Shurmur gets first taste of Browns’ fans

Published 12:30 am Sunday, February 13, 2011

The Associated Press

CLEVELAND — Surrounded by a ballroom packed with fans, Pat Shurmur got his first taste of what it’s like to lead the Browns.

Mike Hargrove used the moment to offer Cleveland’s newest coach some advice.

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“Stay on the move,” said Hargrove, who managed the Indians to two World Series in the 1990s. “It’s harder to hit a moving target.”

Shurmur laughed.

Next, he’ll need to win.

Shurmur made his first public appearance since being hired by the Browns last month, serving as a presenter on Thursday night at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards, an annual event honoring the area’s top athletes. Shurmur appeared on a circular stage with Hargrove, who has returned to the Indians in a consulting role.

It’s been a whirlwind few weeks for Shurmur, St. Louis’ former offensive coordinator.

He’s been hiring assistants, evaluating Cleveland’s roster and preparing for the NFL draft while not knowing if there will be a 2011 season because of the league’s uncertain labor situation. Shurmur’s moving forward and he confirmed he’ll also handle duties as the offensive coordinator in his first year as a head coach.

“That’s the way it shaped up this year,” Shurmur said.

Last season, only two teams — the Arizona Cardinals and New England Patriots — didn’t have a coach with the “offensive coordinator” title.

Shurmur isn’t concerned about trying to handle too much. He has surrounded himself with experienced assistants, including defensive coordinator Dick Jauron, a former head coach in Chicago and Buffalo.

“I feel like we’ve hired a terrific staff and everybody on this staff has roles and issues of the day,” Shurmur said. “I feel really good about how we’ve structured things and I think it’s going to work well.”

Shurmur replaced Eric Mangini, who was fired following his second straight 5-11 seasons. Shurmur has already avoided one of the early mistakes made by Mangini. In his first appearance at the sports awards, Mangini ignored Browns Pro Bowl nose tackle Shaun Rogers despite being within a few feet of him in the backstage area.

Their non-meeting caused a player-coach rift that was never mended, and it painted Mangini as standoffish and aloof, a reputation he never quite overcame.

Shurmur made sure he introduced himself to return specialist Joshua Cribbs, who was named the professional athlete of the year.

“I just saw Josh for the first time and we shook hands,” Shurmur said. “I said what I wanted for him was to get in the end zone, so it’s the start. He seemed to give me a big smile, so I think we’re on the same page.”

The fact that Cribbs was named the city’s top pro athlete says a lot about the sorry state of Cleveland sports.

Cribbs beat out Indians outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and Browns tackle Joe Thomas for the award despite being slowed for much of last season by a nasty foot injury. The two-time Pro Bowler scored just one touchdown and was not nearly as effective in past years. Still, he took home an award that NBA superstar LeBron James won four times while he played in Cleveland.

The event was hosted by ESPN’s Mike Tirico, who opened the festivities by taking a playful shot at the hometown Cavaliers, who have lost an NBA record 26 games.

“Let’s talk about the big elephant in the room,” Tirico said, addressing a crowd that included current Cavs J.J. Hickson, Samardo Samuels and Christian Eyenga, general manager Chris Grant and former Cavs stars Larry Nace and Austin Carr. “The Cavs aren’t having a good season. But you know what? It’s not going to get any worse.”

Later, Tirico joked that he was going to give Grant an award for “the hardest general manager’s job in his first year in the world.”

Grant also presented an award and took the opportunity to thank Cleveland fans for their support following James’ departure last summer and the club’s struggles.

The program opened with a touching video tribute for Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller, who died in December.

The Indians’ 1995 and 1997 World Series squads were honored as Hargrove, Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton and Chad Ogea were warmly greeted as they were introduced. The Akron men’s soccer team, which won the school’s first NCAA championship, was named collegiate athlete of the year.