Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Breaking Terrible: Why Shurmur and Holmgren Have to Go

I can't believe I'm writing about this again, and despite what many might believe, I do NOT enjoy writing posts like this. I do NOT enjoy calling for the heads of those in charge of the football team I desperately want to love. I do NOT enjoy being negative. However, Pat Shurmur, Mike Holmgren, and to a lesser extent, Tom Heckert, have left me with no choice. It's time for them to go. Not at the end of the season, but not long after Jimmy Haslam steps into his office as the new owner of the Cleveland Browns next week.  This has been the worst run of football I have ever seen, and everything about the franchise, from the PR gaffes to the awful display of football on the field has come to this: the Browns aren't just Breaking Bad, they're Breaking Terrible.

(Photo used with permission from BitterOrangeandBrown.com)

The Beginning

It all started in October of 2010. The Cleveland Browns under head coach Eric Mangini and rookie QB Colt McCoy had just knocked off the defending Super Bowl Champion New Orleans Saints and the always dominant New England Patriots in back to back victories. The following week, the Browns were a tragically-timed fumble away from beating the then-juggernaut New York Jets in overtime. The Browns were still a talent-starved franchise, but the improvement over the 2009 team was massive. This team and coaching staff was playing hard, playing physical, playing inspired football against even the top teams of the NFL despite being given 73 year old, over the hill, interception-prone Jake Delhomme, career-backup Seneca Wallace, and 3rd round rookie Colt McCoy as the team's quarterbacks. They were a QB and some speed away from becoming a truly good football team, likely about 1-2 seasons away depending on the QB.

Then, it all derailed when Browns President Mike Holmgren threw his head coach under the bus. I can't find the exact quote, but I know it was something along the lines of "I don't know how he's winning, and it defies all logic to me, but it needs to continue for Mangini to keep his job." Long story short he was vaguely saying he wasn't buying in yet to the obvious progress the 2010 Browns had made. The train slowly derailed after that (after all, human beings know what a vote of "no confidence" looks like). The Browns went on a losing streak and finished the season 5-11. It wasn't good enough for Coach Mangini to keep his job, and he was unceremoniously fired. The verdict on Mangini purely as a head coach is up for debate, but the Browns were noticeably improved, seemingly on the right track and the train got derailed.

Enter the Shurmurnator

When Mangini was fired, it was very clearly stated by Mike Holmgren that 5-11 against one of the NFL's toughest schedules was not enough progress for Mangini to keep his job. I didn't like it, but I understood it. I understand someone wanting to bring in their own guy to coach the team. Enter Pat Shurmur. Like any new head coach, I was willing to give Pat the benefit of the doubt, but several things didn't sit well with me (call it a "gut feeling", if you want)...

1) Shurmur's track record as a coordinator: I made excuses for it at the time trying to find the positives, but Shurmur's track record as an offensive coordinator was a disaster. There were reasons why (terrible offensive line play his first year, rookie QB his second year), but Shurmur's resume did not say "head coaching material." However, in recent history, the most obvious candidate has rarely been the "best" candidate, so I foolishly wrote off this as a reason to be concerned.

2) Shurmur ran the "purest form" of the West Coast Offense: When I heard this my concern grew even deeper. Shurmur stated he's not a "trick play" guy, as well. Here's my problem with this: a) while you don't want to run trick plays constantly, the threat of a trick play is usually good for a critical touchdown once every 3-4 games if you set it up right. b) the best offensive weapon at the time was Josh Cribbs from the wildcat formation. By removing the wildcat and the threat of trick plays, Shurmur essentially took his best offensive weapon away. Also, by 2011, offenses in the NFL were evolving. The West Coast Offense was on its last legs when Holmgren was finishing up his coaching career, and come 2011, the WCO looked so antiquated that national columnists were stating that Shurmur's scheme was horribly outdated.

