Cardinals DC Todd Bowles has told the Browns to withdraw his name from their list of HC candidates, source tells @FOXSports1.— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) January 14, 2014
This isn't the first potential new Browns head coach who has withdrawn from consideration. New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels also bowed out, with ESPN's Adam Schefter citing that McDaniels decided now is not the right time to move on and Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer claiming it came as a result of the Browns not assuring McDaniels he was their top candidate.
Whatever the reason for McDaniels and Bowles pulling their names—a lack of interest, the Browns telling either or both men they have their sights set on someone else—it doesn't help the team's public-relations situation.
The predominant feeling from outside observers is that the head-coaching job is "radioactive," as NFL Network's Albert Breer termed it:
You get the increasing feeling, talking to people around the league, that the Browns job is seen as radioactive. Tough spot for them.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) January 12, 2014
Even if that isn't actually the truth, candidates dropping out of the running don't bode well for public perception.
The biggest red flag is that their previous head coach, Rob Chudzinski, had only one season and less than one calendar year on the job before being fired. Though the Browns likely have no plans to go one-and-done with a head coach next season—that would easily spell the end of Joe Banner's tenure as CEO and Mike Lombardi's as general manager—the precedent is set.
In a position that has little inherent job security as it is, the Browns head-coaching job seems quite the gamble for anyone to take with his career.
But Chudzinski precedent aside, the Browns job is highly attractive.
The team is sending five players to the Pro Bowl this year. It has two first-round, two third-round and two fourth-round draft picks in 2014—perfect ammunition with which to find a franchise quarterback, the one thing the team is truly lacking on its roster. There is a strong mix of veteran talent and young, promising players already in place and, depending on the new head coach's preference, two solid coordinators under contract in Norv Turner and Ray Horton.
The speculation that the front office has poisoned the well is just that—speculation. It's easy to look at how Chudzinski was unceremoniously fired and think something is amiss with the organization.
After all, Banner didn't make friends across the board as an executive with the Philadelphia Eagles, Lombardi has long been reviled in Cleveland and the team's owner, Jimmy Haslam, is currently the subject of an FBI investigation.
But those dots are being connected by those outside of the franchise. What the Browns power brokers might be thinking and what they want in a head coach may just not align with the candidates they've invited for interviews.
Ultimately, Bowles and McDaniels backing out of the running might not be bad news for the Browns. It could simply indicate that they've yet to even talk to their ideal coach. Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase is still high on the Browns' list—they made a request to speak with him not long after releasing Chudzinski but are waiting to do so, with Gase opting not to interview anywhere until his team is through with the playoffs.
Also, the Browns apparently will not hire anyone to be their new head coach until they speak with Gase, per Mike Klis of The Denver Post, which may not be until after the Super Bowl next month. If they do interview Gase and subsequently hire him, then all of this talk of the Browns being a toxic organization that has turned off potential candidates is basically moot. It just means they had their guy and waited as long as they had to to get him.
If Gase is their guy and they get him, then it matters not if Ken Whisenhunt chose the Tennessee Titans or that McDaniels decided to stay in New England. A problem only arises if Gase decides against meeting with the Browns. ESPN's Pat McManamon says that Broncos sources believe that Gase, like McDaniels, isn't ready to become a head coach in Cleveland or anywhere:
#Browns giving impression Gase is the guy, and will be. But folks in Denver say they’re not convinced Gase will take head coach job now— PatMcManamon (@PatMcManamon) January 14, 2014
By seemingly passing on the candidates they've already spoken with while they lie in wait for Gase, it has only served to heighten the narrative of "The Toxic Browns" even if that isn't the case at all. All we can do is point to the failed year under Chudzinski, the head-coach job remaining vacant and that candidates have chosen to withdraw their names from consideration, and base our judgments on those facts.
However, none of that changes the notion that there is much that is desirable about the Browns head-coaching job. Should Gase agree with that assessment, then the Browns will have the coach they wanted all along, albeit with a month's worth of PR hits in the gap between Chudzinski's firing and Gase's hiring.
Look to Gase as the gauge of how unattractive the Browns job truly is. Should he pass on it, or even decline to interview, then there is truly trouble in Cleveland. Right now, the so-called trouble is merely a matter of perception versus reality.