AFC North: Pat Shurmur

The Browns provided results of a 20-year study they did on coaches who struggled in their first season.

Some of the numbers are interesting.

In the past 20 years -- the salary cap era -- 28 coaches were hired (not counting Rob Chudzinski) who won four or fewer games in their first season. Among them were Chris Palmer and Pat Shurmur in Cleveland.

Six were fired after just one season -- Mike Mularkey in Jacksonville, Romeo Crennel in Kansas City, Cam Cameron in Miami, Art Shell in Oakland, Joe Bugel in Oakland and Richie Petitbon in Washington.

Of the 22 who returned, only five (23 percent) had a winning record in Year 2.

Sixteen of the original 28 were given a third season.

Only four lasted four years or longer.

Only six (28 percent) reached the playoffs at any point in time. And only two (nine percent) had multiple playoff appearances -- Jim Mora in New Orleans and Tom Coughlin in Jacksonville. Coughin was .529 in eight years, Mora .500, and Dom Capers .281 in four years in Houston.

The combined won-lost percentages of the coaches did not make great strides over three years. Coaches won 19.6 percent the first year (91-373), 41.1 percent the second (135-194-1) and 38.5 percent the third (92-147-1).

Five of the six teams that fired their coach after one bad season improved the following season, and two improved by at least nine games (Tony Sparano at Miami in 2008 and Andy Reid this past season with Kansas City).

This would be the argument for making a change when a team feels it’s needed; the evidence would indicate that sticking with a struggling coach only makes him struggle longer.

However, it does not take into complete account the quality of the team the coach inherited. In some cases, though not all, the team-building mirrored the struggles of the coaches.

What it also does not take into account is if the coaches took over bad teams in their first season. It would seem a coaching change was made for a reason.

What’s interesting is they generally took over bad teams and did worse.

Eighteen of the 28 coaches coached their teams to worse records than the year before they were hired, including Dennis Allen taking Oakland from 8-8 to 4-12, Raheem Morris taking Tampa Bay from 9-7 to 3-13, Cam Cameron taking Miami from 6-10 to 1-15 and Marty Mornhinweg taking Detroit from 9-7 to 2-14.

What might be most interesting is that the Rams were 2-14 the year before Steve Spagnulo arrived, and 1-15 his first year.

Of the 28, 18 took a step back, three stayed the same, three were expansion coaches and four had better records than the year before they took over -- albeit to four wins or fewer.

Teams won 32.2 percent of their games the year before the new hires, 19.6 the year after.

Fun facts on firing coaches

December, 31, 2013
Just some quick facts on the firing of coaches:
  • The last four coaches fired in the AFC North have been by the Cleveland Browns.
  • Since January of 2009, the Browns have fired Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski.
  • That’s four coaches fired in five years.
  • Two of those coaches fired were given two seasons to win, one was given one season.
  • Mike Tomlin, John Harbaugh and Marvin Davis have all been on the job in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati since before 2009.
  • The number of coaches in Joe Thomas’ seven-year career? Soon to be five.
  • The number of coaches in Cleveland since the team returned in 1999? Soon to be eight.
  • Five plus eight equals 13, which is the exact number of games the Browns have won the past three seasons.
  • The number of coaches fired since January 2012: Two.
  • The number of coaches hired since January 2012: Soon to be two as well.
  • The Browns have lost 10 games in a season in 10 of the last 11 seasons.
  • This season marked the sixth in a row that the Browns have lost more than 11 games. According to Elias, only the Raiders did that for a longer period -- they lost 11 every season from 2003-2009, seven in a row.
  • The Browns will have a chance to match that mark in 2014. With a new coach, new systems (is there any doubt we’ll all be writing and talking about the switch back to the four-three defense?), new coordinators, new quarterback and new running back, the odds would have to favor matching this mark.


There’s nothing like it.

Midpoint comparison: 2012 and 2013

October, 31, 2013
From Pat Shurmur to Rob Chudzinski, Mike Holmgren to Joe Banner ... the Cleveland Browns are in the midst of a change.

Midway through a season is a fair time to assess the change on the field. According to the numbers, the biggest difference between the Browns of 2013 and the Browns of 2012 is on defense.

One could even say that the Browns have made dramatic improvement defensively (see chart).

Total yards are down 18 percent.

Yards per play are down 17 percent.

And rushing yards, a Browns problem since the millennium, are down 21 percent.

The all-important yards per pass attempt are down 16 percent from a year ago.

