Based on his introductory news conference with the Cleveland media Thursday, Pat Shurmur comes off as a no-nonsense guy with a good head on his shoulders.
The new Browns coach said all the right things, dodging a few questions along the way for obvious reasons, but with the grace of a bullfighter. It was easy to discern he paid attention in the classroom.
He’s no dummy, this Shurmur guy. Neither was Eric Mangini. But somewhere between his office and the football field on Sundays between September and January, Mangini lost numerous brain cells. And he paid a dear price.
Shurmur, now officially a head-coaching neophyte, looked, sounded and acted like a veteran head coach in front of the media. He was extremely sure of himself. No hesitations. Always decisive with his answers.
In theory, that bodes well. Because what the Browns have lacked on the sidelines the last dozen years is someone who can make the correct decision and make it quickly. As in thinking five plays ahead, 10 plays ahead.
Good coaching, smart coaching is all about anticipating not only what your opponent will do, but what you will do in a given situation. Outsmart the other team. Outcoach the other coach. That’s what sets Bill Belichick apart from his colleagues.
Most successful coaches play the what-if game during games. What do I do if this happens or that happens? What do I do if their team changes strategies? How do I counterpunch? Plan ahead.
On the surface, Shurmur exudes that quality. Football is in his DNA. He is the legacy of his late uncle Fritz Shurmur, a long-time defensive coordinator in the National Football League. He has learned well.
He also called himself a teacher, an educator. All that is nice, but in the world of the NFL, it takes a lot more than that to be successful as a head coach. It takes passionate, dedicated players who know how to win.
In Pittsburgh, for example, the Steelers have Troy Polamalu and James Harrison on defense, and Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward on offense. They make life so much easier for Mike Tomlin.
In Baltimore, it’s Ray Lewis and Ed Reed for the defense. And that’s good enough for the entire Ravens team, which seems to play well beyond its talent and overachieves as a result. They thrive on the inspiration generated by Lewis and Reed while John Harbaugh sits back and turns them loose.
Why those two teams? Because they play in the same division as the Browns, who should strive to be like them. It’s imperative if they want to compete on the same level.
The aforementioned players all play with extraordinary passion and an almost overwhelming desire to succeed. They abhor losing and do not handle it well. The Browns, on the other hand, take a more casual approach to losing.
It’ll be a large part of Shurmur’s job to identify someone similar to Lewis or Polamalu or Reed and get him on the roster. With the roster he inherits, that player does not exist. At least on the surface. The Browns have a roster full of followers. They need leaders.
Shurmur was asked how he relates to players. "I would say my relationship with players is very professional,” he said. “I really do think, and I've always believed this, players are different and coaches are different. You folks (the media) will determine what my style is, but . . . we have to do the very best we can to get the best out of the players we have. There are some men who don't perform unless they are physically and emotionally challenged in a lot of ways. I'm at peace with that.
“There are some guys that a couple of quiet words is enough to get them to do their very best. I think the key to being a coach at especially this level is to get to know your players as well as you can, understand what helps them perform at their best and then not use tactics, but basically communicate with them in those ways.”
It’s following through on the communication part, if we are to believe him, that will serve Shurmur well. If the deeds do not quickly follow the words, then all this talk is nothing more than just that . . . talk. It is meaningless.
We have had enough of that for far too long. It’s time for the Browns to become meaningful and relevant again in the NFL.