Although nothing is set in stone, the vast majority of media reports are claiming that the Cleveland Browns are extremely close to hiring Pat Shurmur as head coach and that a final decision will be made as early as Thursday.
While early reports seemed to indicate that the Philadelphia Eagles’ Marty Mornhinweg would be seriously considered for the job due to his close ties to Mike Holmgren, Mornhinweg has largely fallen off the radar and has not even been interviewed.
Another Holmgren favorite, Jon Gruden, recently declared that he is not interested in returning to coaching this season.
The Browns' gradual improvement over the past two seasons has Cleveland fans hopeful about the team’s future. Despite their optimism, many Browns fans are watching the search for a new coach with a bit of concern and worry.
The next Browns coach will be the team’s third head coach in the past six years, and many fans have understandably become frustrated with the constant turnover at the head coaching position.
In light of this, is Pat Shurmur the right person for the job?
The Case For Shurmur
Shurmur served as offensive coordinator for the St. Louis Rams last season, where he helped guide the development of rookie quarterback Sam Bradford. Unlike many first-year quarterbacks, who often struggle to adjust to life in the NFL, Bradford made a relatively smooth transition to the NFL.
Despite losing his best wide receiver (Mark Clayton) early in the season and having little other proven talent at wide receiver, Bradford set several rookie quarterback records and led the Rams to the brink of the playoffs. This accomplishment is especially notable in light of the fact that the Rams were 1-15 during the 2009-10 season.
In addition to his stint with the Rams, Shurmur also spent several seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles as a quarterback coach. Shurmur was instrumental in the development of Donovan McNabb, and he also played a role in successfully guiding the offense in the numerous games during which McNabb was injured.
If he is hired, Shurmur’s experience with Bradford and McNabb will be very useful as he mentors and coaches Colt McCoy, whom many Cleveland fans believe has a chance to be the solid quarterback that the Browns have lacked since their return to the NFL. Additionally, there is no question that he is well-versed in the West Coast offense that Holmgren favors and in which Colt McCoy has the physical tools to thrive.
The Case Against Shurmur
While Shurmur's offense was able to provide the points necessary to get the Rams within one game of the playoffs, it finished 26th in the NFL in both yards per game and points per game.
Fans should also note that the Rams didn’t play in an extremely tough division such as the AFC North, either; they played in the NFC West, an extremely weak division, and the question of how Shurmur’s offense would have fared if they had to face the Ravens and Steelers twice per season is a legitimate question that should be asked.
Shurmur also only has two full seasons as an offensive coordinator and has never been a head coach. The debate over whether or not the Browns' next head coach should have previous head coaching experience is one with solid arguments on both sides.
From a public relations standpoint, Shurmur would not be a name that would stir up instant excitement among the Browns’ fanbase. Shurmur isn’t a well-known assistant coach from a currently dominant team such as Mike Mularkey, nor is a he a former head coach with a proven track record of success such as Bill Cowher.
If he is hired, Holmgren will need to work hard to win over the Browns’ fanbase and convince them that Shurmur is the coach who will lead the Browns back to the playoffs.
Fans may also legitimately question if additional coaches should be interviewed and whether Shurmur is just the best of a limited number of interviewees. Officially, the Browns have only interviewed three coaches—Shurmur, New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell and Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey.
Given the crucial importance of a successful hire, some fans may question why so few coaches have been interviewed and whether a better hire still remains on the market.
Should Shurmur Be Hired?
The general tone of most media reports is that it is a matter of when, not if, Shurmur will be hired. Nevertheless, nothing is official until “The Big Show” steps to the microphone and announces the name of the next coach of the Cleveland Browns, and concerned Browns fans are surely wondering if Shurmur is the right person for the job.
I’ll be honest—at first, I was skeptical. However, throughout the process of writing and researching this article, Shurmur’s track record and potential has won me over.
I would enthusiastically support his hiring as head coach on the condition that he hires established veteran coordinators to assist him, similar to what the Pittsburgh Steelers did by matching a young head coach in Mike Tomlin with veteran coordinators in Bruce Arians and Dick LeBeau.
I would not support his hiring if young, unproven coordinators are brought in to replace Brian Daboll and Rob Ryan. Personally, I’d love to see the Browns hire someone like Jim Zorn as offensive coordinator and retain Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator and Brad Seely as special teams coordinator.
Sure, Shurmur’s not the oldest or most experienced guy on the market. However, a fresh and relatively unknown face without head coaching experience can have a very positive impact on a team—just ask the Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens.
Both of those teams hired individuals who had no previous head coaching experience, and both of those teams made the playoffs in their first year with rookie quarterbacks.
In the final analysis, the Browns need a coach who knows how to develop quarterbacks and knows how to improve an offense. Shurmur has a demonstrated track record of success in both areas, and I believe that if he is paired with experienced, veteran coordinators, long-suffering and loyal Browns fans like myself will have a great chance of seeing a playoff football team return to the shores of Lake Erie.