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Another Black Monday



Published: Mon, December 31, 2012 @ 12:02 a.m.

If the Cleveland Browns change coaches and general managers with a frequency challenged only by Elizabeth Taylor changing husbands or the Duggar family adding children, we should be used to BMIB.

Black Monday in Berea.

It happens every few years with the Browns, but the last two Cleveland coaches each lasted just two years and an argument can be made that neither guy got a fair shake in the city by the lake.

Well, let’s be clear. Pat Shurmur has not officially been fired, but it’s beginning to look a lot like his “battle” is over and will end without the “progress” he wanted, just as Eric Mangini’s time here was short by NFL standards. General manager Tom Heckert doesn’t deserve the same fate, but he apparently has been resigned to it for weeks.

Those words were the pillars in Shurmur’s lexicon, but when Randy Lerner announced the pending sale of the Browns to truck-stop magnate Jimmy Haslam, it was readily apparent that the new owner wasn’t going to be satisfied with simply doing battle and measuring progress in small increments.

Haslam wrote Lerner a check for a billion dollars. Anything short of Shurmur turning the young Browns into a playoff team wasn’t going to get him a third season in Cleveland.

Browns fans have seen this drama play out before. Eric Mangini got two years and then was fired. Romeo Crennel got four years, but never did beat the Steelers. At least Mangini and Shurmur were able to do that.

Once Shurmur’s firing becomes official — probably some time today — Haslam and CEO Joe Banner will begin the search for yet another coach-general combination.

So why does this one come with a sense of trepidation that shouldn’t be happening with a franchise that does this sort of thing all the time? Some of the Browns, most notably 14-year veteran kicker Phil Dawson — the only player who has been here ever since the team returned in 1999 — and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson don’t know any other way.

All they can do is hope for the best. In that sense, they’re just like the 72,000 fans who troop dutifully downtown every Sunday to support an ever-changing — but never really progressing — franchise.

Mangini and Shurmur gave it their best shots, but both were victims of regime changes of sorts. Mangini’s fate was sealed when Mike Holmgren signed on as the Browns president and came up with a five-year plan. Holmgren didn’t think it was fair to fire Mangini after only one season, so he delayed the inevitable and gave the coach another year. In retrospect, Holmgren should probably have brought in his own guy — it turned out to be Shurmur — right from the start. If that had happened, the lockout that effectively ruined Shurmur’s first season in 2011 wouldn’t have been such a killer.

The next regime change came when Lerner announced the sale and Haslam brought in Banner, who orchestrated a power grab that could result in Mike Lombardi returning to Cleveland as the new GM or player personnel director. Junk that five-year plan, along with Shurmur and Heckert. And perhaps Brandon Weeden, depending on just how much Haslam and Banner want to blow up this team.

That’s the scary part. Yes, the Browns were 9-23 under Shurmur, but there is a sense — thanks to Heckert’s acquisition of talent — that this team is not that far away.

Browns fans aren’t going to like this, but they could be looking at another five-year plan.

Ed Puskas is sports editor at The Vindicator. Write him at epuskas@vindy.com.


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