Cleveland Browns 2011 Coaching Report Card
Given that the Cleveland Browns were set to roll out new systems on both offense and defense in 2011 and had a roster that was exceptionally short on experience, it's no surprise that when the Browns sought to hire a new coach to replaced the fired Eric Mangini, candidates weren't exactly lining up at the door.
We may never know who the Browns had in mind as their ideal coaching choice during their search; all we know is that the guy we ended up with was rookie head coach Pat Shurmur, whose work on the job so far hasn't exactly made him most Browns fans favorite guy.
Then there are the assistants—most of whom were also new to the team this year—who have produced mixed results. Some have been outstanding thus far. Others have looked borderline incompetent.
We can't completely rate Shurmur or the other coaches' performances until the end of the season, but after 12 weeks, we can begin giving out some preliminary grades.
Following are grades for Shurmur, defensive coordinator Dick Jauron, and a few notable assistants. Because this team is in transition, I've graded them based on how they've done given the situation they're in rather than on the success of the team, as it wouldn't be fair to punish the staff for things their inexperienced roster simply isn't capable of just yet.
It is, however, perfectly fair to grade them on strategy, play-calling, in-game and week-to-week adjustments, rate of improvement for their players, and whether they're making the most of what they've been given.
For some, this allows them to take home a good grade for their work despite the team's unspectacular record. For others, well, even with the "learning curve" handicaps they've been given, their efforts have failed to impress.
Head Coach/Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur
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How's this for an understatement? Pat Shurmur is clearly in way over his head.
Shurmur was a solid offensive coordinator in St. Louis, but looks completely overwhelmed by the task of running the whole show. That only got worse with his also taking on the role of offensive coordinator.
As a head coach, we'll cut him some slack for the daunting task he's faced and the fact that he's new at this, but as an offensive coordinator, he gets an "D-", which is probably still generous. No excuses on that front.
He could have hired an offensive coordinator if he was too overwhelmed by the responsibilities of being a head coach; he chose not to. That's on him.
Additionally, he was hired because of his work as an offensive coordinator in St. Louis. This is supposed to be his thing. There's no excuse for coming up short in the area which was supposed to be the reason the Browns hired him.
Shurmur's biggest problem this season, without a doubt, has been offensive play calling. Bad enough for a head coach, but for someone acting as the offensive coordinator and who comes from a background in that, it's just horrendous. Coordinators get fired for doing a far less poor job at play calling than Shurmur has, and most of them aren't also coming up short in head coaching duties as well.
Look, Shurmur is clearly overwhelmed, and some of the blame for that has to be on Holmgren for throwing him to the wolves alone. Still, as a head coach who voluntarily chose to take on too much with deciding to call his own plays, he's mostly responsible for himself.
The bottom line is that while we do have to give Shurmur some time to improve, being as this is only his first season on the job, to me, he's just not head coach material.
Shurmur seems like a nice, mild-mannered guy. Nice, mild-mannered guys rarely make good head coaches. Shurmur was a good offensive coordinator when he wasn't also trying to take on the duties of a head coach as well. He should have stuck with that, and I expect eventually, he'll be back in that role after his turn as the Browns' head coach ends disappointingly.
Defensive Coordinator Dick Jauron
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In contrast to the performance of Pat Shurmur, about which it's tough to say much that's positive, you really cannot say enough good things about what Coordinator Dick Jauron has been able to do with the defense.
Coach Jauron inherited a deeply troubled defense, had to completely overhaul the roster, is starting a number of rookies, and is dealing with a team that made the switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 scheme this season.
Yet he has still managed to produce the best pass defense in the league and the sixth best defense overall.
While the pass defense has been remarkable, the run defense does obviously still need a lot of work. Ranking 29th in the league in yards per game allowed, this facet of the Browns defense obviously has serious problems.
Still, you can't fix everything at once, and while Jauron has to be held partly responsible for the shortcomings of the team's run defense, it's tough to expect him to turn out stellar defense against both the pass and the run in his first season with a young team using a new system.
I fully expect the Browns run defense to improve under Jauron, even if it takes longer than the team's pass defense did to actualize. If Jauron continues at the same rate of success he's had in Cleveland so far, it won't be long before the Browns have one of the scariest, most devastating defenses in the league.
Jauron's grade might seem high considering the troubles of the run defense, but given the amount of time he had and the situation he's facing, I think he's done an outstanding job.
Special Teams Coordinator Chris Tabor
Raise your hand if you miss Brad Seely.
That's about what I thought. The Browns caught a bad break when Seely decided to jump ship and join the 49ers (whose special teams have improved dramatically since his arrival in San Francisco, by the way).
Though much of the coaching staff was let go after Mangini was fired last winter, the Browns would have liked to keep Seely, one of the best in the business at his job, around for the future.
But alas, Seely had other ideas, and the Browns were forced to find a replacement. Enter Chris Tabor, who while not awful, isn't exactly Brad Seely. Not even close.
