Browns owner Jimmy Haslam understands the situation looks bad, even embarrassing. He bungled his first NFL coaching hire and can’t afford to make another mistake.
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Haslam vowed it will be different this time.
It has to be.
A day after firing Rob Chudzinski for failing to make the Browns better in just one season, Haslam explained his reasons on Monday for the shocking move when he was forced to answer some tough questions, including one from a fan who wondered if the "Three Stooges" were running his team.
"We understand the importance of continuity," Haslam said. "But I think it’s really important to hear this: We also understand the importance of getting it right."
The Browns dumped Chudzinski on Sunday night, just hours after a 20-7 loss in Pittsburgh and less than a year after he was brought in to turn around a team that can’t seem to get out of its own way.
Haslam and CEO Joe Banner cited an overall lack of progress in their decision to dismiss Chudzinski, who had the Browns at 4-5 before they lost their final seven games and finished 4-12 — the club’s sixth straight season with at least 10 losses. Banner said the decision was finalized Saturday.
"As unpopular and undesirable as it is to sit here and acknowledge we didn’t get it right, the fact that we’re making a change makes a statement that we’re not going to accept not being successful," Banner said.
Haslam knows there are skeptics wondering if this Browns regime has what it takes to transform a foundering franchise. Cleveland fans have spent years hearing broken promises and plans that go astray. Haslam, though, is committed to making good on his word to bring sustained success to the Browns.
"There will be a lot of people who say we should have given this staff a second year, a second chance," Haslam said. "And in our estimation, it was best to go ahead and make the change and try to get it right so that we can move forward and candidly, and most importantly, give the fans here the kind of winner they deserve."
Banner and Haslam have begun their search for Chudzinski’s replacement. Banner said the team is still deciding whether to interview Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton for the opening. Horton interviewed with the Browns last season before the job went to Chudzinski, a lifelong Browns fan who was caught off guard by his ouster.
Banner said none of the other candidates interviewed last year will be considered again. That would appear to rule out Penn State coach Bill O’Brien and San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.
New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels could be the frontrunner to be Cleveland’s seventh full-time coach since 1999 because of his relationship with Browns general manager Michael Lombardi. The team requested permission to interview McDaniels as well as Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase.
The Browns are also expected to interview Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, who previously worked as an assistant on Butch Davis’ staff in Cleveland.
Haslam knows it’s imperative to stop the constant turnover. The Browns have changed coaches four times in six years.
"We have to prove to you all we’ll get the right guy," Haslam said. "We’re confident we can do that. But until that individual comes in here and wins football games, talk is cheap. So actions speak loud."
The Browns do have a more attractive situation to lure a prospective coach than they did a year ago. Cleveland had five Pro Bowl players this season, the team has two first-round picks in May’s draft and there’s plenty of salary cap room to sign free agents.
"This is the crucial offseason for the Cleveland Browns," Haslam said. "If we get that right, we’ll have a lot of positive press conferences. We feel a lot of pressure to get this right for our players, our fans and the city of Cleveland."
Chudzinski was told of his firing shortly after the team returned by bus from Pittsburgh.
"I was shocked and disappointed to hear the news that I was fired," Chudzinski said in a statement released by the Browns. "I am a Cleveland Brown to the core, and always will be. … While clearly I would have liked to see the long-term vision through to the end, I am very grateful to Jimmy Haslam and the Haslam family for letting me live my dream."
Chudzinski has three years left on his contract worth a reported $10 million. He was emotional as he said goodbye to his players.
"It’s unfortunate," wide receiver Josh Gordon said. "I can’t say what’s fair, what’s not fair. The NFL, it’s the business of the league. But I thought he would have more time than that.
"I figured any coach in the NFL would get at least two years. I didn’t even know that was possible."