Mike Holmgren gambles on Pat Shurmur

January, 13, 2011
1/13/11
2:30
PM ET
We'll borrow a poker term to describe Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren. He's now "all in."

[+] EnlargeRams offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur
Mark J. Rebilas/US PresswirePat Shurmur helped rookie quarterback Sam Bradford succeed in St. Louis. Can he do the same with Colt McCoy?
Thursday's hire of Pat Shurmur as the Browns' next head coach -- Cleveland's fifth since 1999 -- will make Holmgren look like a genius or a flop as czar in Cleveland. Unquestionably, this is the biggest decision Holmgren will make in his tenure.

On the day he fired Eric Mangini, Holmgren said he was going to exhaust every avenue to find the best head coach possible for the Browns. Ten days later, Holmgren chose Shurmur, a first-time head coach who wasn't on the radar for similar openings with other teams. Holmgren, Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert also are all represented by the same agent (Bob LaMonte).

An offensive coordinator with the St. Louis Rams this season, Shurmur has an offensive pedigree, meshes with Holmgren's philosophies and works well with young quarterbacks, which is important for Cleveland rookie Colt McCoy. But Shurmur also has zero head-coaching experience and his offenses were ranked No. 29 and No. 26 during his two-year stint with St. Louis.

Will this gamble work? We will find out in the next couple of years as Shurmur tries to lead Cleveland past the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers to the top of the AFC North.

But for now, envision Holmgren gathering all of his chips and pushing them to the center of the table. This is a move that must work, especially since the hire will create very little buzz in Cleveland.

Perhaps Shurmur was Holmgren's target all along. There were only three reported candidates who interviewed for the job: Shurmur, Mike Mularkey and Perry Fewell, who satisfied the Rooney Rule. Bigger names such as Jon Gruden and John Fox were never in the running.

After firing Mangini, the grace period is officially over in Cleveland. There are no more scapegoats.

Holmgren, who has absolute authority, made another power move this week. "The Big Show" now has his handpicked quarterback (McCoy) and handpicked head coach (Shurmur) in place, and it's time for Cleveland to step up and start winning in 2011.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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