There's a new sheriff in town in Cleveland this year as ex-Rams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur takes the reins for the Browns as Eric Mangini's successor.
By the end of Mangini's tenure with the Browns, not many people were too sorry to see him go. Even those who supported him as the head coach far longer into his stint than most ultimately turned away from him, particularly after he stubbornly refused to former offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, effectively hitching himself to the man who many blamed more than any other individual for the Browns' shortcomings.
Thus began the mass turnover on the Browns coach staff, where all of the 2010 coaches were shown the door and Pat Shurmur and his staff were brought in to rebuild the team's philosophy and strategy from, in many ways, the ground up.
Following are expectations and concerns about Shurmur and other key members of the coaching staff as they enter their first season with the Browns in 2011.
This discussion is open to all, so please share your thoughts on the Browns coaching staff in the comments below!
The hiring of former St Louis Rams' Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur as the Browns new head coach for 2011 met with mixed reviews when it was first announced.
It wasn't that anyone really overtly disliked Shurmur. It was more that he didn't have enough experience at the top end of a coaching staff and that the Browns were too hasty in their decision to hire him.
Both concerns have merit. First, Shurmur does have a disturbingly low amount of experience coaching in a high-level position. That the Browns hired a guy with no prior experience as a head coach is no surprise and not terribly concerning, but the fact that they signed Shurmur on as a head coach despite that he has just two years' experience under his belt as even an Offensive Coordinator has left many folks understandably skeptical.
Second, the Browns promised to take their time looking for a coach who would be the perfect fit for the team, no matter how long it took to decide on the right person. It was a bit surprising then when they announced the job went to Shurmur just weeks after they began their search, prompting many to think they had jumped the gun on hiring someone who they didn't need to rush to get without truly exploring their other options thoroughly.
Luckily for Shurmur, Eric Mangini didn't exactly leave behind big shoes to fill when he was fired at the end of the 2010 regular season. Things will be easier for Shurmur in that respect because there is, in many ways nowhere to go but up.
Mangini departed from the Browns after a pair of twin 5-11 seasons. Regardless of whether the team is not yet playoff ready in 2011, Shurmur will be expected to be able to top Mangini's record of the last two seasons, but it's hard to imagine he won't based if nothing else on the fact that the team's young players are improving regardless of who their coach is, and that the team appears to have turned in another solid draft in 2011.
Having seen Shurmur's work as an Offensive Coordinator in St Louis, we can be reasonably confident that he knows how to handle an offense, specifically one built largely from young and talented but inexperienced players. Where it gets concerning is in whether or not he can handle the entire head coaching job, including overseeing the defense.
There's an argument out there stating that Shurmur is just a glorified OC and Mike Holmgren is really calling the shots as the true head coach. There's no telling at this point whether or not that's true. I'm not completely sure that's even more comforting if it is true.
Still, the Browns brought in big defensive gun Dick Jauron for the DC position for a reason; they don't expect Shurmur to manage the whole operation by himself. For a first year head coach, it makes a lot of sense for the team to hire experienced assistants to help him through. Jauron fits the bill on defense, but the situation on offense is a different story...
Browns fans, meet Head Coach Pat Shurmur's top assistant on offense...Pat Shurmur.
Yes, the Browns new head coach will also be calling his own plays as the team's new Offensive Coordinator.
Wow. Of all the bad ideas the Browns have had over the years, this could turn out to be one of the worst. It is very, very difficult for a head coach to also successfully act as his own OC. It is unheard of and almost ridiculous to think a first-year, first-time head coach could do it.
Sure, Bill Belichick can call his own plays and succeed masterfully at it, but I doubt anyone would mix him up with Pat Shurmur or any other first year coach who, unless the Browns have some strategy in place regarding this that they haven't publicly acknowledged, has no business trying to take on both roles right off the bat. It is concerning that at the moment, Shurmur appears to have bitten off more than he can chew, and the Browns appear to be allowing him to do it and to be honest, probably made the decision themselves.
