NFL owners are widely expected to approve the sale of the Browns from Randy Lerner to Jimmy Haslam III on Tuesday in Chicago. He will inherit a one-game winning streak or a franchise-record 12-game losing streak.
“You don’t even understand,” said cornerback Joe Haden, who returns from a four-game suspension during which he was sorely missed. “Everybody just really wants to win out here. We’re sick and tired of losing and once you get one win, it gets the weight off your shoulders.”
Pat Shurmur has been carrying a heavy burden for some time.
He has been on the sideline for the 11 straight defeats — many more gut-wrenching than the one before — and he’s the only coach in Browns history to endure such a stretch. The matching streak in 1974 and ’75 was split between Nick Skorich and Forrest Gregg. Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini shared a 10-game skid in 2008-09.
Shurmur said Friday he was unaware history could be made today against the Bengals.
“Our focus is to win the next game,” he said. “No, it’s not a motivator. What’s a motivator is going out and winning a division game at home.”
The lack of success under Shurmur cuts a wide swath. He’s 0-5 this year, 4-17 overall, 0-8 inside the AFC North and 3-7 at home.
A win against the Bengals would stop the slide and erase a couple of the zeros. It would also give Haslam bragging rights among his new business partners and a reason to write the billion-dollar check.
For Shurmur, it would provide a chance to exhale — if even for only a second.
Not much has gone right for him since Lerner announced on the first day of training camp he was negotiating to sell the team. The distractions and uncertainty have been real. So, too, the NFL’s suspension of Haden, the series of injuries at receiver and the interceptions of rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden.
“I just keep moving. I see progress, I see young players getting better,” Shurmur said. “Game days never get old for me. I’m inspired by it. With all of the good things in life, those are the things that inspire me — watching guys that we are coaching.”
Shurmur has tried to keep his chin up, head down and proceed with the task at hand. But he’s encountered detours in the form of five losses to open the season and the incessant second-guessing that’s followed.
He hasn’t always handled the scrutiny appropriately, which has led to additional criticism. Talk radio is filled with discussion on when — not if — he’ll be fired.
“When you’re the lead dog, that’s what goes with that,” said offensive coordinator Brad Childress, a former head coach. “That’s where it gets pinned.
“Pat’s an emotional guy, and we’re all emotional people, and I’m sure that you catch some of that sometimes.”
“One thing Pat does and he does it well, he protects us,” veteran defensive end Frostee Rucker said. “And that’s the main thing. He doesn’t let anything out and we’re fixing it in-house and we’re going to figure it out. He has our backs and we have his.”
The sale won’t be official until the business transaction goes through, likely within a couple of weeks.
But the approval by league owners should allow Haslam to assume power and possibly begin making moves, including naming Joe Banner as his top executive.
While Haslam will have a greater sense of control, those already in the organization will feel more anxiety. Changes are coming; it’s just not known who, what, when and how many.
Haslam has said he’ll wait until after the season to make a decision on Shurmur. That could change if he’s 0-9 at the bye week or the losing streak reaches December. The gambling website Bovada posted 7-to-4 odds this week Shurmur will be the first coach fired during the season, which ranks second behind Buffalo’s Chan Gailey at 2-to-3.
The future of president Mike Holmgren is even less certain. He came here to run Lerner’s organization and that job no longer exists. He and Banner would seem to overlap and be unable to coexist, which could lead to a quick departure of Shurmur’s biggest supporter.
When Holmgren picked Shurmur, he proclaimed him the last coach he would hire. Shurmur seemed assured of getting four years to oversee the slow-and-steady rebuilding project.
“It’s a young team that he’s built,” veteran cornerback Sheldon Brown said. “It would be sad to see this team develop and grow with going through these rough times and he’s not the guy.
“Sometimes when people say bad things about you, perception kills you, and it leads to other authoritative leadership making decisions because of what people write, when you know sometimes it’s not true.”
Brown has known Shurmur for more than a decade. He saw him grow from a lowly assistant in Philadelphia to the man under the microscope in Cleveland.
“He’s put in a ton of hours to work his way up through the ranks to become that guy,” Brown said. “It wasn’t friggin’ given to him. So if he wants to call a (expletive) Hail Mary on a first down, then that’s his right.
“The guys here are working hard. I would just hate to see him not get his chance to grow a team that he’s built. Because I think this team has potential to be a good team.”
The Browns opened the season with the youngest starting lineup (24.86 years) in the NFL since 2000, so growing pains should’ve been expected. But at some point the potential must turn to consistent production and the close losses to victories. No matter what’s looming in Chicago on Tuesday, or in the weeks and months to come.
“We’re getting ready to play the Bengals,” Shurmur said when asked about the ownership change. “I think our guys have handled it in a very professional way. I’m proud of the way my team battles. Now, I want to be proud of them because we won a football game.”
The skid in 1974-75 ended with a 35-23 home win over the Bengals. Perhaps history will repeat itself, and Lerner can go out a winner.
“It’s a division game that we’re playing at home,” Shurmur said. “I think there’s enough there to make it a game that’s very important for us to win.
“I think it’s very important for anybody associated with the Browns to enjoy a victory. I’m sure that would be a good side note.”
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