Cleveland Browns head coach Pat Shurmur works the sidelines in the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks Sunday, Oct. 23, 2011, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)
BEREA, Ohio — Before the ball dropped on a new year, the Browns said goodbye to another coach.
The same thing happened after seasons in 2000, 2004, 2008 and 2010.
One day after another dismal, double-digit loss season ended, the Browns fired coach Pat Shurmur and GM Tom Heckert, the initial offseason moves by new owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner, who intend to put a stop to the franchise’s never-ending cycle of change. The Browns’ next coach will be their sixth since 1999.
“We’re well aware that this has been a carousel,” said Haslam. “It’s our job to find the right coach and the right GM and bring stability long term for the organization. That’s our role. Our goal is to get the best person.”
Haslam was matter of fact when asked what attribute he was looking for in a coach.
“Strong leadership,” he said.
Shurmur went 9-23 in his two seasons with the Browns, who were still in the playoff mix before closing the season with three straight losses to finish 5-11. Shurmur, who followed Eric Mangini into Cleveland, developed one of the NFL’s youngest rosters this season despite an undercurrent of change.
His first season was made more difficult by the lockout, preventing him from learning about his players. The bottom line, though, is that he didn’t win enough.
“I’ve never seen a coach with that much on his plate in two years,” linebacker Scott Fujita said. “To handle it the way he did and to manage it day-to-day the way he did and to not let the distractions from outside come in and infiltrate the locker room, you couldn’t have asked for more out of him.”
Haslam said the decisions to dismiss Shurmur and Heckert were finalized in the “last week or two.” It’s expected both men will quickly find jobs with another teams, and it’s possible they could be reunited with coach Andy Reid, who was fired Monday in Philadelphia. The trio worked together with the Eagles.
Haslam and Banner will immediately begin their coaching search.
During a 35-minute news conference that turned into a sales pitch for a new coach, they did not disclose any potential candidates. However, Banner is confident the Browns, who have lost at least 11 games in each of the past five seasons — the second-longest streak of futility in league history — will land a quality coach.
“Most of these coaches are focused on finding a place where they think they can win,” Banner said. “We think we can make a very good case why this is the best opportunity in the league right now.”
Already, the list of possible candidates to take over for Shurmur includes Alabama’s Nick Saban and Oregon’s Chip Kelly, college football’s two hottest coaches who both have bowl games ahead. One of them could be lured to Cleveland with the promise of having complete control of the roster.
Saban worked as an assistant in Cleveland under Bill Belichick in the ‘90s, and although many believe he’ll retire at Alabama, that doesn’t mean Haslam won’t try to hire him.
“I would love for him to be here, but I doubt if he would come to the NFL and leave Alabama,” said rookie running back Trent Richardson, who played for Saban with the Crimson Tide. “I can’t see him leaving.”
Kelly’s up-tempo offense is intriguing to the Browns. With Richardson, quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Josh Gordon, they have a young nucleus to build around.
Penn State’s Bill O’Brien, who served as New England’s offensive coordinator before taking over in Happy Valley, is also believed to be on the Browns’ short list.
There is also reported interest in several NFL coordinators including Indianapolis’ Bruce Arians, New England’s Josh McDaniels, Denver’s Mike McCoy and Washington’s Kyle Shanahan,
Fox Sports reported Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter will interview with the Browns this week.
Haslam promised a thorough search.
“We’re going to explore all avenues, college coaches, coordinators and head coaches,” he said. “The key is to get the right person.”
Among the GM candidates expected to be considered are: Atlanta player personnel director David Caldwell, San Francisco director of player personnel Tom Gamble, Baltimore assistant GM Eric DeCosta and NFL Network analyst Mike Lombardi, who worked with Banner in Philadelphia and for the Browns when Belichick was Cleveland’s coach.
Banner said it’s possible the Browns would hire a player personnel director, not necessarily a GM.
Shurmur, who has two years left on his contract, was emotional when addressing the Browns for the final time.
“It’s unfortunate, very unfortunate,” Weeden said of the changes. “When you don’t win games, it’s not on Pat, it’s not on Mr. Heckert, it’s all on us and we all feel a sense of responsibility.”
Following Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh, Shurmur said he had not spoken to Haslam or Banner in “quite some time,” a clear sign the team was moving on without him.
Shurmur was not available for comment. Not long after leaving the team’s facility, he attended a movie at a cinema complex with his family.
He departed the Browns with some satisfaction.
“I am extremely proud of the players on this team, who I felt made tremendous strides and helped to make the Cleveland Browns relevant again,” Shurmur said in a release. “This group of players will achieve success soon, and there will be a part of me that will feel very good when that happens.”
Shurmur’s fate may have been sealed on the first day of training camp when Haslam’s intent to buy the Browns was announced. It may not have mattered how Shurmur did this season because Haslam, a former minority owner with the Steelers, was intent on bringing in his own people.
He wants to find his first coach “sooner than later,” but he’s willing to wait.
“Whatever timetable it takes to get the right person,” he said. “We’re going to take.”