But fairly assessing Shurmur as an Offensive Coordinator in and of itself is at least somewhat comforting. His track record in St. Louis suggests he was able to build a very successful offense with players of similar talent and experience to what the Browns currently have on their offense.
The traditional West Coast Offense he will run in Cleveland this fall also is likely a good fit for the Browns, whose current offensive roster members should benefit largely from a change to this sort of scheme.
In contrast with Shurmur, who is a relative neophyte when it comes to experience at or near the level of the job he got with the Browns, new Defensive Coordinator Dick Jauron has a long and impressive resume which highlights his years' of expertise as a defensive coordinator in the NFL and even as a head coach.
While Jauron's head coaching stints didn't turn out all that well, he has had more success as a defensive specialist. As a head coach he had a losing record in five years as the Bears head coach and went 7-9 in each of his three seasons in Buffalo. There have been worse head coaches by far (ahem, Eric Mangini), but still, it's clear that Jauron's forte is defense evident in the successful defenses he has built in the past, and the fact that he comes highly endorsed by those teams which previously employed him as a DC.
Part of the change that Jauron brings to the table for the Browns defense this season is, of course, the switch from the 3-4 to the 4-3. Most people seem to favor the switch, or are at least willing to give it a try. Not surprising considering that whatever your opinions on the merit of the 3-4 vs that of the 4-3 in general, the Browns haven't been able to make the 3-4 work in recent years, so it appears a change was warranted.
Still, those who insist the Browns are making a mistake by going to the 4-3 have a point. They point out how so many of the league's best defenses are 3-4 schemes, that there is a valid case that the 3-4 is a better defense against AFC North offenses than the 4-3, and that perhaps most importantly, it just doesn't make sense for the Browns at the moment, either because so many players on their defense are used to and fit in a 3-4 scheme or because it's a huge change for the team in a season where they'll also have to adjust to new coaching and to a new scheme on the offensive side of the ball.
Shurmur and Jauron are just the beginning, of course. The Browns cleaned house after firing Mangini at the end of the 2010 season, and thus have a whole slew of other new assistant coaches joining the staff as well. Here are a few notables for this season:
Special Teams Coordinator Chris Tabor: All eyes will be on Tabor this season for two reasons. First, he will be replacing the great Brad Seely, special teams aficionado and all-around well-respected football man. Seely (who left to take the Special Teams job with San Francisco) had 22 years of experience coaching NFL special teams, compared to Tabor's three years' experience in pro football.
Second, this will be a hugely defining year for Special Teams Coordinators across the league in general given the change in the kickoff rules. Everyone with this job in the NFL has something to prove this year because of the rule change. All will be tested to see if they can avoid having their team be hurt by the rule.
That will be especially true for Tabor, whose lack of experience at the pro level means he has to prove himself in general, and who inherits vaunted special teamer Josh Cribbs, whose role with on special teams and with the Browns in general is as yet unknown thanks to the rule change.
Receivers Coach Mike Wilson: Another assistant who will have all eyes on him this season is receivers coach Mike Wilson. The receiving corps was one of the team's biggest weak points last season and for better or worse, will still employ many of the same players this season. While the Browns had other areas where they fell very short last year, the most talked about was this one.
Wilson, in his first year with the Browns in this role, will have to prove not only that he was a good new hire for the team, but that he can do what last year's coaching staff couldn't with what is, at least significantly in part, many of the same players.
Wilson has 10 years of coaching experience, some at the pro and some at the college level. He has been a receivers coach at Stanford, with the Oakland Raiders and with Las Vegas' UFL franchise. He was also a tight ends coach for the Cardinals. Thus he has a pretty decent amount of experience in the job, but never seems to keep it in any one place for long.
It remains to be seen what that means for the Browns, who are hoping Wilson will be instrumental in turning around one of the most troubled components of their franchise.