PITTSBURGH — Say this much for Pat Shurmur: He fought. Right to the very last second and right through to his press conference.
On the last two offensive plays for the Browns season-ending loss in Pittsburgh, Shurmur was vociferous in berating the refs for what he thought was a missed penalty on a tackle on quarterback Thad Lewis.
Shurmur did not let Lewis back down from the mighty Steelers, and his team responded by fighting nose-to-nose with Pittsburgh — almost literally.
After the game, Shurmur tossed a couple barbs the media’s way, stating he had not talked to owner Jimmy Haslam or president Joe Banner “in quite some time” and the media should “check your league sources.”
The shot was obviously intended to those who wrote or said Shurmur would be fired and attributed the information to league sources.
The reality, though, is the future for Shurmur in Cleveland does not look good.
Banner and Haslam said they would act quickly, and if a change is made there is no reason to drag it past Monday.
“I’m looking forward to coaching this team next year, if that’s the case,” Shurmur said. “If not, then what I’m gonna do is I’m gonna go coach and help inspire and help a team win games in some role.
“I’ve got kids in college. I’ve got mouths to feed. This is my profession. That’s what I choose to do. That’s it. That’s how simple it is in my mind.”
But Shurmur also admitted the Browns did not win enough games in going 5-11.
“We’re not competing next week,” he said.
Then he added he’s never been worried about his job security.
“I’ve got no regrets,” he said.
Friends said Shurmur is at peace with whatever happens, that he understands his business and the ramifications of ownership change.
GM Tom Heckert’s situation is similar. No official word on his future has been announced, and before the game Heckert said he had not heard anything.
Those close to him admit he knows it doesn’t look good for him to stay with the Browns. There is a slight possibility Haslam and Banner could have Heckert stay through the draft, but if a change is going to be made it would seem likely to come Monday with Heckert as well.
Shurmur’s record in two seasons as coach is 9-23, but he said he believes the Browns have a bright future with the players they have. In the finale, he took a team without its top two quarterbacks and starting running back and competed an entire game — even though he lost a starting receiver in the first half (Josh Gordon).
Were it not for fumbles by Gordon and Travis Benjamin, the Browns would have been in the game in the end. But the same fumbles that doomed the Steelers when they lost to the Browns in Cleveland cost the Browns in Pittsburgh.
Both turned into Pittsburgh touchdowns, which was the difference in a 24-10 score.
The Browns locker room was left to talk about more change to come — which if it happens would mean the seventh regime since 1999. Mike Tomlin was hired as Steelers coach in 2007. In the years he’s been coaching, the Browns have had three coaches — a number that could be four before the month ends. Pittsburgh has had three coaches since 1969, so not every team has change like the Browns.
“I wouldn’t know,” placekicker Phil Dawson said. “This is my normal.”
Players said Shurmur was emotional after the game, and left tackle and captain Joe Thomas said he believed Shurmur had the team heading the right way. While some players privately questioned the same play calls the media did, nobody questioned Shurmur’s commitment or work ethic.
He was given his first chance to coach and faced some difficult circumstances. Among them:
• A lockout prior to his first season that took away his ability to teach his team the systems, and to meet his players prior to the start of training camp;
• A coaching staff that included some Mike Holmgren cronies who were hired to help, but had the feel of looking over the coach’s shoulder;
• A team president who was called “coach” in the building;
• The sale of the team to Haslam, which was announced the first day of training camp in his second season, and which effectively wiped away optimism built from a draft and supplemental draft that saw the Browns add a quarterback, running back and receiver. That fueled chatter that Shurmur would be replaced, and it has gone on since the middle of training camp;
• A roster of rookies and first-year players that set the stage for a season of growth rather than immediate winning.
But Shurmur also knows he’s judged on wins, and he has just nine in two seasons.
Most feel this was likely his last game with the Browns.
As he boarded the bus to return to Cleveland with the team, Haslam and Banner were flying back in a private plane.
It sure seems like the Browns never-ending carousel of change will be going full speed before long.