The story of the Cleveland Browns, the second edition, is one of denial and dysfunction, of unfulfilled promise and promises, of constant change and business unfinished.
Amazingly, it falls under the category of "nonfiction."
A chapter wrote itself again Sunday and into Monday as these new Browns decided one season for head coach Rob Chudzinski was too much. The owner Jimmy Haslam and head honcho Joe Banner hired as the team’s public face last January is out after the Browns lost 10 of their last 11 games and finished 4-12, much like they usually do.
At a Monday press conference, Haslam lamented that it "galls" him to wake up on Monday mornings and see people writing and hear them talking about "the same old Browns."
So that’s why Chudzinski is out, but isn’t pulling the plug on the head coach after one season falling into the "same old Browns" theme?
It might be the right call, and Haslam certainly reserves the right to spend his millions any way he sees fit. But 15 years into what’s been a muddled, ever-changing mess and 15 months into Haslam and Banner’s turn to oversee it, the Browns are changing again. This change comes, Haslam and Banner said on Monday, because they didn’t see sufficient progress from players under Chudzinski and anticipated both more noticeable improvement and better results.
"It was our feeling," Haslam said, "that we weren’t getting better."
For 15 years, all involved have known the feeling.
As the Browns begin another coach search and another process of picking up the pieces and believing they’ll all eventually fall into place, the issue isn’t so much as whether Chudzinski would ever have become the guy to win as it is that hiring him last January proved be a swing and a miss. Haslam and Banner want to sell new and shiny and positive and, well, good luck.
"The fact that we’re making this change says we’re not going to accept not being really successful," Haslam said.
They’re selling this as something they didn’t want to do but needed to do, something that came about over the last two months and specifically over the last week, Banner said, before a final decision was made on Saturday. By Monday, what Haslam called "the crucial offseason for the Cleveland Browns" was underway.
The Browns need to hire a new head coach, build another staff, improve a roster with many holes while implementing new schemes and develop trust inside and outside an organization that’s done nothing but change. That long checklist starts absent the head coach no other team was trying to hire last year at this time, leaving the general manager no other team wanted to hire last year at this time — and the guys who hired him.
Haslam talked about understanding skepticism and needing to prove that things will be different to get people to believe they truly will be, and he’s right. That trust will have to start with the players, who not only didn’t want another change but will now want a coach they know is secure, confident and very much in charge.
Decisions like the one Haslam and Banner just made clash with that. Hiring the wrong guy smells like something the same old Browns would do.
As for getting the right guy this time, Haslam was asked during the press conference why the next coach would want the job after what happened to Chudzinski, Haslam acknowledged "that’s a fair question."
Banner talked about the "track record" he and Haslam have, but that didn’t really answer much, either. Haslam owned a small part of the Steelers for four years before buying the Browns; the Steelers have had three head coaches since 1969. Banner worked for the Eagles, where Andy Reid was coach for 14 years and that combination of continuity and having a quarterback got the Eagles to four straight NFC Championship Games.
Nothing in that track record of either says pulling the plug on a coach worked — or that either drove football-related decisions.
"The fact this didn’t go well doesn’t change that track record," Banner said.
It doesn’t change perception — inside or outside the building — either.
This group took over in Oct. 2012 knowing it was going to move on from then-coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert. It had plenty of time to size up the field of potential candidates for both, to prioritize and search and set the path. The Browns are 0-1 in hiring, were 4-12 for the season and now move on. Again.
As Monday’s press conference went on, Haslam’s face turned a brighter shade of red. Trying to shed that "same old Browns" label hasn’t been much fun.
As for Chudzinski, he and Banner clearly had different views on the talent that was in place. Banner during the press conference disputed a reporter’s notion that the Browns were playing for 2014, but it’s hard to dispute that Chudzinski was a first-time coach who got a terrible draft, inherited a terrible quarterback situation, had a constantly changing bottom of the roster and got all of 352 days on the job.
How much better was expected?
Chudzinski has had three stints with the Browns; two were for just one season. He becomes the third Browns coach since 2008 to coach his final game in Pittsburgh. A fourth who’s been fired since then coached his final game vs. Pittsburgh.
It gets better. After the 10-win season of 2007, Chudzinski’s first as Browns offensive coordinator under then-coach Romeo Crennel, he got a contract extension. The whole staff was fired after 2008, so then-owner Randy Lerner paid Chudzinski for the next three years. After getting fired Sunday night, Chudzinski will be paid for the next three years. That’s nine years of pay for three years of work.
You can’t make this stuff up.
For the Browns, it’s just another chapter. Until further notice, the same old stuff can continue to be expected.