The area where the defense has not improved has been on third-down conversions. Opponents are making a first down 46.4 percent of the time on third downs. A year ago, that number was 37.9 percent.

Logic would dictate that the trends simply make sense.

Three years the Browns drafted Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard. In the offeseason the free-agent focus was on the defense. And in the draft the focus was on the defense.

Combine that with Ray Horton’s aggressive approach, and the improvement is evident -- and will be more evident once the third-down number improves.

Offensively, well … things remain a struggle. What is interesting, though, is that in 2012 the Browns had Trent Richardson, albeit an injured Trent Richardson.

Richardson was traded earlier this season, but the running game numbers are mainly unchanged.

One other interesting number: The offense's yards-per-pass attempt are down this season even though Shurmur's offense was known for its short crosses and Chudzinski's is known for attacking down the field.
Browns coach Rob Chudzinski made the right move Wednesday, when he officially gave the play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

Chudzinski didn't fall into the same pitfall as the man he replaced, Pat Shurmur, who kept the dual role of head coach and play-caller in his two seasons in Cleveland. It's tough to be a rookie head coach in this league. It's almost impossible to succeed as one when you're trying to do too much.

The best part of the news conference introducing Turner was Chudzinski's vision of his own role. "One of the things as a head coach that I want to be careful of is to be classified as an 'offensive guy,'" he said. "I'm the head coach of the football team, and being involved with everybody in all those different phases on a day-to-day basis is important in shaping the direction we want to go."

This is easier said than done, especially when you listen to the owner that hired you. When announcing Chudzinski has his head coach, owner Jimmy Haslam talked about how he wanted an offensive mind as the head coach and recited the number of touchdowns that Chudzinski helped produce last season as the Carolina offensive coordinator.

It would be naive of everyone to think Chudzinski is not going to have input on the offense each game.

"With Norv here, there's no doubt in my mind he'll do a great job as the play-caller," Chudzinski said. "Certainly, I will oversee it and be involved in suggesting or calling it at times. But that process is a fluid process."

In addition to being the offensive coordinator, Turner will also be the team's quarterbacks coach.

"Based on his history and the great quarterbacks he's been around and developed through the years, I think that will be a real asset for us," Chudzinski said.

Wake-up call: Super Ravens

January, 21, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- For the past two games, the Ravens were 9.5-point underdogs. And, for the past two games, the Ravens have beaten Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. You don't have to like the Ravens. But you certainly have to respect the playoff run they've put together. Now, Baltimore faces San Francisco in the Super Bowl, where the Ravens will be underdogs again.

The Ravens improved to 13-7 all-time in the playoffs. Their .650 winning percentage is the best in NFL history. The Packers (.625) rank second, and the Steelers (.611) are third.

This marks the fifth time in the past 13 years that the AFC North will have a team in the Super Bowl. The Ravens won in the 2000 season, and the Steelers captured the NFL title in the 2005 and 2008 seasons. The only loss by a division team during that time was the 2010 Steelers, who lost to the Packers.

In case you missed the late-night posts, here's my column on Joe Flacco and my quick take on the Super Bowl matchup. For those who feel that the blog has been too Ravens-heavy lately, I have some bad news: It's going to get worse for the next two weeks. That's what happens when they're one of two teams in the league playing. A day or two after the Lombardi trophy is hoisted up, we'll shift to offseason mode.

Here's your wake-up call ...

RAVENS: The Baltimore Sun's Mike Preston says it was the Ravens' offensive line that paved the way to New Orleans. "The best move came two weeks ago when Ravens coach John Harbaugh inserted Bryant McKinnie at left offensive tackle, moved Michael Oher to right tackle and rookie Kelechi Osemele to left guard," Preston wrote. "That's when the Ravens became championship caliber. There are always new schemes and philosophies in football, but there is one constant: If your front five can beat the other team's defensive front seven, you win games. On Sunday night, the Ravens' starting group of McKinnie, Oher, guard Marshal Yanda, Osemele and center Matt Birk were outstanding."

BENGALS: Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden didn't get hired as a head coach after four interviews over a six-day span, but it was still a productive experience for him. "It was an honor to be on those guys’ lists and to be able to talk football and philosophies," Gruden told The Cincinnati Enquirer. "You also learn that there are a lot of issues in a lot of different positions and sometimes our problems are not as bad.”

