The Cleveland Browns' newest regime is intent on building a model for consistent success for years to come. After just one season, it has apparently seen enough to conclude that head coach Rob Chudzinski won't be part of that future.
On Sunday night, he was fired, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com:
The #Browns have fired coach Rob Chudzinski, per team source.— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 29, 2013
The Browns confirmed the news minutes later:
BREAKING: The Browns have relieved Head Coach Rob Chudzinski of his duties, the organization announced Sunday night.— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) December 30, 2013
The team released a statement on the decision via ProFootballTalk.com:
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. Our fans deserve to see a consistently competitive team. 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. Browns fans are the most loyal and passionate supporters in the NFL. We’re fully committed to bringing them the winning football team they deserve.
ESPN's Adam Caplan later provided a statement from Chudzinski discussing the termination:
I was shocked and disappointed to hear the news that I was fired. I am a Cleveland Brown to the core, and always will be. It was an honor to lead our players and coaches, and I appreciate their dedication and sacrifice. I was more excited than ever for this team, as I know we were building a great foundation for future success. 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.
According to ProFootballTalk, that was the only move the team made:
Per source, the Browns have retained Rob Chudzinski's staff, for now.— ProFootballTalk (@ProFootballTalk) December 30, 2013
No word yet on #Browns assistants being let go. Ray Horton interviewed for HC job last year. Norv has been a HC. We'll see where this goes— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 30, 2013
Chris Mortensen of ESPN first reported that the firing was coming:
Rob Chudzinski will be fired by the #Browns, per league sources.— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) December 29, 2013
The payoff on Rob Chudzinski's contract is $10.5 million, per league source— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) December 30, 2013
Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com added details on the firing and on the coaching search:
A source said the Browns regretted having to fire Chudzinski after one year, but that they saw the team regressing and felt it was time to cut their losses.
Leading candidates to replace Chudzinski will be Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, a graduate of Canton-McKinley High and John Carroll University, and Penn State's Bill O'Brien, the former Patriots offensive coordinator. O'Brien, the frontrunner for the Texans job, interviewed for the Browns vacancy last year, but opted to stay at Penn State for a second season.
The Browns wanted to interview McDaniels last year, but he wasn't ready to leave New England. A source told cleveland.com last year that McDaniels would "jump at the chance'' to coach his hometown team when he was ready to return to the head coaching ranks.
Chudzinski posted a record of 4-12 in his first and only season at the helm, matching the meager maiden mark set by his predecessor in Pat Shurmur during the 2011 campaign. It's a step back from last year's 5-11 season too.
Matt Miller of Bleacher Report received a comment from a Browns player who expressed dissatisfaction with Chudzinski's coaching methods (Warning: Tweet is NSFW):
"He's a douche. No one on offense trusts him." Text from a player regarding Rob Chudzinski. #Browns— Matt Miller (@nfldraftscout) December 29, 2013
However, not all players were pleased with the decision (via Mike Silver of NFL.com):
One Browns player: "We are so dysfunctional. These billionaires need to pick somebody and stay with them. These aren't girlfriends..."— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) December 29, 2013
"... you can't dump them if they (fail to please you) one time."— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) December 29, 2013
Another Browns player: "This organization is a joke."— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) December 29, 2013
As for the sudden nature of the firing, Bill Barnwell of Grantland concluded that the Browns likely have a target to replace Chudzinski already lined up:
News that the Browns are firing Chudzinski makes me think they’ve already identified a new head coach.— Bill Barnwell (@billbarnwell) December 29, 2013
Instability at the quarterback position has been well-documented since Cleveland got its team back, beginning with former No. 1 overall pick Tim Couch and culminating in this season, which saw three different signal-callers under center.
That has been a big part of the problem and inconsistency—something even reputed offensive masterminds in Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner had trouble rectifying in 2013.
However, that tandem devised good enough game plans to produce huge numbers for the league's leading receiver in Josh Gordon and nourished the development of athletic tight end Jordan Cameron.
This all came without a running game or a consistently competent and healthy QB.
Between first-round bust Brandon Weeden, the mixed results brought on by a banged-up Jason Campbell and a torn ACL for upstart former Tom Brady protege Brian Hoyer, there was almost no chance for the Browns to be successful.
Combine that with a declining defense that lost steam down the stretch, and just about any coach would have been doomed in Cleveland.
Chudzinski, a lifelong Browns fan and Toledo native, is certainly an ideal fit for the franchise in terms of his passion, understanding of the fanbase and the weight the organization carries for the city.
Unfortunately, it seems CEO Joe Banner and general manager Michael Lombardi aren't interested to see if Chudzinski can get his nucleus to buy in. Even with the 3-2 start and the complex QB situation, a seven-game losing streak to end the season is never a good look.
But this also reflects poorly on Banner and Lombardi, because their extensive search to find a viable candidate netted just one season and essentially zero progress.
With two first-round selections among a slew of picks in the upcoming draft, the front office must nail it and add some serious, instant-impact talent to this roster in addition to making the proper coaching hire.
Otherwise, it could be yet another regime change in Cleveland very soon, further setbacks and perhaps other de facto casualties such as Chudzinski along the way—whether they're to blame or not.
The NFL is a bottom-line business, and the bumbling Browns are still not getting it done. As the search for a seventh full-time head coach since 1999 commences, it's critical Banner, Lombardi and Co. get it right this time.