5 Ways Cleveland Browns Can Rebuild Franchise After Firing Shurmur, Heckert
Since the sale of the team to Jimmy Halslam earlier this year and the replacement of team president Mike Holmgren with CEO Joe Banner, it was inevitable the new regime would be installing its own coach and general manger, ones who lined up with its personal visions for what the Browns should become.
Now that it's happened, however, the new and soon-to-be Browns regime needs to prevent it from happening again in the immediate future. After all, its next coach will be the sixth the team has had since re-forming as a franchise in 1999, and since that time, the Browns have had only two winning seasons.
Here are five ways to rebuild the Browns in the coming months.
Find a Coach—And Stick with Him
There are reasons why the Browns have had so many head coaches since 1999—namely, not having enough wins. However, there's something to be said for coaching stability, as well.
Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner must find someone who shares their vision for the Browns in both the short- and long-terms. They must have the patience to know that a full regime change cannot take hold and produce a definitive final product until at least two or three seasons and not axe the coach and his staff if 8-8 is the best the Browns can muster for a few years.
Right now, only Pat Shurmur and Tom Heckert are technically out—the rest of the coaching staff remains, able to leave, able to keep their jobs when a new head coach is hired (which is something the Browns plan to do before finding a new GM), but continuity from the old regime isn't the biggest key here.
The biggest key is that whoever takes over the reins of the football operations and game planning, they stick around for more than a couple of years. No five-year plans that get cut off after two, no playoffs-in-three-seasons-or-else ultimatums—just continuity, before anything. Teams simply cannot win if they're changing schemes, terminology and personality every two years.
Find a Quarterback—And Stick with Him
The one thing the Cleveland Browns have had more of than head coaches since 1999 is quarterbacks, and there's no way the Browns are going to stabilize their team—particularly their offense—and increase their number of wins without sticking with the same man under center for years. Like 10 years.
Whether that's Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy, Thaddeus Lewis, some free-agent acquisition, a draft pick, a Canadian Football League import, some guy who played quarterback with his friends that one time, it doesn't matter; all that matters is that Haslam, Banner, the new GM and the new head coach (and the rest of his staff) are fully sold on him, for as long as it takes.
Just as with head coach, that will also mean allowing the quarterback to struggle without being afraid of losing his job, but it also needs to be a player with some guaranteed built-in ability to improve. Picking a quarterback is far less of a crapshoot than the Browns have made it appear over the last 15 years.
Find the right one, build the offense around him (rather than the other way around) and make it that guy's team for the long term. Finally.
Build the Roster, Not Rebuild It
Because the Browns are starting over from scratch when it comes to head coach and general manager—and probably elsewhere in the coaching staff—there will be a lot of temptation to do housecleaning on the roster, as well.
Though of course there will, and should be, the usual roster attrition that comes every year, the new staff needs to avoid tossing out the vast majority of players currently with the Browns.
This is a young team rife with talent that just needs a way to put everything together through all four quarters of games and pull out wins. Though there are areas of weakness at certain positions, what matters most is that the new coaching staff and general manager recognize what a gold mine the Browns roster truly is.
Add Free Agents
The rallying cry for the Tom Heckert-Mike Holmgren-led Browns was "build through the draft," and while that has produced excellent returns for the Browns over the past few years, adding talent like Joe Haden, Joe Thomas and Josh Gordon via draft picks, there's also a lot to be said for bringing in experienced veterans to round out certain positions.
With the Browns under new ownership and about to have new leadership when it comes to personnel control, expect them to loosen their pocketbook and do a bit of free-agency spending, something that hasn't happened much in the past few years with Randy Lerner owning the team.
Though the youth on the roster has set up the Browns to have long-term success and be able to build their own big names, it's also clear they could use a bit of veteran leadership in the locker room as well. Mentors are always valuable in the NFL, but experienced players also provide insurance when younger guys aren't progressing as hoped.
Win over the Fans
No matter how badly the Browns needed some serious changes, it also makes sense that everything from Jimmy Haslam's purchase of the team on has been met with a bit of the skeptical side-eye from their devoted fans. After all, change after change is nothing new to this team, and it's yet to produce lasting, positive results.
The most important thing that can come from this latest rebuilding phase is wins. That is, after all, the reason all of these moves and decisions have been made in the first place.
If the Haslam-Banner-TBD regime wants to gain the confidence of a fanbase that has seen it all when it comes to the bad that can befall an NFL franchise, they need to put forth a team that is capable of winning games, even if it does take some time for everything to come together as hoped.
It's not that the Browns need to go from 5-11 to 10-6 in the span of one offseason in order to gain the trust of the fans—however, they will need to look like they're legitimately building a team that is capable of multiple seasons with a better-than-.500 record. It's important that Haslam and Banner make this latest Browns upheaval worth the fans' time and patience.