BEREA, Ohio (AP) — As Browns coach Pat Shurmur spoke to the media following Sunday's 17-16 loss to Philadelphia, an interested observer slipped into the back of the room.
Incoming owner Jimmy Haslam III took a seat. And although he didn't ask Shurmur a question, Haslam's presence spoke volumes.
The new boss is already working.
It remains to be seen if that's good or bad news for Shurmur, who went 4-12 in his first season in Cleveland. But it's safe to assume that Haslam, the truck-stop magnate and former minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers who bought the Browns for $1 billion, will be examining his new investment very closely over the next few months.
For Shurmur, it's a 16-week audition to keep his job.
"I really like Jimmy, and I've enjoyed getting to know him," Shurmur said, "and I know Jimmy wants to win."
Shurmur doesn't have time to worry about his future beyond Sunday's game at Cincinnati. With a young roster that includes 15 rookies, including the starting quarterback, running back, right offensive tackle and a defensive tackle, Shurmur's primary objective is to get his team ready to play a team looking to bounce back from a drubbing at Baltimore on Monday.
A year ago, the Browns opened with a 27-17 loss to the Bengals, who took the lead in the fourth quarter when they caught Cleveland's defense napping and threw a 41-yard touchdown pass. It was an embarrassing moment for the Browns and first of several rookie moments in a trying season for Shurmur, who also served as the club's offensive coordinator.
It didn't help that the labor lockout deprived Shurmur of a full offseason to prepare his club. That was reality, not an excuse and Shurmur's problems were complicated by injuries, controversies involving running back Peyton Hillis and Colt McCoy and playing in the rugged AFC North, where every team but the Browns made the playoffs.
Shurmur came out on the other end a bit battered, but unbowed.
In his second year, Shurmur is more confident, more assured, more himself.
"He's more seasoned," linebacker Scott Fujita said. "He's had a lot thrown at him in his first couple years on the job. But he's come in, he's steady and he's got a little fire to him right now, which I enjoy."
Shurmur has indeed undergone something of a makeover, but not an intentional one as much as one that happened naturally through experience.
He's more vocal at practice, maximizing teaching moments to instruct his young players, 27 of whom have less than three years of pro experience. He's also different during press conferences. Last year, he often joked about needing a medical degree to be able to discuss injuries. These days, he says as little as possible.
"I don't think it's important for us to just tell the world about where we are at," he said. "That's just my feelings on that. Maybe that's just me in Year 2."