Pat Shurmur: An Open Letter from a Lone Cleveland Browns Fan
Dear Coach Shurmur:
First off, let me offer my congratulations on you being hired as the next coach of the Cleveland Browns. I cannot imagine the work you put in to achieve such a position, but I'm assuming you did it in order to deserve it.
I was having a small discussion with a couple that also just moved in from St. Louis, where your former employment was. They told me that life was still going to be about the Cardinals, as St. Louis is a baseball town.
But this is not. Cleveland, at its heart and guts, is a football town. Sports-wise there is no shadow to hide under. If the Indians or Cavs develop into a winning team, that'll be great (not to mention very surprising). Yet, in the fall, unless the Indians are near the top of the standings come August, the stage will have you front and center to be "the guy" who'll end Cleveland's misery not only in football, but all three professional sports in general, which seems to be quite an excessive burden.
(Don't even ask about the last guy we hung our sports hopes on. It wasn't pretty and we'd rather get over it as fast as we can.)
I wish I could say it wasn't, but I'm sure you've been briefed on the story. No championships since 1964 in any sport. But football-wise, it boils down to: Never made a Super Bowl. The move in 1995, followed by five-year rebuildings that are scuttled after three seasons. It's been nothing but a series of hopes after hopes being dashed before being realized.
While most Browns fans, bloggers and pundits will talk about our need for a wide receiver, defensive line, etc...I won't. If I actually expected you to follow my advice, then you better attribute your execution of my orders and put me on the payroll at substantially more than I make right now.
You'll be a semi-celebrity here, which means the highs will be higher but the lows will be lower. You will deal with fans, but since it seems we're a separate breed, here's a few hints to keep in mind.
First, don't tell me about how much you'll bring a winner to Cleveland. You've already said it'll be a "challenge" and "can't wait to get started in helping to build the Browns back to one of the elite teams in the NFL."
I've heard it before. Just as much as my loyalty can't be torn down in a single season, neither can my trust be built as fast. Even if you have a winning season, look at last three times the Browns had a winning record:
2007: Finished 10-6; but we missed the playoffs (Shaking fist: SOR-GI!!!!), and the following year we finished 4-12 after being a semi-sexy pick for the postseason.
2002: Finished 9-7, and made the playoffs. Went to Pittsburgh and blew an amazing first-half lead in the game that should've gotten Styx' "Renegade" banned from Northeast Ohio airwaves. The following year, 5-11 and then-Coach Butch Davis never recovered.
Even when we got pumped from 2009's four-game winning streak, we got pumped for slow, steady improvement. Again, the wheels fell off, which created the job opening you just filled.
I hate to say it, but the standards were unfairly set high for you already. Even if you bring a winning season, you could probably understand if I'd even get more anxiety-ridden. So don't worry about building expectations. Just meet them.
In April, you'll be (at least I hope you'll be) involved with the draft. This will be an excellent show of what you're like. We drafted Tim Couch. Lots of hype. We drafted Joe Thomas, who unfortunately wasn't as hyped as Brady Quinn who we drafted later that round. And yes, we also drafted Braylon Edwards. Hype them if you want, but in my ears, all I'll hear is Mike "Mad Dog in a Meat Market" Junkin.
It seems pretty common-sensical that if you're drafting a player, you probably think he's got a future with the team and could make some plays. We won't really know until he hops on the field and shows us he's got it or he doesn't. Until then, it's just a waste of my time to think, "Oh, yeah. He's the next..."
Second, show passion and character. As of late, our coaches had all the character of a cardboard cutout of Tom Landry with none of the results. It got to the point that I (and others) really wondered if they really had any passion for the job...or sometimes even a biological pulse. Fittingly, it seemed it also resulted in equally lifeless play-calling. Further more, I kind of wondered if that spilled over into the on-field execution, as has been witnessed by most of the Browns' December matchups against Pittsburgh, when the Browns' fans seemed to show more life for the first two quarters.
If you find it's your style, go "Jim Mora crazy" occasionally. Hell, even if you think you could back only half of it up, go "Dan Gilbert crazy." I've seen sitting at my table waiting for our meal, while all I hear from the wait staff is a casual, "Yeah, in a minute." After 20 minutes, it's okay. After three hours? A simple, "Yeah, I'll go check in a minute" won't cut it. If you have a passion for coaching pro football, don't assume I'll trust it's there. I need to see it.
Third, this is a rivalry-heavy fanbase. I bet you can't drive for 30 minutes along Pearl, Mayfield or Snow/Rockside roads without seeing a few Steelers shirts, bumper stickers or other swag out your window. And as of late, AFC North rivals have been kicking the Browns' collective ass.
In terms of my fandom, a win against the Ravens is 50 percent greater than a non-division team; beat the Steelers, and you've guaranteed my support for another season. Right now, beating the Bengals means they'll likely wear the bag over their heads instead of me, so it doesn't mean me much right now.
Within the division, I want rivals who elevate your "A-game" into an "A+ game." But the Browns have not been their rivals; they're just the Browns' nemesis. I can probably tolerate a loss, but allow your team to get used as another postseason warm-up for Pittsburgh and you'll risk being just like "the rest of them," which is what you were hired to NOT be.
I can't speak for other fanbases, but it seems that here in Cleveland, a winning record is one thing, but beating Pittsburgh is, and will be for the foreseeable future, another measurement of fan support itself.
Lastly, give me something I can use to defend you and your team with. For 15 years, I have been mocked, ridiculed, scorned and humiliated for rooting for the team you inherited. I've gotten hopeful and ambitious, only to be burned the following year. Since the last football team we turned on turned (tail and ran to Baltimore) on us, we really don't have any option but to keep going. But I'm tired of going into these gunfights unarmed.
In a way, what I've just written can be worse than all the other bloggers, pundits and armchair QB/GMs, So I'm not really telling you how to do your job: I'm telling you what kind of person to be. But for now, and hopefully for a while, you'll either be a source of community pride or another continuance of its social shame. But all cities seem to have a unique character.
I can't say I'm the pentultimate example of a Browns fan, but I've found community with many who wear Brown and Orange on Sundays. I think I can offer some food for thought for what it's like here as you get acquainted. You know it won't be easy, but if you pull it off, I'll do my part to make it worth it.
Good Luck, and welcome to Cleveland.
Now please get to work.
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