On Sunday night, after nearly 12 hours of swirling rumors that only got darker with time, the Cleveland Browns fired head coach Rob Chudzinski after just one season on duty.
This is the Browns' fourth head coach firing in six years and the first that has come after but one season. It's the result of the Browns having a franchise-worst seven-game losing streak to end the season, of the Browns losing 10 of their last 11 games, of the organization needing a scapegoat, of unreasonable roster demands and of a historical pattern of failure doomed to repeat itself.
The top two candidates for the job appear to be at this point Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien and New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. O'Brien, however, is a front-runner for the Houston Texans coaching vacancy, and the lure of an organizationally stable franchise will be more powerful than whatever the Browns deign to offer him.
And, after all, McDaniels is the chosen one. He's the one the Browns want—they went after him last year, but he wasn't ready to return to a head coaching job. The firing of Chudzinski seems to point firmly at one thing: McDaniels wants in, now. And so the Browns had to find cause to ditch Chudzinski, citing a poor second half to the season and "an urgency for success" in the team's official statement confirming the firing.
Firing Chudzinski also puts the Browns' assistant coaches and coordinators on the hot seat. Team CEO Joe Banner met with those coaches on Monday morning and told both that they'd be free to interview with new teams and that the new head coach will decide the fates of those remaining, according to a Browns source who spoke to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.
That could mean defensive coordinator Ray Horton's attack-style 3-4 defense and Norv Turner's vertical-passing offense could both be things of the past after one season.
Horton's defense certainly did not perform as advertised, particularly in the crucial second half of the season, which the Browns' brass is pointing to as part of why Chudzinski was fired.
Though the Browns ranked in the top 10 in yards allowed, they ranked 31st in opponent third-down conversion percentage at 44.67 percent, gave up touchdowns on a dismal 64 percent of opponents' red-zone appearances and allowed a league-high 9.1 points to opponents in the fourth quarter. There's little chance he stays as a result.
Turner could be safe, though marginally so. If the Browns were willing to part ways with the offensive-minded Chudzinski despite cycling through three quarterbacks—and despite Josh Gordon being the league's receiving-yardage leader for the year—then Turner could easily be a casualty.
This means another season of rebuilding for the Browns. Rebuilding is a mode this team cannot seem to get out of, as the desire to win now repeatedly has trumped a desire for stability. Granted, four wins in 2013 is a step back—or, more accurately, a sign of little progress—but the choice to move on from Chudzinski was less about the win-loss record, as the official statement spelled out.
The Browns' powers that be would rather blow up what they built in 2013 in order to make a move for McDaniels. It would be surprising if they don't land him once interviews with current playoff teams' coaches can begin within the next month.
Then will begin the massive task of selling these changes to the Browns players and getting them to buy in on yet another turnover and another new system. That's not to mention convincing the fans that the impending hires won't also be out of jobs in a year or two themselves. That's a longer process that may never be completed, if the Browns' history since 1999 is any indication.
If anything, the firing of Chudzinski after one year falls in line with the new-look Browns' "Critical Path to the Super Bowl," which begins with "We will be BOLD." But boldness for boldness' sake doesn't yield wins. The Browns have a plan, to be sure, but whether or not it works is the most important thing.
No matter what, there's an uphill battle ahead to improve the team's image in the league and in Cleveland itself. It's doubtful any new coach can do that in one year. Which, as we've seen, might be all he has.
Wash, rinse, repeat for the Browns.