CLEVELAND — Pat Shurmur quickly turned rookie quarterback Sam Bradford into a rising NFL star. Shurmur’s next project will be tougher.
The Cleveland Browns are no easy fix.
Shurmur, St. Louis’ offensive coordinator the past two years, was hired by the Browns on Thursday, ending a search for their fifth coach since 1999 that began when team president Mike Holmgren fired Eric Mangini on Jan. 3 after his second straight 11-loss season.
Shurmur isn’t a big-name hire, and his addition won’t trigger a celebration by Browns fans or a rush of season-ticket requests.
But to Holmgren, the 45-year-old’s last name means success.
Shurmur’s late uncle, Fritz, was Holmgren’s defensive coordinator in Green Bay when the Packers won the Super Bowl in 1996. And in hiring a candidate with no head coaching experience, Holmgren is following the same path he took in getting to the top of his profession.
Like Shurmur, Holmgren was a quarterbacks coach and an offensive coordinator before getting the Packers’ job in 1992. When Shurmur, who was the first of three known candidates to be interviewed, sat across the desk from Holmgren, Cleveland’s top football executive may have seen a younger version of himself.
“Pat is a bright, young man who grew up in football and around the coaching profession,” Holmgren said. “I came away from our interview very impressed with him as a person, his extensive knowledge of the game and his track record of success as an assistant coach in this league.
“Most importantly, I feel as though he possesses the necessary qualities which make him the right man to lead our football team.”
The Browns have a been a mess for far too long. In a league where quick turnarounds are common, they’ve been an exception to the rule. Cleveland has made the AFC playoffs just once and had nine double-digit loss seasons in 13 years. Chris Palmer, Butch Davis, Romeo Crennel and Mangini each failed in trying to build a consistent winner in Cleveland’s expansion era.
Now, it’s Shurmur’s turn.
The Browns will introduce him as their 13th full-time coach Friday in a news conference at their Berea, Ohio, headquarters.
Shurmur’s development of Bradford, last year’s No. 1 overall draft pick, was one of the main reasons the Browns nabbed him. They’re hoping he can have similar success with Colt McCoy, who showed poise and promise after being thrown into a starting role because of injuries.
Under Shurmur, Bradford lived up to his hype and set rookie league records for completions and attempts. He also led St. Louis to a 7-9 record — the Rams were 1-15 a year earlier — while throwing for 3,512 yards, second-most ever for a rookie behind Peyton Manning’s 3,739 in 1998.
The Rams scored 114 more points this season than they did in 2009, and Stephen Jackson had his second straight 1,000-yard season in Shurmur’s offense.
“I knew it would not be long before coach Shurmur got a head coaching job in this league,” Jackson said. “He was a good coordinator for the Rams and on Sundays, he got the most out of his players and always had us in a position to win the game.”
It wasn’t all rosy in St. Louis, though. Shurmur’s offense was criticized for being too conservative. Many of Bradford’s completions were short dump-offs. Shurmur was ripped following the Rams’ 16-6 season-ending loss to Seattle, which cost them a playoff spot. In that game, Jackson had just 11 carries — four in the second half — and Bradford couldn’t get things going.
Before joining the Rams, Shurmur spent 10 seasons in Philadelphia. He coached the club’s tight ends for three years and then their quarterbacks, turning a raw Donovan McNabb into one of the game’s best all-around quarterbacks.
Although he promised a “wide” coaching search, Holmgren only met with Shurmur, Atlanta offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey and New York Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell. Interviews with potential candidates Jon Gruden and John Fox never got past an exploratory phone call, and an expected meeting with Philadelphia offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg — another Holmgren protege — never happened.
Shurmur emerged as the front-runner in recent days and no one caught him.
His deep connections with Cleveland’s front office certainly helped Shurmur’s chances. He spent eight years working with Browns general manager Tom Heckert in Philadelphia. Shurmur never worked directly with Holmgren, but he learned the West Coast offense Holmgren prefers under Eagles coach Andy Reid, one of the Cleveland president’s closest friends.
“I have the utmost respect for Coach Holmgren and Tom Heckert, and I am impressed with the direction in which they have this franchise going,” Shurmur said. “I have known Tom for most of my pro coaching career, and while we were in Philadelphia, he and I developed an outstanding relationship.
“I am looking forward to this challenge and can’t wait to get started in helping to build the Browns back to one of the elite teams in the NFL.”
Shurmur’s agent, Bob LaMonte, who also represents Holmgren and Heckert, arrived Thursday to finalize a contract and the sides only needed a few hours to work out details. Terms of Shurmur’s deal were not immediately available, but it was expected to be a four-year package.
Holmgren began his first coaching search promising that head coaching experience would not be a requirement for Mangini’s successor. He kept his word.
Shurmur’s arrival was greeted with mostly a collective yawn by Browns fans, who have grown weary of change. Now, they have to trust Holmgren’s keen eye for coaching talent. Holmgren, after all, is the one who hired an up-and-coming Gruden and Reid. He’s also had seven other current or former NFL coaches on his staff, including Mornhinweg, Steve Mariucci and Dick Jauron.
Holmgren’s taking a chance with the unproven Shurmur, but he’s seen it work before.