BEREA - For all anyone knows, the decision might have already been made.
In four more weeks Browns owner James Haslam III will call coach Pat Shurmur into his office and thank him for his contributions before delivering the news that the organization has decided to go in another direction.
That's the conventional thinking as the Browns enter the final fourth of the season with a 4-8 record. The assumption is that Haslam and president Joe Banner want to bring in "their" people to run the show, which means a new coach and possibly a new general manager.
Shurmur's chances to return appear weak, unless the Browns do the unexpected and win their final four games to finish the season with a six-game winning streak. Early speculation for his replacement runs from the ESPN broadcast booth (Jon Gruden), to the NFL (Bruce Arians) to the college ranks (Nick Saban).
General manager Tom Heckert would seem to have a better chance of staying, but that is changing every day. Recently there's been speculation that the Browns are set to bring in Mike Lombardi, who worked in the front office when Bill Belichick was the coach in the early 1990s. Lombardi is currently a contributor on the "NFL Network" and the "National Football Post."
Shurmur has strengthened his case in recent weeks. The Browns have won four of their last seven games and two straight for the first time since September of 2011.
Shurmur downplays feeling personal vindication for the criticism he's taken in the last two seasons.
"My concerns are for this team and the coaches as we move forward," Shurmur said. "I really believe in this group that we have and I believe that this is the foundation of something that can be really good. Even though I believe that and say that, until we start winning football games that's what shows it.
"Some of the other stuff about me personally; what more can they say about me? Think about it. I don't listen to it, but I'm told frequently about it. That's where the thick skin part comes in."
Haslam said in recent interview with the "Plain Dealer" that the Browns are very close and could easily be 6-5.
"It's always good to hear good things," Shurmur said. "I do know that what's important for me, and it's very narrow-minded, is this next game (against Kansas City) period. Whatever gets determined, gets determined. What I can control right now is what happens next week and that's where my focus is."
Working with the youngest team in the NFL (17 rookies currently on the active roster), Shurmur can make the claim that the Browns have turned the corner.
"What I do know is we beat a quality opponent at home last week (the Steelers), and we went on the road and won a game," Shurmur said. "Now what we have to do is build on that. We have a lot of young players that are getting better. When you're working with young players, you see guys improve."
Haslam said shortly after officially gaining control of the team in October that he would wait until the end of the season before deciding Shurmur's fate. All Shurmur can ask for is a fair crack at another year on the job.
"Number one, I don't want to talk about my future," Shurmur said. "Number two, I'm trying to make this the best Monday of the year and I'm trying to get our team ready to play the Chiefs and so on and so forth.
"I'm not taking any half swings here. We'll just play it out and see what happens."