Philadelphia, PA - One season? – Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - One season?
The Cleveland Browns are in a familiar spot as the new year approaches: out of the NFL playoffs and thinking ahead toward May's draft and the 2014 NFL campaign.
Rob Chudzinski's first and final season as the Browns head coach ended abruptly after the team's annual setback in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Cleveland finished its 2013 schedule with a 4-12 overall mark, the franchise's sixth straight trip to the finish line with either 11 or 12 losses.
Hours after the 20-7 defeat in Western Pennsylvania, the Browns brain trust of CEO Joe Banner and general manger Mike Lombardi kicked off "Black Monday" a little early, firing Chudzinski, saying they didn't see enough improvement in his one season as coach.
"We appreciate Chud's passion for the Browns, and we have great respect for him both personally and professionally," the team said in a statement. "We needed to see progress with this football team. We needed to see development and improvement as the season evolved and, unfortunately, we took a concerning step backward in the second half of the year."
Fair enough, it's tough to spin losing seven straight to end the season and 10 of 11 overall in any kind of positive fashion.
"Our fans deserve to see a consistently competitive team," the statement added. "We have high standards, and there's an urgency for success. When we believed we were not positioned to achieve significant progress in 2014, we knew we had to admit that a change was needed, and move forward."
It's true you can't fix a problem if you don't admit you have one so it's a prudent idea to move on if you truly believe Chudzinski isn't the answer as a coach.
That said, it comes at a price. This was Banner's first hire so he is admitting a rather glaring faux pas and the bull's-eye has shifted toward him now. Meanwhile, the Browns only enhance their reputation as a rudderless mess, incapable of any kind of patience or continuity.
The Browns were Chudzinski's dream job as a Toledo native who cheered for Cleveland teams as a child. He also had two previous stints in the Browns organization, first as tight ends coach in 2004 and as offensive coordinator for two seasons from 2007-08. Before he was hired as Browns coach, he spent two seasons as the Carolina Panthers' offensive coordinator.
He was the sixth full-time head coach for the Browns since 1999 and took over for Pat Shurmur, who was fired at the conclusion of a 5-11 season.
The Browns have fired four coaches since 2008, a lack of stability that goes a long way in explaining why the franchise has made the postseason just once since its rebirth 14 years ago.
Joe Thomas, the All-Pro left tackle, has lived through half of that futility and thinks the constant upheaval is no help.
"You look at the great franchises. They don't fire your coach after the first season. You can't do it," Thomas told the Akron Beacon Journal after Sunday's loss. "It sets everything back. You just hit the reset button."
To be fair Banner hasn't been the one hitting Ctrl, Alt, Delete again and again but he also has to understand Browns fans will not be viewing this move in a vacuum. The team's history is its history and rebooting again isn't what this team's players or fan base wanted.
"Anytime you hit the reset button, it severely damages the organization, and it lengthens the amount of time that it takes to get back to the playoffs and turn the team into a consistent winner," Thomas continued. "I think that this organization needs continuity and that's the only chance that we're going to have to turn this team into a consistent winner."
When introducing Chudzinski -- an under the radar candidate -- owner Jimmy Haslam and Banner called the veteran coach "one of the game's bright young offensive minds."
To me this only confirms "Chud" was the consolation prize after Banner lost out to his old organization, the Philadelphia Eagles, on his real choice, Chip Kelly.
Kelly, of course, is a serious candidate for NFL Coach of the Year honors, turning a 4-12 team into the NFC East champions in his first season at the controls in the City of Brotherly Love.
The hot names this time around in Cleveland seem to be New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien, who interviewed with the Browns last year.
Settling for current offensive coordinator Norv Turner, the very definition of a retread, or defensive chief Ray Horton, probably the lone bright spot on the staff this year, will again signal failure.
"Browns fans are the most loyal and passionate supporters in the NFL," the team said. "We're fully committed to bringing them the winning football team they deserve."
Fully committed or not, the second hire better be the right one.
"We are so dysfunctional," one anonymous Browns player told NFL.com. "These billionaires (Haslam) need to pick somebody and stay with them. These aren't girlfriends. You can't dump them if they (fail to please you) one time."