When it comes to an NFL head coaching search, there is one thing of which I can absolutely, positively be certain: I absolutely, positively know nothing.
And chances are, neither do you.
On Thursday, it was officially announced that Pat Shurmur will be the new head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Fan reactions have ranged from abject disappointment to prolonged yawns to a buzzing confidence.
We can pretend we know which one will turn out to be correct, but the reality is: We have no idea.
Despite my admission of its uselessness, I will now make a case for a curbed optimism towards the hire.
Some felt that Holmgren "owed it to the fans" to bring in an experienced head coach—that's bologna. He owed it to the fans to choose who he felt would be the best man for the job.
The true disservice would have been if he selected someone with experience in order to appease the media and fans, leaving behind a candidate he was more personally excited for solely because he lacked head coaching experience.
A few national pundits labeled Shurmur as a D-list coaching candidate. That may be true; that also may not necessarily be a bad thing. The Redskins went for the A-list splash with a few of their past few hires—the flashy college coach (Steve Spurrier), the legend (Joe Gibbs) and the recent success (Mike Shanahan)—and found little to no success with each try.
This year, Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll were the only coaches in the playoffs that were hired with previous head coaching experience; this means that 10 of the other 12 playoff teams all have coaches that are still with the team that gave them their first shot at a gig.
When Shurmur was first reported as the favorite, it caused more than a few eyebrows to raise, myself included. Before this off season, I had no idea who Pat Shurmur was; you could have showed me a picture of Pat Shurmur and told me he was the regional manager of Applebee's and I would have responded "oh, interesting."
So, needless to say, I did not jump out of my socks when I learned of the Browns interest in him.
Yet by the same token, few fans felt excited, let alone confident, when Mike McCarthy, Mike Smith, Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh were hired to a head position. Now, each are beloved by their city as they lead their teams through the playoffs.
The Browns have rolled the dice on unproven NFL coaches before—Chris Palmer, Butch Davis and Romeo Crennel—and failed. But just because you flip a coin three times in a row and land on tails, that has no effect on the chances of whether the next flip will not land on heads.
The past is the past, and the future holds its own tale.
Luckily (or unluckily) for Shurmur, his fate does not rely on a random 50% chance for success. There are other variables in his favor that the previous coaches did not have going for them.
Chris Palmer had to deal with an expansion roster and the mismanagement of Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark; Butch Davis came straight from college and was given too much power and too little direction; Romeo Crennel dealt with Phil Savage, the same guy who took Kamerion Wimbley over Haloti Ngata and is still sitting on a couch collecting pay checks from Randy Lerner; Mangini, despite having previous coaching experience with the Jets, hand picked his GM, George Kokinis, who appeared to have little actual power in the building.
Take their situations and contrast it with what Shurmur will be heading into this year. At his side, he will have Tom Heckert, a respected and successful GM in place to handle any personnel decisions and Mike Holmgren, the NFL legend overviews all organizational matters as team president and could be an invaluable resource.
Shurmur shares a similar offensive system as Heckert and Holmgren, something Mangini did not. Mangini would have been unable to take full advantage of learning under Holmgren and Gil Haskell because they had fundamental philosophical differences.
Mangini may have produced solid game plans and seems to be a good guy (I liked him), but perhaps Holmgren felt the regime plateaued.
This meeting of the minds between Shurmur and the current administration will help Heckert when it comes to free agent signings and the NFL Draft. It will also allow Holmgren the ability to grow in a role as a mentor, as he is now more able share his offensive wisdom with the new, young coach.
The new coach only has an untapped potential for growth under such tutelage.
Shurmur could very well fall on his face. He could very well be mediocre. But he could also very well be the one to help turn this organization around.
I can only be certain that I am not certain which it will be, but that does not mean there is no reason for optimism.
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