Let's just start by saying that I'm not an advocate of firing coaches after one season, which means Pat Shurmur should be coaching the Browns in 2012.
The bigger issue is how to handle the long term. If the Shurmur-led Browns make as many bone-headed moves as they did this season, they'll have to cut their losses sooner rather than later.
That could be a problem if team president Mike Holmgren develops a bunker mentality and retains Shurmur at all costs. Holmgren is on record as saying Shurmur will be the coach for a long time, meaning, in all probability, through the end of Holmgren's five-year contract.
Former Browns owner Art Modell made the same proclamation about Bill Belichick during the throes of the post-Bernie Kosar era, but he changed his mind when the franchise moved to Baltimore in 1996. The rest, as Browns fans are painfully aware, is history.
When the 2011 season is analyzed, the word "chaos" might come to mind. How else can you describe it? From quick-snap plays by the opposition to a quarterback calling a running play with a few seconds to play in the first half and no timeouts remaining, it's been a head-scratching season.
Do you remember tight end Alex Smith lining up at fullback and taking a handoff on a dive call? The problem was that Smith had never carried the ball in his entire career, which became evident when he promptly fumbled. Apparently someone forgot that fullback Owen Marecic had left the game a few plays earlier with a concussion.
Then there was concussion-gate - the drama that was the injury suffered by quarterback Colt McCoy against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It seems credible to believe the medical and training staffs were pre-occupied with other injuries when McCoy was leveled by linebacker James Harrison, but it didn't make sense then and it doesn't now that McCoy was put back into the game.
Some of the things that have taken place are inexplicable. The joke should be that it's expected from the bumbling Browns, but it's not supposed to be that way with Holmgren in charge and his hand-picked coach on the sideline.
Shurmur should get a mulligan for this season. Rookie players make mistakes all the time. Why shouldn't we expect rookie coaches to struggle with a learning curve?
That all changes at approximately 7:15 p.m. on New Year's Day, when the 2011 season officially ends. The spotlight will then be intensified on Shurmur, searching for every mistake.
Unfortunately, for Shurmur, his mistakes this year didn't require a microscope to be discovered. They were out there to be seen by everyone on big-screen, high-definition television. The "why-I-ought-ah" looks on Shurmur's face as things unraveled in front of him were priceless.
When the camera focused on Holmgren during last Saturday's game in Baltimore, he looked like a man that couldn't get to the airport fast enough. He also looked like a man that was wondering if he had made the right move in hiring Shurmur last January.
Shurmur was a refreshing change from former coach Eric Mangini during training camp and in the early days of the season. Since then he's put up a shield of armor to deflect the stream of "what-happened" questions every week. It's not that he's become aloof. He just seems tired of dealing with this season.
The good news is that things can only get better for Shurmur. Belichick learned that when he was given a second chance to coach.
Now all that Shurmur needs is to draft the next Tom Brady.