STEELERS: The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette believes the Steelers' priority must be to either re-sign Rashard Mendenhall or bring in another featured back. "They cannot go into their next season without one," Bouchette wrote. "(Jonathan) Dwyer and (Isaac) Redman are complementary backs and they have value in that. (Baron) Batch can be a good role player, one similar to that played by Mewelde Moore from 2008-11."
BROWNS: Former Browns head coach Pat Shurmur is returning to Philadelphia to be the Eagles' offensive coordinator, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. It's a curious hire considering Shurmur's background is running a West Coast offense and new Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is known for his frenetic spread attack. In Shurmur's two years in Cleveland, the pace of his offenses would never be described as fast.

Browns need experience over flash

December, 31, 2012
A big mistake for new owners is to make a splash with their first head coaching hire. They want to generate excitement for their fan base.

The Cleveland Browns, though, don't need flash in their next head coach. They need experience.

[+] EnlargePat Shurmur
David Richard/USA TODAY SportsPat Shurmur was 9-23 in his two seasons as Browns coach.
That was the ultimate downfall for Pat Shurmur. He wasn't a head coach at any level before taking the top job in Cleveland. Others have been able to succeed without being a head coach previously -- namely Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh -- but they took over veteran teams.

Pairing an inexperienced head coach with an inexperienced team resulted in the ineptness that surfaced too often over the past two seasons. I don't really need to rehash the debacles of third-and-1 and the inability to get the play calls to the quarterback in time.

“This decision was not an easy one because of my relationship with Tom [Heckert, general manager] and Pat and the fact that they are both quality people,” Browns chief executive officer Joe Banner said. “Ultimately our objective is to put together an organization that will be the best at everything we do. On the field, our only goal is trying to win championships."

That's why the priority is finding the coach who will get this young team headed in the right direction and not one who can just generate ticket sales. The Browns are closer to turning things around than their 5-11 record indicates. Five of those losses were by seven points or fewer. Three losses came after the Browns had the lead in the fourth quarter.

This is why the Browns' head coaching position is much more attractive now than when Shurmur was hired two years ago. At this point, the two hot candidates are Oregon's Chip Kelly and Penn State's Bill O'Brien. The Browns will likely have to compete with the Philadelphia Eagles, who fired Andy Reid, for Kelly and O'Brien. Kelly has been the head coach of Oregon since 2009, and O'Brien finished his first season as a head coach this year after spending one season as the offensive coordinator with the Patriots.

Other candidates who could potentially be on the Browns' radar are: Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman, Colts offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy, Falcons offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, Jaguars defensive coordinator Mel Tucker and Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer.

Of those, McDaniels, Arians, Koetter and Gruden had prior head-coaching experience at some level.
The Browns continued their housecleaning by firing general manager Tom Heckert along with coach Pat Shurmur, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

The reason to dismiss Shurmur was clear. He didn't win. Nine wins in 32 games isn't going to cut it, especially with an ownership change.

But the Browns are going to regret letting Heckert walk out the door. I understand the need for housecleaning and letting chief executive officer Joe Banner put "his guys" into place. Still, based on his short track record in Cleveland, Heckert didn't deserve to get fired.

All you have to do is look at the roster in January 2010 when Heckert took over and what the team looks like now. He rebuilt the defense through the draft with cornerback Joe Haden, safety T.J. Ward, defensive tackle Phil Taylor and defensive end Jabaal Sheard. He was attempting to do the same on offense when he selected running back Trent Richardson and quarterback Brandon Weeden (who was more of a Mike Holmgren pick) in the first round this year.

Heckert also hit in the later rounds with guard Jason Pinkston (fifth round in 2011), linebacker James-Michael Johnson (fourth round in 2012) and defensive tackle Billy Winn (sixth round in 2012), and he made the right call by taking wide receiver Josh Gordon in the second round of the supplemental draft.

The move Heckert wasn't able to make was the one to move up in this year's draft to get quarterback Robert Griffin III, although it sounded like Holmgren was making the final decision on that.

So why didn't the Browns win with that talent? Some of it has to do with coaching, but another factor was free agency. The Browns needed to spend (or be allowed to spend) to fill in the holes. Relying solely on the draft doesn't result in a quick turnaround, even when you're having productive drafts.

“I leave the Browns feeling very good about many of the things we accomplished here and the direction in which I believe this team is headed,” Heckert said in a statement. “Having been around this franchise growing up, I was really excited for the opportunity to come here three years ago, and I want to thank Randy Lerner and Mike Holmgren for making that possible. I wish the team nothing but the best as they move forward.”

My guess is Heckert won't be waiting around too long for his next job.

Report: Browns fire Pat Shurmur

December, 31, 2012
The speculation has ended. The Browns became the first team to fire their head coach, dismissing Pat Shurmur on Monday morning, according to Jay Glazer of Fox Sports.

