Coach Pat Shurmur had just finished his news conference following the 25-15 loss to the Ravens on Nov. 4. He entered the spacious locker room and began the long walk to his office that would take him past players in various states of dress, disappointment and discomfort (read: pain).
New CEO Joe Banner emerged from a room to the left. Shurmur spotted him, returned his focus to the front and continued on his path.
Sounds like the plan for the rest of the season.
New owner Jimmy Haslam and Banner will spend the next seven weeks evaluating every phase of the organization, and Shurmur is first on the list. They swear they have open minds and may retain Shurmur, so a lot is riding on the final stretch, even if the playoffs are all but out of the picture.
“I know what the areas of decision are. But I don’t know what the decisions are,” Banner said last week.
The Browns reached the bye with a 2-7 record. It’s the outcome experts expected, but the manner in which they arrived surprised some.
Despite having 17 rookies, the Browns have been in all but one of the games late. The lone blowout — 41-27 to the Giants — began with a 14-0 lead, then saw an epic four-minute implosion at the end of the second quarter.
The NFL prides itself on tight games and fantastic finishes, so hanging around isn’t an accomplishment in itself. But the Browns have been able to match talent with their opponents.
The missing piece — and it’s a mammoth one — has been the inability to finish. Much of that can be blamed on the team’s inexperience. With more than half a season under their belts, Cleveland’s rookies should be ready to take the next step and complete some wins.
From the start of the season, the Browns looked like a team that would stumble early, gets its footing and be up to speed in November and December. It’s Shurmur’s job to make sure the last part of the progression is realized.
“We as a team, everybody included, need to find a way to finish with a victory,” Shurmur said. “I think once you do it once, it repeats itself.”
Shurmur, who’s 6-19 in his two years, was dealt a difficult hand. The announcement of the sale to Haslam came at the opening of training camp, and uncertainty has hung over the organization since. That was the latest obstacle for a guy that inherited a 4-12 team and bought into a four- or five-year plan.
“You want to build a team that’s a consistent winner and sometimes building is painful,” Shurmur said. “Trust me on that.
“I’ve just got to keep driving the team and fighting to get victories and that’s my little world.”