The Browns went from turning their season around back to general chaos in a matter of a week. After beating the Bengals on Oct. 14, the Browns lost 17-13 to the Colts last Sunday.
The loss was certainly nothing new, but it was the first time in which head coach Pat Shurmur made an overwhelming case to be fired after the season.
With new owner Jimmy Haslam III on hand to watch the game, the Browns were facing a crucial 4th-and-1 on the Colts’ 41-yard-line midway through the fourth quarter. Trailing 17-13, QB Brandon Weeden took a shot downfield on the previous play, a surefire touchdown pass that WR Josh Gordon dropped.
After a timeout was called (thanks to some confusion on the line), the Browns elected to punt. They would end up in almost the exact same position a few minutes later, but the damage was done.
Shurmur sealed his fate with a punt.
When a team is 1-5 and moving the ball relatively well, the reasons to not go for it on 4th-and-1 in the opponent’s territory are sparse.
What this head scratcher really does is solidify Shurmur as an uneven, mostly tentative play-caller. The lack of confidence in his team (mind you, RB Trent Richardson was not on the field because of his rib injury) permeated through the stadium and anyone else watching the game. Just when Shurmur was beginning to establish a little bit of credibility for himself, it quickly dissipated into the shadow-soaked stands of Lucas Oil Stadium.
Of course, had Shurmur gone for it on 4th-and-1 and it failed, no one would have faulted him for it. This would be a non-issue, and it would be much easier to argue for him to keep his job. But this is the kind of mind-boggling, frustrating non-decision that makes the Browns perpetual basement dwellers.
So, is Shurmur truly on the hot seat, then? He has had his share of supporters throughout the past two seasons, and like so many Browns coaches of the past, he has been hampered by a disappointing roster.
But Haslam has come to the Browns with a new attitude. Just watching his reactions from his seat during Sunday’s game is more than enough proof of that. Like the rest of us, Haslam likely can’t understand why Shurmur would elect to punt in that situation. He just has the power to actually do something about it.
Shurmur has to know that he is auditioning for his job beyond this season. Or maybe he just doesn’t care what anyone else thinks. He isn’t going to alter his coaching style just to impress the new bosses. And while Shurmur has, at times, shown that he can be a better coach with this improved roster (and perhaps the help of an offensive coordinator like Brad Childress), the fact remains, though, that there is little reason to keep him around in 2013.
Think back to Eric Mangini’s last season in Cleveland. Then-president Mike Holmgren didn’t want to dump Mangini after only one season out of fairness, but it stalled the rebuilding process of the franchise. At this point, Haslam and Joe Banner — even in their limited time with Cleveland — surely can’t see much of an extended future with Shurmur.
And if Shurmur wants to wonder why, all he has to do is look back on a timid decision to punt.