Uncertainty about Browns' future unsettling
BEREA -- If tough talk and emphatic statements from the head coach mean anything, the sale of the Cleveland Browns will not affect the team this season.
But coach Pat Shurmur showed the strain a sale can take on the rank-and-file, even as he vowed there would be no effect.
"Based on the way we're doing it, it will not be a distraction," Shurmur said, with emphasis.
Just like Shurmur emphatically stated he was "NOT going to answer any questions about the news."
"If you got football questions I'd be happy to answer them," he said.
He was borderline ornery, which is fine. As the coach, he has the right to any emotion he feels. Too, showing up for work Friday morning excited about the season and then hearing that he might have a new owner soon had to be a surprise. It seemed clear Shurmur knew nothing about the sale until word broke through media reports Friday morning.
"I know you talked to Mike (Holmgren)," Shurmur said. "I got nothing to add to it. Absolutely nothing to add to it."
Macbeth and protesting came to mind.
The intensity of the feelings gave a window into the feelings.
"When I was hired here I hired a staff of guys to help me coach this football team, so my first concern was our coaches, that they were informed of this early on. Then next were the players," Shurmur said. "And the support staff.
"That was my concern. So we informed them. I also informed them that the goals, the things we talked about last night in the meeting as we move forward this year, have not changed. Not one bit. Not one bit. What we are trying to do as a football team should be unchanged by what was talked about today."
Which might be true, but also might be difficult to achieve.
Uncertainty can do that, and when a new owner takes over there is a lot of uncertainty at every level of the organization. Team president Mike Holmgren admitted that fact.
"I don't want people off balance," Holmgren said. "This goes on on occasion in professional sports."
Uncertainty comes because a new owner often wants his president, his general manager and his coach.
That's what happened this past offseason in St. Louis when Stan Kroenke hired Les Snead as General Manager and Jeff Fisher as coach.
Jacksonville got a new owner and changed coaches (to Mike Mularkey) but didn't fire the GM.
In Baltimore, Steve Biscotti kept the entire front office and coaching staff intact when he took over for Art Modell. But Biscotti was phased in as majority owner over a period of years.
Uncertainty increases the pressure to win, and Shurmur has that pressure with a rookie quarterback, running back and possibly a rookie receiver.
Consider: Would a new owner keep a coach who finishes any worse than 8-8?
It's possible, if he keeps the same management team. Holmgren chose Shurmur, and is committed to him. Same with GM Tom Heckert.
But if Haslam wants a new president and/or a new general manager it's anyone's guess what happens.
It's not the ideal way for a coach and his staff to start a season.
The people least affected will be the players.
Phil Dawson and Joe Thomas both said they were surprised to hear the news but that the sale had no direct impact on them. D'Qwell Jackson admitted, that it could affect coaches.
If a coach isn't sure he's going to be with a team the next season, his mind could be on where he is and where he could be going.
Concern about security could lead to coaches ratcheting up the pressure, and if a team loses two or three in a row frustration could increase and fissures might show.
A standup guy like Shurmur clearly would worry about his coaches first, but he also might look and see his first chance to be a head coach potentially exploding in his face.
He also could be trying to lead his players past any distraction.
Shurmur has a tough row with his hoe.
His team is coming off a 4-12 season. It needs to work in a rookie quarterback, as well as a rookie running back. It needs to stop the run. And it needs to compete against a very difficult schedule in one of the toughest divisions in football.
Now he has to do it with uncertainty about the team's future hovering.
That uncertainty can be very unsettling.