3) Shurmur's agent is Bob LaMonte: At the time it was viewed as "nitpicking" to be concerned that Shurmur's agent was the same agent that Mike Holmgren had a personal friendship with, but it was troubling that Holmgren seemingly narrowed his list to LaMonte clients instead of trying to find the best candidate available.

(Note: While this can be viewed as nitpicky, one must realize that LaMonte's influence further spread in Berea with the hiring of Brad Childress as Offensive Coordinator in 2012. Also, LaMonte clients have shown up in other areas of the franchise. It's not a stretch of the truth to think that Holmgren was trying to take care of "his guys," whether they were the most qualified coaches or not.)

4) Shurmur's uncle was on Holmgren's staff: This can also be viewed as nitpicking, but one can't ignore that Shurmur's relationship with Holmgren gave him an inside track to the Browns job. While it's not nepotism by the true definition, it's not out of the realm of reality that Holmgren had an affectionate eye for Shurmur and wanted to give him a chance even though he was probably not the most qualified candidate for the job. (in fact, based on Pat's (lack of) performance, the speculation grows truer everyday).

The Result

2011 happened. The Browns went 4-12 (worse than the previous year) against what was considered one of the softest schedules in the league. The Browns lost their offensive identity as a ground and pound, physical franchise. The gameplans were unimaginative and Shurmur NEVER ONCE outcoached another head coach. In fact, Shurmur was caught with his pants down (similar to the title photo) more than once in 2011. The Raiders scored a touchdown on a successful fake field goal attempt, catching the Browns asleep at the wheel. This isn't even touching the Alex Smith blunder (which, when explained, was the single worst head coaching decision I have ever heard of). National pundits said the Browns offense was so predictable that opposing defenses knew plays based on the formation and tendencies through film study and 25 years of West Coast Offense knowledge.

Shurmur was responsible for several coaching blunders during the season that were Romeo Crennel-esque. Clock management and personnel decisions were terrible, and the playcalling was as bad as ever. Granted, he didn't have help because his QB was terrible and his team was young, but I left every game thinking that better coaching would have won at least a couple more games.

Then, Mike Holmgren became defiant and made excuses for his team. "If we just made that field goal and had a couple mistakes go our way we'd be much better." and "Don't call me for playoff tickets."

It bottomed out with the Colt McCoy Concussion Conundrum, where Colt was KNOCKED OUT and inexplicably went back into the game. We heard the reasons why he went back into the game (Colt complained about his wrist and appeared to be fine mentally) but anyone who is AT ALL aware of what was happening on-field knows that Colt was likely concussed. Shurmur's blatant disregard of the situation, if anything, showed his lack of awareness of what's going on the field. It was abundantly clear to me: the game moves too fast for Shurmur as a coach.

The Excuses

The excuses began for Pat Shurmur: 1) The Lockout 2) Peyton Hillis' Ricky Vaughn-like (Major League 2 version) emotional state 3) The QB (an excuse I believe was the most valid of all) 4) The young roster and lack of weapons. While these points were not excuses for Shurmur's horrendous in-game decisions and poor play calling, they were still valid.

And, like a fool who always gets back together with his or her manipulative, poisonous ex, I was starting to buy in and give Shurmur the benefit of the doubt once again. Drafting Trent Richardson made me excited at the idea of becoming a ground and pound physical football team again, and drafting Brandon Weeden validated many of my thoughts about inferior QB play holding back the Browns. I was starting to believe again. I thought an improved ballclub was inevitable based on offensive improvement alone, and most of all, Shurmur looked and sounded like a different person knowing he had new toys to play with on offense.

The Present

I was wrong. I visited training camp twice in August and, while impressed at how fast paced and efficient the practices were, I was alarmed by the lack of physicality of practices. I was alarmed by how Shurmur wasn't giving his rookie QB the proper repetitions to be ready for the home opener against Philadelphia.

