The hiring of Pat Shurmur to replace Eric Mangini this past January ensured that the Browns would start the 2011 season with their fifth different head coach since returning to the NFL in 1999. The well-documented state of continuous flux in the franchise stretches all the way from the GM’s box down to the quarterback on the field of Cleveland Browns Stadium. Every die-hard Browns fan has to be asking “Do we finally have the right leadership in place to build a winner?” Only time will tell for sure, but for now let’s take a look at the coaching staff that leadership has assembled for the 2011 season.
Considering that Shurmur will be assuming a double role as the head coach and offensive coordinator, team president Mike Holmgren clearly made it a priority to hire a veteran leader as the defensive coordinator. He found just that in his old defensive backs coach from his days with the Green Bay Packers, Dick Jauron.
Jauron brings an incredible wealth of NFL coaching experience garnered over 26 years in the league. In his first coordinator role, Jauron built the ferocious defense of the Jacksonville Jaguars of the late 1990’s, including the top-ranked ’99 squad. His next step was to the head coaching ranks with the Chicago Bears, where in five years he managed only one playoff appearance. After a brief stint as the defensive coordinator in Detroit, Jauron moved on to Buffalo, though his results as a head coach there were mediocre at best.
After being relieved of his duties with the Bills, he caught on with the Philadelphia Eagles as a senior assistant and defensive backs coach in 2010. While Jauron’s record as a head coach included more losses than wins, his defensive knowledge is unquestioned and he brings a steadying hand to the sideline of a first-time head coach.
Notable among the defensive assistants are Jerome Henderson, who returns as the defensive backs coach, and Ray Rhodes as the senior defensive assistant. In Rhodes, the Browns quietly added another well-respected defensive mind with over 30 years of NFL coaching experience, adding to the deep pool of coaching knowledge available to Pat Shurmur.
Chris Tabor joined the staff as the special teams coordinator for the 2011 season, replacing Mangini favorite Brad Seely, who departed for San Francisco.
The offensive staff does not boast the recognizable names of the defensive side of the ball, though there are some solid credentials in place. Running backs coach Gary Brown earned the opportunity to stay on, though he was a Mangini hire, with the outstanding performances turned in by his players in 2009 and 2010. The shifty Jerome Harrison piled up impressive yardage in his late 2009 opportunity as a starter, while the emergence of Peyton Hillis in 2010 added to Brown’s credibility.
The hiring of Mark Whipple as the quarterbacks coach is an intriguing one. Whipple was a career college coach until 2004, when he joined the Pittsburgh Steelers. Whipple promptly set about grooming a rookie quarterback from the MAC into one of the most successful passers of this decade, Browns nemesis Ben Roethlisberger. Certainly Mike Holmgren is looking for the same kind of tutelage for his second-year man Colt McCoy.
One other notable connection on the offensive staff is wide receivers coach Mike Wilson. Wilson’s first coaching job was in the same role under West Coast offense (WCO) pioneer, and NFL legend, Bill Walsh at Stanford in the early 1990’s.
Head Coach Pat Shurmur does not fit the mold of many first-time NFL head coaches. He has never been a head coach at any level, nor does he have extensive time as a coordinator on his resume. That is not to say that Shurmer is an inadequate candidate to step in and lead the Browns – one just needs to look a little deeper than his official titles.
After eight years coaching the offensive line and tight ends at Stanford and his alma mater, Michigan State, Shurmur joined the staff of Tom Heckert’s Philadelphia Eagles. He spent 1999 to 2001 coaching the tight ends, then moved up to quarterbacks coach. It is in this role that Shurmur made his name as an offensive mastermind and quarterback guru. Under his guidance, Donovan McNabb developed into one of the most feared passers in the league, compiling a TD/INT ratio of 162/68 over eight seasons. During those seasons the Eagles utilized the West Coast offense to regularly scorch opposing defenses and finished in the top ten in scoring five times.
Shurmur left the Eagles in 2009 for the opportunity to be the offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams. With the Rams, he inherited one of the poorest offenses in the league. However, with the drafting of quarterback Sam Bradford, Shurmur was able to guide the rookie to one of the most successful debut seasons in NFL history.
Having given Eric Mangini just enough rope to hang himself in 2010, Mike Holmgren was in the market for an offensive-minded head coach. Instead of pursuing some of the big names on the market (Jon Gruden was a popular name among fans), he chose to hire Shurmur. While many Browns fans were less than pleased at this decision, Shurmur is a good fit in a few critical ways.
First, his long time relationship with Tom Heckert while with the Eagles provides a continuity from player personnel moves to on-field coaching decisions. Shurmur’s knowledge of the WCO gives him an added connection to Holmgren, who used the system with so much success in Green Bay. Most importantly, it is Shurmur’s relative inexperience as a head coach that allows Mike Holmgren to do what he does best – teach. With the guidance of Mike Holmgren, and the extensive experience assembled among his assistants, Pat Shurmur should have every opportunity to develop into a successful NFL head coach right here with the Cleveland Browns.