BEREA — When coach Pat Shurmur arrived at Cleveland Browns Stadium on Sunday morning with a two-game winning streak, the latest rumor about his job was making its way through cyberspace.
Alabama coach Nick Saban could be part of a package deal with general manager prospect Mike Lombardi, according to the Boston Globe. Oregon’s Chip Kelly and Josh McDaniels are also candidates for an opening that hasn’t been created.
Shurmur put on his headset and Browns cap and went to work.
“Listen, I’m not worried about any of that,” he said Monday. “I’m not worried about saving my (job), I’m worried about doing my job and that’s it.”
He did it well Sunday as the Browns beat the Chiefs 30-7 for the first three-game winning streak in Shurmur’s two seasons. After starting the season 0-5, which extended the losing streak to 11, Cleveland has gone 5-3.
For the first time since 2007, the orange helmet popped up on the AFC playoff scenario graphic on TV. The Browns are “in the hunt” in NFL parlance, despite their 5-8 record.
They’re a long shot to make the postseason for the first time since 2002, but the streak has staved off elimination. The Browns trail Pittsburgh (7-6), Cincinnati (7-6) and the Jets
(6-7) for the final wild-card spot. Cleveland would need to win the remaining three games — vs. Washington, at Denver and at Pittsburgh — and get plenty of help to win a tiebreaker at 8-8.
“I’m not going to focus on that,” Shurmur said. “Our energy, our efforts are all going to be directed toward the Redskins. It’s a little bit easier to be shortsighted and narrow-minded with three games to play, and I think we have to make sure we stay in the moment.
“We all know chances and the math changes if you don’t take care of business this weekend, so that needs to be our focus.”
Rookie right tackle Mitchell Schwartz said the team hasn’t become consumed by visions of the playoffs.
“It’s easy to get caught looking too far ahead,” he said. “I just know that we haven’t been eliminated yet. But there’s been no big speeches or anything.”
Shurmur was in the playoff hunt just about every year as an assistant in Philadelphia and learned not to be tempted by the idea of the postseason.
“We danced around this all the time and I know what works is you focus on the next game,” he said.
Shurmur has preached the same message every week, regardless of the result of the previous game. The philosophy helps him avoid being consumed by the rumors and the uncertainty surrounding his job.
Owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner have gone silent and aren’t commenting on any reports. They still plan to use the entire season before making personnel decisions, which could lead to massive changes.
“Blown up? That’s not my decision,” cornerback Sheldon Brown said. “But my honest opinion is if you spend that kind of money, you can do what the hell you want to do. You can blow up anything.
“But I would feel bad for the young guys because there’s something to be said when a guy like a (GM Tom) Heckert drafted you and a guy like Pat Shurmur is on board for you.
Well, when there’s a new face, you don’t know if that guy is for you. You don’t know if he really believes in you. So you’re always going to be walking down the hall looking over your back because you don’t know.”
Winning is the great elixir, which explains why Shurmur looked refreshed Monday as he answered questions for 26 minutes.
“What’s most satisfying for me is to see these guys near the end of the game and then in the locker room truly enjoy victory, because we as coaches know how much these guys put into it and I’m glad that they’re able to experience that,” he said. “And it becomes intoxicating and they want to do it more and more and more, and I think it’s one of those things that drives you.”
Shurmur has said all year he knows the players much better in his second season. He’s learned which buttons to push and when to give a hug.
After the game Sunday he said he was mad at himself for overreacting and yanking running back Montario Hardesty after a fumble. On Monday, he said he threw a challenge flag in part because he wanted Joshua Cribbs to have a touchdown.
“I’ve always been fond of our team,” Shurmur said. “What I like about this team is they’re tough, they play hard and when we ask them to do things they respond. They’re a very coachable group of guys. When you see it all come together and they have success, as a teacher or a coach, that’s where you get your joy.”
Rookies have started a league-high 72 games for the Browns. Indianapolis is second with 44. As the team matured, the close losses turned into close wins and finally a blowout victory.
“We’ve proven that we can finish a ballgame,” Shurmur said. “Now how many in a row we can do, we’ll see. We’ve proven that we can find a way to make more plays than the other team and win a game.
“I’ve learned that we can have some extremely bad stuff happen early in the game and fight back from it. Those are all things that are necessary if you’re going to build a consistent winner.”
The five losses by seven points or fewer would keep some coaches up at night. But Shurmur insisted he doesn’t wonder what might’ve been.
“I’ll finish your question for you, nope,” Shurmur said. “You don’t do that. You cannot do that. You just keep going forward. I do not play the what-if game.”
For Shurmur, it would include the playoffs and his job status.
“I think that’s one of the stranger things is we don’t have any clue what’s going to happen,” Schwartz said. “I think we’ve done a pretty good job of trying to push that aside and just focus on doing our job.”
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