On Monday, the official word came down from Berea regarding the departures of Browns’ Head Coach Pat Shurmur and Tom Heckert. And although Browns’ Nation has mostly expressed uniform support for retaining Heckert – probably the best GM of the team’s expansion era – it’s becoming clear that whatever decisions Joe Banner and Jimmy Haslam made were concluded weeks ago.
As for Shurmur, his Sunday admission that he hadn’t spoken to either Banner or Haslam was the kind of evidence one would expect for an offensive assistant who was gifted an coaching job by his Uncle’s former boss, Mike Holmgren. Or, perhaps the anguished looks given by Haslam during the final moments of the Browns’ deflating loss to the Colts some weeks ago was a more obvious sign of things to come.
For Shurmur, we’ve covered his shortcomings to a point of complete exhaustion on this site. I’ve devoted thousands of words and lately, you’ve delivered with 200 Words or Less entries describing the latest chapter of expansion regression. At this point, it’s really not worth further examining Shurmur. For the sake of precious time, let’s just say that he was promoted one NFL stage higher than he should have been. His passive/aggressive fluctuations, unimaginative approach to offensive football and bewildering lack of continuity to the game unfolding around him contributed to a 5-11 finish by a team that could have produced much, much more.
Yet for Heckert, the summation is a bit trickier. Again, Heckert was probably the best GM of the Browns’ expansion era – but even the most optimistic of Browns’ fans has to agree that this is a loaded statement.
Heckert certainly improved the Browns’ roster – gutting the aging veteran core built by Eric Mangini and offering a small core of talented young players. And compared to both Phil Savage and even Butch Davis and Dwight Clark before them, Heckert cannot be guilty of either overreaching or continually missing on important draft picks. If anything, Heckert could be considered one of the more consistent GM’s in the entire league – let alone among the failures of the Browns’ past decade-plus.
Perhaps this reputation exists solely because the expansion era Browns have experienced so little consistency. Heckert has turned three drafts into more than a dozen quality starters and can easily boast a volume of young players who likely could thrive with better coaching. Unlike his predecessors, Heckert has not missed on a first round pick and his Round One through Round Three picks have produced some quality players.
However, to properly analyze Heckert, it’s worth noting that the Browns’ GM failed to add any true game-changing talent during his Browns’ tenure. The 2011 trade with Atlanta prevented the Browns from adding a dynamic receiver in Julio Jones, but did add an additional first-round pick, which eventually became Brandon Weeden. A similar critique can be found in trading up for lower-valued talent, such as Phil Taylor, Montario Hardesty and Trent Richardson – moves that cost the Browns additional picks over the past few years.
But of course, the greatest indictment of Heckert proved to be the Browns’ overall record during his time in Cleveland. Fourteen wins over three seasons is proof enough that the Browns simply aren’t talented enough to become consistent winners. Of course, coaching is a bigger determiner of eventual success and the tepid ownership of Randy Lerner and Holmgren’s retirement largesse are additional factors that further dragged Heckert down. In a perfectly natural Lerner era analogy, Heckert was probably too good for these Browns.
In moving onto the Haslam/Banner version of the Browns, there was probably little Heckert could have done to continue in his role. Again, fourteen wins in three seasons is pretty damning evidence, regardless of the circumstances surrounding the team. As it appears, Banner is adamant about becoming the catch all front office leader the team has lacked for over a decade. In doing so, Banner will likely add some pseudo-GM personnel, such as Mike Lombardi and other people who will feed into his decisions rather than become the exclusive personnel source that Heckert had to be.
Naturally, any possible Banner/Heckert relationship would be anything but that. After having been responsible for the near entirety of the Browns’ personnel decisions, it’s obvious that Heckert wouldn’t go back to being a personnel assistant – which is exactly the kind of role that someone like Lombardi would fill.
For the rest of us, the future is yet again reserved for the familiar sentiments of hope, change and forward thinking. While the Heckert loss stings a bit and Lombardi’s addition (although his role has been overblown) is a bit unsettling, it’s again worth stating that the most important offseason move the Browns have made was the one that occurred months ago.
Although we have no evidence to support such an opinion, the Browns significantly improved simply by Lerner selling the franchise. A decade of Lerner’s tepid leadership has created the continual malaise of the expansion era, which has produced what is probably the league’s worst on-field team. Simply by not being Lerner, Haslam has already improved the Browns. While his and Banner’s upcoming moves may not altogether feel right, they are necessary for a franchise that has done nothing but regress for fourteen seasons.
And while it may not feel good to yet again watch massive change unfold or see talented people like Heckert depart, it’s worth asking whether the alternative is any better.