blossomed.
But it may have been a move Heckert couldn’t pull off that doomed him.
The Browns were beaten out by Washington in the sweepstakes to get prized rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. Cleveland tried to package picks to swap with the Rams, who eventually made a blockbuster deal with the Redskins who then drafted RGIII with the second overall choice.
Heckert thought he would have five years to build the Browns but wound up getting just three. It’s expected Heckert will quickly be scooped up as more than one dozen teams are expected to have front-office openings.
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