Shurmur was 9-23 in his two seasons as coach. The Browns didn't put up much of a fight at the end for Shurmur, losing their last three games by an average margin of 17.6 points.

The news was expected ever since Jimmy Haslam took over as Browns owner in October and Mike Holmgren was removed as team president.

The Browns will now look for their seventh head coach since returning to the NFL in 1999. The next announcement should be the dismissal of general manager Tom Heckert.
The Browns know that they will have the sixth pick in the NFL draft in April. What is unknown is who will be in the Browns' draft room.

After Cleveland's 24-10 loss to Pittsburgh on Sunday, the Browns (5-11) finished tied with the Cardinals (5-11) for the sixth-worst record in the NFL. Cleveland gets the higher slot because it had a weaker strength of schedule over Arizona, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The Browns don't have a second-round pick this year because they wisely used it on wide receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft this year.

This was expected to be the last game for coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert. Both reportedly will be fired Monday.

Shurmur, who is 9-23 as Browns coach, said after the game that he hasn't talked to owner Jimmy Haslam or chief executive officer Joe Banner "in quite some time" and hasn't heard if they have made a decision about the head coaching position.

"I saw them before the game, but not close enough to speak," Shurmur said, via The Plain Dealer. "You need to call your league sources."

Wrap-up: Steelers 24, Browns 10

December, 30, 2012

My thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 24-10 win over the visiting Cleveland Browns:

What it means: The Steelers (8-8) ended a three-game losing streak and avoided their first losing season since 2003. In what is expected to be coach Pat Shurmur's final game, the Browns (5-11) continued their miserable finish, losing for the third straight time by at least 14 points. Cleveland also failed to complete its first sweep of Pittsburgh since 1988.

Thumbs up: Steelers cornerback Cortez Allen. He forced two turnovers after having a hand in three takeaways last Sunday. His first forced fumble (it came against Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon) set up Ben Roethlisberger's 1-yard touchdown pass to Leonard Pope. Allen's second forced fumble (he stripped receiver Travis Benjamin) led to Roethlisberger's 12-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress. It was a much different story than the last meeting, when the Steelers turned the ball over eight times.

Thumbs down: The Steelers' defense had a chance to become the first defense since 1991 to finish atop the NFL in pass and run defense. But Pittsburgh won't accomplish that feat after giving up 138 yards rushing. This comes against a Browns team that didn't have running back Trent Richardson.

Caught off guard: In a season when the Browns struggled to make the right calls, they surprised the Steelers with a fake punt at their own 25-yard line. Ray Ventrone ran 35 yards on the fake to set up the Browns' only touchdown of the game.

Rough finish: The likely end to the Shurmur era ended with a whimper. The Browns were outscored 96-43 in their last three games, a 17.6-point average margin of defeat.

What's next: The Browns reportedly will fire Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert. The Steelers face some tough decisions to get under next year's salary cap.

Wake-up: Is Arians on Browns' radar?

December, 30, 2012
Here is what is happening around the division heading into this season's final regular-season games:

RAVENS: After being selected to his third Pro Bowl, running back Ray Rice rewarded his blockers by giving them each 46-inch flat screen televisions. "I’m sitting here getting all these accolades. Those guys, they don’t live by accolades," Rice told the team's official website. "They live by putting their hand in the dirt and going to work. There’s no price you can put on how much you appreciate the dirty work for you.” Last week, quarterback Joe Flacco put Bose speaker systems in all of the lockers of his offensive linemen and of fullback Vonta Leach.

BENGALS: Josh Brown is the Bengals' kicker for the regular-season finale and the playoffs after the team placed Mike Nugent (right calf ) on injured reserve. Brown has made 8-of-9 field-goal attempts for the Bengals, with his only miss coming on that desperation 56-yard try at Pittsburgh last Sunday. It's unknown what the Bengals will do with Nugent going forward. He was the Cincinnati's franchise player this season ($2.7 million) after setting the team's scoring record in 2011. This season, he missed three of his last 12 field-goal attempts.

STEELERS: Wide receiver Mike Wallace might have played his last game with the Steelers after being ruled out (and later placed on injured reserve) with hip and hamstring injuries. Asked about the possibility that he would return to the Steelers as a free agent, Wallace said, via The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "I don't know, we'll see. I got big plans, no matter what the situation." It's the first time in Wallace's four-year career that he's missed a game.