The Browns special teams still have a lot of talent, but their performance and execution have taken a serious hit this season. Since the skill is there, that says "coaching failures" to me.
The Browns have had a number of serious problems on special teams this year. First, their coverage on kicks and punts has been an issue. They've given up a number of big returns and seem to have trouble bringing down mediocre return men.
The recent field goal problems are of course also an issue. Long snapper Ryan Pontbriand took the blame and was let go, but that was a mistake on the part of the Browns. While Pontbriand did make some mistakes, he's also a Pro Bowler with nine years of service to the team. The person held primarily responsible for the botched field goals should be Tabor, not Pontbriand.
As far as their own returns, the Browns have done a decent job, but I credit Josh Cribbs almost completely for that. It doesn't have much to do with Tabor.
Notable Offensive Assistants
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Running backs coach Gary Brown: You have to hand it to Brown—he's been through a host of running backs already this season and has managed to keep it together enough to keep his job and continue to help his players improve.
There has been a serious failure of the Browns run game this season, but Brown really isn't to blame for it. The mess surrounding Peyton Hillis isn't his fault, and he can't control Montario Hardesty's inability to stay healthy. He also can't control the fact that much of the running game's problems have stemmed from the weak offensive line.
He's done an excellent job working to improve Chris Ogbonnaya on a very short turnaround, and has kept a cool head throughout all the problems surrounding Hillis. The only question seems to be with regard to the fullback position, and I'm guessing it wasn't Brown's call to let Lawrence Vickers leave and replace him with rookie Owen Marecic. Grade: C+
Offensive Line Coach George Warhop: Perhaps the one guy on the staff who has been downright, well, awful. There have been injuries on the offensive line, true, but the coach is still responsible when his players perform this badly.
The revolving door at right tackle has created a huge mess, the entire right side of the line is barely serviceable, and even the once elite-level left side has regressed.
Bottom line: you can't claim credit for Joe Thomas without also taking the blame for Tony Pashos and Shawn Lauvao. Warhop hasn't given the team any reason to retain his services next season. Grade: F
Quarterbacks Coach Mark Whipple: Lucky for coach Whipple, Colt McCoy strikes me as a very coachable guy. While McCoy is still struggling to completely adjust to the NFL in only his second season, he's clearly a hard worker who I expect takes direction very well and makes Whipple's job relatively headache free, at least in terms of how easy he is to work with.
Whipple has done a pretty good job developing McCoy and helping him to improve the weaker areas of his game. And again, a lot of the problems that do remain stem from the offensive line, which Whipple can't control. You can't really call Whipple's work a success until McCoy's numbers improve and he starts winning more games. At this point in time, I have no major complaints. Grade: B
Receivers Coach Mike Wilson: Despite the fact that the Browns passing game has yet to get to where it needs to be, I actually think Coach Wilson has done a pretty good job. He's working primarily with young and inexperienced receivers, and while this area of the Browns' game was regressing for a while, it has turned a corner and gotten back on track of late.
The offensive line is once again responsible for a lot of issues with the passing game, and I'm not sure how much say Wilson would have in the subpar play-calling that has plagued the Browns' receiving corps' success.
The true test for Wilson may wind up being whether or not he can take the talented but very raw Greg Little and turn him into a top wide receiver. It will be a few years before we'll know whether Wilson succeeded in doing so or not. Grade: B
Notable Defensive Assistants
Defensive Line Coach Dwaine Board: Probably one of the most impressive performances among the 2011 coaching staff. The line is still far from perfect, but Board deserves a lot of credit for a line that is very solid despite half of its starters being rookies.
The players working under Board say it all. Ahtyba Rubin continues to impress and Jabaal Sheard and Phil Taylor have adjusted and improved remarkably fast. Grade: B+
Linebackers Coach Bill Davis: A solid performance thus far that could be improved against the run. This is an issue for the entire defense, but the linebackers in particular have struggled, and none have the excuse of being rookies like the defensive linemen.
Still, D'Qwell Jackson has been outstanding, and the other linebackers have been decent or better. Coach Davis has done a good job getting the most out of what he had to work with. Grade: B
Defensive Backs Coach Jerome Henderson: The Browns secondary has obviously been excellent, but how much of that is coaching is tough to assess. A guy like Joe Haden doesn't need a lot of coaching to be considered a top-tier cornerback, but Henderson has still clearly helped him improve his game.
I think Henderson deserves some credit for the progress of Mike Adams as well, and he may also have played a role in what looks to be notable improvement from Usama Young. Aside from Sheldon Brown's decline with age, which Coach Henderson can't control, the only trouble spots this season have been some depth issues and the underachieving T.J. Ward. Grade: B+
Senior Defensive Assistant Ray Rhodes: It's a little tough to assess Rhodes' role in absolute terms due to his vague job title and ambiguous duties, but the players seem to think highly of him. He's gotten a decent amount of credit for the defense's impressive season.
Rhodes was mediocre as a head coach, but has always been solid as a defensive assistant throughout his career. His work for the Browns so far appears to be consistent with that. Grade: B+