Browns Firing Shurmur and Heckert Was Inevitable, Necessary and Part of the Game

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVDecember 31, 2012

It wasn't only or primarily for football reasons that Jimmy Halslam relieved general manager Tom Heckert and head coach Pat Shurmur from their duties with the Cleveland Browns.
It wasn't only or primarily for football reasons that Jimmy Halslam relieved general manager Tom Heckert and head coach Pat Shurmur from their duties with the Cleveland Browns.Jason Miller/Getty Images

There's always an inherent shock to the system whenever any head coach or general manager gets fired at the end of his team's respective NFL season, no matter how expected it was.

Since Jimmy Haslam purchased the Cleveland Browns earlier this fall and Mike Holmgren bowed out as team president, replaced by former Philadelphia Eagles executive Joe Banner as CEO, it was fairly clear that head coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert wouldn't be returning to their jobs after the season, no matter what the Browns' final record ended up being.

Indeed, that finally occurred on Monday morning, just one day after the Browns' most recent and final loss of the 2012 season, sending them to a 5-11 record—their 12th losing season in the past 14 years. Though those numbers clearly had something to do with why the two men were dismissed, it wasn't the only reason, nor the biggest.

No—it was mainly about the business of the NFL. 

As much as we want to believe the concept of new ownership being interested in bringing in "their" guys to coach and manage their investment is a myth, it isn't. There are few owners in the league who don't have some opinion on how they want their team to be structured and run, who don't have some idea of the philosophy and approach their team should take in an attempt to win games. It cannot be assumed that the regime currently in place has any loyalty to the new owner—and there's no reason to test it. 

Had the Browns not have been sold from Randy Lerner to Haslam, it's quite possible that Shurmur would have gotten his third season as head coach and almost certain that Heckert would have remained the team's personnel guru. After all, Shurmur was at the helm of one of the league's youngest rosters, with a first-year quarterback still learning the ropes, and Heckert's track record of bringing on promising talent is nearly unparalleled.

It's hard to gauge exactly how a team still very much in the development stage would ultimately shake out, and in instances like that, a losing record isn't argument enough for ditching the coaches and GM—and that goes doubly so for a Browns team that hasn't had much stability in key areas since reforming as a franchise in 1999 (now about to be six head coaches in 15 years, for example).

Retention of Shurmur and Heckert would have been, in many ways, more ideal for the team than canning them at this present moment. No, Shurmur's play calling and offensive structure was a bit baffling at times, and his seeming unwillingness to adapt his style to the players he's coaching didn't bode well for his continued employment in Cleveland. But the alternative—more change, again—isn't terribly ideal either. Without the ownership change, he would have gotten one more year to make things better.

What Haslam saw, though, was both a regime that wasn't comprised of his hand-picked coaches and personnel staff, as well as yet another losing season for a team that's had way too many of them.

Neither Shurmur nor Heckert held any place of special regard or esteem in Haslam's heart—not to say that he had no respect for them, but he didn't hire them, and as such, he didn't owe them anything. It was easier for him to look at the aggregate of their body of work through the lens of being a brand-new owner of the Browns, and therefore he could easily make a decision based on a merger of football and business reasons that the old ownership wouldn't have made this year.

So while there may be much rejoicing that Shurmur is gone (and a bit of rightful disappointment that Heckert is out with him), it was done primarily for reasons beyond the Browns' 2012 win-loss record. When it comes to owners in this league, the NFL is a business first and a sport second, and it was with that mentality that Haslam made these moves.