BROWNS: It's unclear whether Colts interim head coach Bruce Arians is on the radar of the Browns, who are expected to fire Pat Shurmur on Monday. The Plain Dealer's Tom Reed believes Arians should be. "They could do a lot worse than hiring Arians as their next coach," Reed wrote. "He knows the market, he's aware of the franchise's deeply rooted dysfunction, he helps develop young quarterbacks, and he's successfully run a team at the NFL level -- albeit for 12 games." Arians was the Browns' offensive coordinator from 2001 to 2003.
The Browns are expected to fire coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert on Monday, league sources told The Plain Dealer.

Anyone surprised by this news? I didn't think so.

The only reason to keep both of them around is to maintain continuity, which has been a recurring problem for the Browns since they returned to the league in 1999. But no one really expected the new regime of owner Jimmy Haslam and chief executive officer Joe Banner to keep decision-makers that they didn't hire.

Shurmur never made a strong case to keep his job. Even with a more talented roster, he was only able to increase the win total by one from a season ago. It was a tough situation for Shurmur considering he was dealing with one of the youngest teams in the league. Still, he also made consistent blunders when it came to third-and-1 situations and fourth-down decisions late in games, both of which made Haslam visibly cringe this season.

Heckert, on the other hand, has done an admirable job building the Browns over the past three years, but he doesn't fit in the team's new model. Banner is now making the football decisions and he will hire a personnel director, not a general manager. It would be difficult to ask Heckert to stick around in a reduced role.

The early speculation has former NFL executive Mike Lombardi taking over for Heckert and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels replacing Shurmur as head coach. Whoever becomes the next Browns' personnel man and head coach, the question that could determine this regime's success is this: Is Brandon Weeden the Browns' franchise quarterback?
The Browns are down to third-string quarterback Thad Lewis after starter Brandon Weeden and backup Colt McCoy sat out Wednesday's practice with shoulder injuries.

This could be a case of history repeating itself.

The Browns faced an eerily similar scenario in 2008, when Cleveland was forced to start Bruce Gradkowski in the season finale at Pittsburgh after placing its top three quarterbacks -- Brady Quinn, Derek Anderson and Ken Dorsey -- all on injured reserve.

The result: the Browns lost 31-0. Gradkowski completed 5 of 16 passes for 18 yards with two interceptions. He didn't complete a pass for nearly 27 minutes and finished with a whopping 1.0 passer rating. General manager Phil Savage was fired immediately after the game and head coach Romeo Crennel was dismissed the next day.

Four years later, the Browns are dealing with another run of injuries at quarterback and uncertainty in the front office. Many expect the Browns to let general manager Tom Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur go soon after the 2012 season ends.

If this is the end for this regime, there was improvement in the talent level even though it didn't translate in more wins. The Browns have a much better roster now than they did in January 2010, when Heckert took over.

Wake-up call: Happy Holiday edition

December, 25, 2012
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone from the AFC North blog. What do you reflect upon on a day like today? If it's hits on defenseless receivers, torn knee ligaments and a coach trying to save his job, you've come to the right spot. As for me, the game plan for today is to spend some quality time with the family, and I hope you can do the same. The AFC North blog will be back in full swing Wednesday. Here's your wake-up call ...

RAVENS: Coach John Harbaugh said safety Ed Reed "did everything he could" to avoid helmet contact with Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz. According to The Baltimore Sun, the Ravens are hoping that any potential punishment from the league office won't go beyond a fine and that Reed won't face a suspension. "It's tough, full-speed, the whole thing," Harbaugh said. "I hope the league really takes a look at this in the offseason and figures out a way to help the players out a little bit. It's been a real challenge so far this year."

BENGALS: Coach Marvin Lewis doesn't plan to rest his starters in the final regular-season game even though the Bengals are locked into being the No. 6 seed in the AFC playoffs, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I don't really have any beat-up guys," Lewis said. "So, the only thing that is at stake is you go out and play to win the game every time we go, win."

STEELERS: Tight end Heath Miller tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee Sunday and will not play in the regular-season finale against the Browns. It's a terrible way to end a spectacular season for Miller, who was the Steelers' most consistent offensive weapon this year. Miller finished the season with 71 catches for career highs of 816 yards and 8 touchdowns.

BROWNS: Despite just a one-win improvement from a year ago, coach Pat Shurmur believes the Browns better positioned to "make the next jump." Said Shurmur, via The Plain Dealer: "I think ... as a team, and I'm talking about the way we function and the young players we added, we are much improved from a year ago." There is speculation that Shurmur will be fired as Browns coach as soon as the season is over.