Shurmur stays upbeat as Browns slide

Not long after he was named Cleveland’s coach, Pat Shurmur went

unrecognized in local restaurants. These days, he doesn’t go out

very often.

“My wife Jennifer is an outstanding cook so I have no problem

being home,” he said, smiling.

In the middle of a season sliding the wrong way, Shurmur limits

his public appearances to Sundays.

These are tough times for the first-year coach, the Browns and

their passionate fans, many of whom have grown so tired of the

losing that their anger has turned to apathy. On Thursday, an

upper-deck seat for Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars

could be purchased from an online ticket brokerage for just $5.

This is Cleveland, where football and faith are intertwined but

where the local team has been breaking hearts for decades.

The Browns (3-6) shattered a few more last week when Cleveland’s

dependable field-goal unit botched a snap and kicker Phil Dawson,

who had made four field goals, hooked a 22-yard attempt in the

final minutes of a 13-12 loss to St. Louis. For a few Browns

loyalists, whose devotion was already hanging by a thread, losing

to a one-win Rams team was the final straw.

Sports talk radio shows have been filled all week with calls

from irate fans venting about Shurmur, whose conservative

play-calling in the fourth quarter was perfect fodder for Monday

morning quarterbacks. The Browns ran the ball six straight times –

once with third-string tight end Alex Smith carrying and fumbling –

in the red zone to set up Dawson’s ill-fated try.

Shurmur staunchly defended his strategy.

“I’ll go to the well with what I did,” he said.

There’s a segment of Browns fans who wish he’d jump in, too.

Shurmur, the club’s fifth coach since 1999, said he understands

what Cleveland fans have endured since the Browns returned as an

expansion team. A fellow Midwesterner, he appreciates their passion

and pain in rooting for a team that has gone 67-134 and made just

one playoff appearance in 13 years.

When he ventures out now, Shurmur encounters fans who support

him and others who aren’t as comforting.

“There are people that are encouraging and then there’s also

folks that may be a little bit frustrated,” he said. “It’s just

part of it. I think I understand it. I think I do and I appreciate

everybody’s passion. I think I get it.”

The negativity outside the Browns’ headquarters may be growing,

but Shurmur has insulated himself to block out the criticism. His

job is to build a young team into a consistent winner, and he can’t

fall back on injuries, inexperience or rotten luck as excuses for

failure.

Following Sunday’s loss, Shurmur, who was an assistant in

Philadelphia and St. Louis before coming to Cleveland, took

exception to one question and pounded his hand on the podium to

emphasize his point. Don’t think for a second he’s not frustrated,

and don’t confuse any outward anger with disappointment.

He needs time, and Shurmur hopes Browns fans – and the media –

will give it to him.

“I’m very competitive,” he said. “As you get through this you

get a little bit calloused up to it. I probably fibbed just a

little bit early on when you say you don’t read it or hear it. Now,

I’m not. I don’t read it, I really don’t. I just stay away from it

because I think what’s important is you keep your focus moving

forward. We’ve got very smart coaches and very willing players and

we believe in what we’re doing so you push forward.

“I understand when people get upset. But, on the other side

we’re all competitive so if you don’t like hearing it, try not to

listen. That’s how you push through it. That’s kind of how I do

it.”

Everyone in Cleveland who roots for the Browns is finding their

own way of coping with the losses, and with a daunting schedule –

they’ll play Baltimore and Pittsburgh twice each in December –

ahead, patience could be pushed to the limit.

With running back Peyton Hillis out with an injury, cornerback

Joe Haden has become perhaps the Browns’ most popular player. Haden

likes to be seen around town, and this week he has heard his share

of fury from Cleveland fans who swear they’re not going to go to

another game.

“They do that every time we start losing. They say, ‘I can’t

believe I’m still watching this team’ but at the end they still

do,” Haden said. “I understand where they’re coming from. Of course

when you have a team that you’ve been supporting your whole life

you want to have them to win now.

“But they’re sticking with us and I’m still feeling their love

even though we’re losing.”

Shurmur’s been met with difficult challenges in his first season

in Cleveland. The Browns have been clobbered by key injuries,

losing three starters for the year. He’s also dealt with

off-the-field issues, including Hillis’ contract mess and a

motorcycle accident involving defensive end Marcus Benard.

It’s been tough, just as he expected.

“I anticipated there would be some bumps in the road,” he

said.

Shurmur has seven more weeks to ride out.

Notes: RB Montario Hardesty ran outside for the second straight

day and Shurmur said it’s possible the second-year back could play

Sunday after missing two games with a calf injury. Shurmur said the

Browns will be cautious with Hardesty. “It’s important that we make

sure he’s right before we put him out there,” he said. “If he’s

ready to go we’ll use him. We’ll try to get him back in the flow.”

… Shurmur said Hillis may practice “as soon as next week” after

missing five straight games with a hamstring injury, something the

coach can’t relate to. “I was never fast enough to pull a hamstring

so I don’t know how it feels,” he joked. … DL Jayme Mitchell

missed practice for personal reasons.