BEREA, OHIO (AP) - For such a busy man, Pat Shurmur’s office desk is alarmingly uncluttered, a clear sign of his organization and attention to detail.
Everything about him seems neat, orderly.
Winding down after a humid morning practice, Cleveland’s first year coach, the Browns’ fifth since 1999 and third in four years, is remarkably at ease, almost too relaxed. In less than a week, he will make his NFL debut, his first game as a head coach for the 46-year-old at any level.
He’s not nervous. There’s no reason to be if you’re prepared. That’s what his parents taught him, and that’s what he’s passing on to his four kids and players.
Shurmur’s genuine, smart, sensible. A Midwest kid, who played center at Michigan State, he studied hard and worked his way to the top of his profession.
“I’m not trying to be anyone but me,” he said. “I’m trying to take what I’ve learned and put my spin on it.”
The Browns are hoping Shurmur twists them into winners.
Hired in January, “January 13th,” Shurmur quickly points out during the early moments of a sit-down interview in his tastefully decorated office overlooking the Browns’ greener-than-green practice fields, Shurmur already feels at home in Cleveland. He grew up just a few hours away in Michigan, a state like Ohio, where family and football are intertwined.
On shelves across from his desk are photos of his wife, Jennifer, and their four children. Next to the door is a signed photo of George Perles, his college coach and one of his many coaching mentors. There’s also a framed illustration of a Browns player standing on the sideline of Cleveland’s old stadium, a hooded jacket draped over his shoulders.
It hasn’t taken long for Shurmur to appreciate the passion Browns fans feel for their beloved team and the pain they’ve endured since the club returned in 1999 _ a 12-year span of losses, coaching changes and endless turmoil. Everywhere he goes, Shurmur hears the stories of what’s gone wrong.
“Growing up only a few hours from here, even though I knew a lot about the Browns, I didn’t know how intense this area is about football, how intense Cleveland Browns fans are,” said Shurmur, whose late uncle, Fritz, spent 24 years as an NFL assistant and worked for Browns president Mike Holmgren. “They love their Browns. That drives us, to know what we do really makes a difference. Mondays are much sweeter or much grayer depending on what happens on Sunday here. We get that.
“It up to us to make them sweeter.”
Shurmur’s road to Cleveland has taken him from coast to coast and back to where he started.
A four-year letterman and captain for the Spartans, Shurmur earned a master’s degree in finance before embarking on a career in business. In 1988, he started a sales job with IBM, but soon grew weary of the commute, suits and cold calls. He lasted less than nine months before quitting.
The coaching whistle called him.
“It was the best decision he ever made,” Jennifer said following Shurmur’s introductory news conference in Cleveland.
Longing for the sideline, he called Perles, who hired the former All-Big 10 center as a graduate assistant. He spent a decade at his alma mater before a year at Stanford as an offensive line coach. Then it was 10 more years as an assistant with Philadelphia, where he spent 10 years on Andy Reid’s staff coaching the Eagles tight ends and quarterback Donovan McNabb before he was hired as an offensive coordinator in St. Louis.
Last season, Shurmur helped mold rookie QB Sam Bradford, quickly transforming the top overall pick from prospect to star. He’s eager to do the same in Cleveland with Colt McCoy, who will run the same West Coast offense Shurmur used with the Rams.
After Eric Mangini was fired following a second 5-11 season, Holmgren put together a short list of candidates with Shurmur was at the top. Reid had assured Holmgren that Shurmur was the choice, and the pick was seconded by Browns general manager Tom Heckert, who worked with Shurmur in Philadelphia.
They believed Shurmur was ready.
“I trusted their judgment on it,” he said. “I felt like they had done their due diligence, and if they said I was the guy, well, that gives you a little more confidence.”
Not that he needed much.
Shurmur’s calm and conviction have made a strong impression on the Browns, some of whom never bought into Mangini’s plan or his attempt to be another Bill Belichick. Shurmur has a way of getting across his point without being heavy handed. He’s more teacher than taskmaster.
“He’s very honest, very open, very player friendly,” running back Peyton Hillis said. “I like that about him. He has a tremendous work ethic and he has the will to win. When you have that combination of things, I think your team can go far.”
Browns cornerback Sheldon Brown spent eight seasons with Shurmur in Philadelphia. He said while Shurmur is his own man, he detects a lot of Reid’s influence.
“Obviously, he wrote every note down out of Andy Reid’s book because even some of the verbiage is the same, the sarcasm is the same and it’s crazy for me because it’s all so familiar,” Brown said, cracking a smile. “It’s the same guy talking, just a little smaller.”
Shurmur said a conversation with Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie shaped him. Reid had never been a head coach before Lurie hired him, and Shurmur wanted to know why.
“Jeffrey said Andy was comfortable in his own skin,” Shurmur recalled. “He was himself. He was very firm, very stern but he was able to laugh at himself. I think that’s a real important piece. When you are working with these guys, I think our nature as players or students is to listen and learn and but they are looking for a crack in the armor.
“And if you are not yourself, they are going to see you are less than genuine and that’s bad. You’ll struggle.”
The Browns’ coaching carousel has to stop some time. It may have finally slowed.
Holmgren is counting on Shurmur to be his last coaching hire. And Shurmur wants Cleveland to be his final stop.
“I hope so,” he said. “I’ve lived here now for eight months, what I know about this area is that this is a place you could live forever. I like where we’re settling. I like where the kids are going to go to school, I love the organization. I’m close to the things that are important in my life, so why not?
“It’s all good.”
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