Owner and CEO hold press conference to discuss firings of Shurmur, Heckert
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns are changing again after Monday's announcement of the dismissals of coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert.
Their firings come one day after the Browns lost their finale 24-10 in Pittsburgh, completing a 5-11 season.
Shurmur went 9-23 in his two seasons with the Browns, who will embark on yet another offseason of change -- the only constant in more than a decade of futility. Cleveland has lost at least 11 games in each of the past five seasons and has made the playoffs just once since returning to the NFL as an expansion team in 1999.
The Browns just can't seem to get it right.
The firings of Shurmur and Heckert signal the start of an expected overhaul by new owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner, who have spent the past two months identifying possible replacements for their top two football positions.
"We feel very good about this opportunity here," Haslam said. "We think we have a good young team in place. As you have all taught me, this is a great football town. We think the person that can come in here and make the Cleveland Browns a winner will be recognized as one of the great coaches of all time and will be beloved in this area. So, I think we're confident that this is a good situation. We're not going to worry about who else is out there looking for a coach. We have our people in mind and we're going to work hard to bring the right person to Cleveland."
Already, the list of possible coaches to take over for Shurmur includes some of college football's top names. Haslam might want to make a big splash and land either Alabama's Nick Saban or Oregon's Chip Kelly, who both still have bowl games ahead. Penn State's Bill O'Brien is also believed to be on the Browns' short list.
There is also reported interest in several NFL assistants including Indianapolis' Bruce Arians, New England's Josh McDaniels, Denver's Mike McCoy, Washington's Kyle Shanahan and Cincinnati's Jay Gruden.
Among the general manager candidates are: Atlanta player personnel director David Caldwell, San Francisco director of player personnel Tom Gamble, Baltimore assistant GM Eric DeCosta and NFL Network analyst and Mike Lombardi, who worked with Banner in Philadelphia and for the Browns when Bill Belichick was Cleveland's coach.
"We don't believe there is any job in the league that's going to be available that can tell a better story about why you want to come to this particular team (and) this particular city and take a job," said Banner. "We go into this extremely confident that we can go after the top people available, at least the top people in our opinion, and that we have a very good chance of being successful in convincing them that this is the right situation. Most of these top coaches are focused on finding a place where they think they can win. We think we can make a very good case of why this is the best opportunity in the league right now."
Shurmur's replacement will be the Browns' sixth coach since 1999.
The Browns were competitive this season under Shurmur. They just didn't win enough.
Cleveland was still in the playoff mix earlier this month, but a three-game losing streak to close the season -- they were blown out by Washington and Denver in consecutive weeks -- ended any chance of Shurmur saving his job.
Shurmur was emotional when he addressed the Browns following Sunday's loss.
"He was trying to hold back the tears," linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. "He put everything into it. He was just emotional about it. He was passionate about it. The players, we appreciate him, we'd run through a brick wall for him."
Shurmur's fate may have been sealed on the first day of training camp in July when Haslam's intent to buy the Browns from Randy Lerner for $1 billion was announced. It might not have mattered how Shurmur did this season because Haslam, a former minority owner with the Pittsburgh Steelers who built his fortune with Pilot Flying J travel centers, was intent on bringing in his own people.
Banner's arrival forced out president Mike Holmgren, who hired both Shurmur and Heckert but left before the end of his third year with Cleveland.
Shumrur, who has two years remaining on his contract, was dealt a difficult hand from the start.
His first season with the Browns was complicated by the labor lockout, depriving him of a chance to work with his players in the offseason or installing his offensive and defensive systems. He chose not to hire an offensive coordinator, holding down both positions in his first year, a decision he later said was a mistake.
Shurmur made his share of mistakes. He had some game-management issues, and his play calling was often questioned. However, the 47-year-old seemed to be getting better in his second season, and he deserves credit for developing one of the league's youngest teams. The Browns had 17 rookies and 26 players with two years or less of experience on their roster.
Heckert, who came to Cleveland from Philadelphia, succeeded in upgrading the Browns' talent. He overhauled an aging team, infusing the Browns with solid young players through the draft. In April, he selected running back Trent Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weeden and offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz, all of whom had solid first pro seasons.
Heckert also gambled and nabbed wide receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft, a choice that seemed risky but paid off as the 21-year-old blossomed.
But it may have been a move Heckert couldn't pull off that doomed him.
The Browns were beaten out by Washington in the sweepstakes to get prized rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. Cleveland tried to package picks to swap with the Rams, who eventually made a blockbuster deal with the Redskins, who then drafted RG III with the second overall choice.
Heckert, who was Holmgren's first hire with Cleveland, thought he would have five years to build the Browns but wound up getting just three. It's expected Heckert will be scooped up quickly, as more than one dozen teams are expected to have front-office openings.
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