The anatomy of a juicy NFL rumor

Rumors surfaced Sunday afternoon that the Browns are considering firing head coach Rob Chudzinski -- and that Penn State coach Bill O'Brien might be a suitable replacement.

Brad Rempel/Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Twitter was born for coaching searches. Or something like that.

Within an hour of kickoff Sunday of the Cleveland Browns regular season finale in Pittsburgh, rumors that the Browns are considering firing head coach Rob Chudzinski after one season hit TV and radio. Then, they hit Twitter and spread like wildfire through first hour or so of the latest Browns clunker.

Just like someone knew they would.

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They’re just rumors, but as of mid-afternoon Sunday there sure was a lot of smoke. And a lot of different people from different networks and different entities weighed in on them as Chudiznski coached the Browns Sunday. Most just stirred the pot, backed up what someone else had said or tweeted or simply confirmed through a source what some other source had already told someone else.

Again, just like someone knew they would.

On Saturday, the Twittersphere spun out rumors of Penn State coach Bill O’Brien negotiating with the Houston Texans. O’Brien’s season is done and Houston had already made a coaching move, so in that case both parties would be ahead of the curve. Tomorrow morning brings the NFL’s Black Monday, when coaching and general manager changes are generally made.

This is not to say the Browns covet O’Brien. That hasn’t been reported anywhere, and we don’t know. A big rumor like the Browns considering a coaching change at this point would hit on Sunday to get the attention of O’Brien, O’Brien’s agent and people like them. Teams don’t make a coaching change after one year unless they have a home-run hire lined up, and regardless of your opinion on whether O’Brien or anyone else about to become available truly constitutes a home run, letting a rumor like this leak now would give Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi and anyone else a chance to feel out the list of candidates and then decide how strong any mutual interest might be.

With one phone call or text message, a seed can be planted. And through Twitter and NFL Sunday television, that seed can grow like crazy in a hurry.


There’s no guarantee stuff like this originated from inside Browns Headquarters, though it sure smells like it did. Chudzinski is coming to work tomorrow morning and what will happen, no one knows. If there’s more than smoke here, the Browns can continue to work the phones and back channels and maybe even Twitter again while they wait to hear back. In the meantime, Chudzinski waits.

In a worst-case scenario, the Browns simply deny the story later and move forward.

The Browns thought they had a home-run hire lined up in Chip Kelly a year ago next week. That didn’t work, and then Kelly danced with the Eagles twice over the ensuing weeks before actually taking the job. The difference in this case is that the Browns have a coach in place already when last year they did not. What both the Browns and Eagles learned from last January’s events is that nothing is certain until it’s officially signed, which is why teams even in just the exploratory stages of a major decision would want to get the word out to potential candidates.

Stuff like this — and to be reiterate, it’s still just "stuff" — could also come from someone who knows someone in that building, or maybe an agent who would leak it in an attempt to drive up his client’s price, raise his client’s profile or maybe even get another client positioned for another job. People talk and rumors spread in the football world just like they do in the regular world. Everyone’s on Twitter, too — and smart people in big chairs and big offices know it.

Either way, the NFL is a ruthless business. The only guarantees are those dollars written into those contracts. It’s not illegal for the Browns or any other team to take the temperature of a potential move.

The Browns, as you know, have been here before in different forms and fashions. And with another miserable season coming to an end, now we wait to see what comes of this latest cycle of whispers and visions.