After a 12-35, 4 INT performance against the Eagles, Weeden was clearly ill prepared for the opener. No one in their right mind expects a rookie QB to torch a stacked secondary in his NFL debut, but no one expected it to be THIS bad. And the coaching staff was to blame for not giving him the proper repetitions in the preseason.

Weeden has improved considerably since that game, but he's still a rookie that makes rookie mistakes and rookie throws. And he's a rookie that the coaching staff is not treating like a rookie. Consider this: Brandon Weeden is throwing an astounding 40.4 times a game. A rookie QB is throwing 40 times a game even though the #3 overall pick in the draft is running very, VERY well, and is clearly the strength of the offense. It's inexcusable and defies all logic on how to coach up a young QB. Rookie QB's need to be brought along slowly. It doesn't matter if Weeden is 28 or 21, he's still an infant in NFL years. No one is saying Weeden should be throwing 15 times a game like Roethlisberger and Flacco did in their rookie seasons, but he shouldn't be throwing more than he has to, or put in situations where he's set up to fail. A good coach will try to minimize his rookie QB's mistakes unless the situation calls for it (aka down by 21 and are forced to throw to get back into the game).

Most of all, Shurmur isn't adapting his gameplans to his personnel. Weeden is receiving a crash course in NFL offense and facing NFL defenses while Shurmur and Childress are not accentuating his strengths. Weeden is best from a shotgun formation making sight adjustments at the line of scrimmage and operating the offense in a fast-paced, no-huddle environment. It's similar to what the Panthers did with Cam Newton last season, the Patriots adapting their offense to the new age and how Mike Shanahan is adapting his West Coast Offensive philosophy to accentuate fellow rookie QB Robert Griffin III's strengths. The bottom line is this: the gameplans are as horrible as last season, but the execution is better because Weeden is throwing down the field more often. The team is every bit as mistake-prone as last season if not moreso, and as a head coach, Pat Shurmur is as lost as he was last season, and if anything, the pressure of losing is getting to him.

The Meltdown

A sign of a good head coach is how he handles adversity, because adversity occurs during every game and every point during a season. Shurmur hasn't handled adversity well in-game based on how the wheels fall off every time something goes wrong, and how he abandons the run when down by as little as 7 points.

Now, Shurmur is attacking the Cleveland media, cursing out respected former Browns head coaches, AP writers (whose jobs are literally only to write the facts, not stir the pot), and leaving creepy voicemails to Browns beat writers. The behavior is similar to that of a psychotic ex and is a serious character flaw for someone whose job is to ignore the media and try to win football games. While head coaches are not the President of the United States, they are expected to be Presidential in front of the media and in front of the ball club. Good coaches stay level-headed in the face of criticism and adversity. It's part of the job. After all, what if Shurmur spent the energy he's spending on fighting the media on his gameplans? They most certainly need it.

And that leaves me to this thought: don't good head coaches ignore the criticism and soldier on? Why is Shurmur so sensitive to (justified) media criticism?

It's simple: he's in over his head. He's not head coaching material and needs to be fired as soon as possible. Near-nepotism put him in this position, and the person who put him in charge (who is equally as sensitive to media criticism) needs to be sent packing as well.

The Aftermath

The aftermath remains to be seen, but the wreckage in Berea is piling up. Jimmy Haslam takes over ownership of the franchise next week, and while I don't expect him to act swiftly, I expect him to act decisively. I have never seen a coaching staff and regime as bad as the Holmgren Era.

Get these guys out of here, Jimmy. Blow this up. They've done enough damage to my Browns fandom and the fandom of many in this city.

We've been lathered up again, now it's time to rinse ourselves clean of this mess, and, this time, hopefully not repeat.

2 comments:

  1. Great piece, I wouldn't give Mangini so much credit nor lump Heckert in with the Walrus and Shurm though.Shurm points are right on. I just hope if he is replaced it is for someone with HC experience, not another hot coordinator.

    ReplyDelete