BEREA—Owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner met with the media to explain their reasons for the firing of Rob Chudzinski.
The re-occurring theme throughout the segment with the media was ‘lack of progress’.
“The root of the decision had to do with the lack of progress that we saw and the overall play of the team,” Banner said.
Haslam agreed with Banner’s assessment.
“These decisions are always difficult, but what is really important is we want to show improvement during the season,” he said. “We want to be better in the last three games than the first three games.
“It was our feeling that we were not getting better.”
Banner defended that even though the talent level isn’t where the Browns want to be, he was looking for improvement.
“As Jimmy said, in our minds there should be improvement happening,” he said. “You see teams get better. Some times you see are not very good teams, but you see them getting better.
“If you look around you’ll see situations that improved as the year went on. The improvement that should be happening is something you have to see.”
Banner said the decision was made on Saturday to fire Chudzinski and the discussions took place last week.
“What tipped the scales was our realistic expectation for progress,” Banner said. “We felt the trajectory was moving downward.”
With the same people at the top making the decision to hire Chudzinski less than a year ago, what gives fans confidence they will get it right this time.
“We deserve the skepticism and it is what it is,” Haslam said. We’re confident we can get it right.”
Less than a year ago, Haslam and Banner talked about the importance of continuity for long-term success.
“I know Joe and I sat up here and said continuity is very important and still feel that way,” Haslam said. “We understand the importance of continuity. It is also very important that we get it right.”
Haslam stressed that he will do whatever is necessary to get it right.
“It galls me more than you know—any you have every right to say--to read on Monday ‘Same old Browns’ and you have every right to be skeptical. It’s Joe and my job to get it right.”
Haslam and Banner were asked about the lack of talent on the team.
“We said all along that the draft of 2013 did not compare to the talent of 2014,” Haslam said. “We think free agents we signed and picked up along the way. Are we where we need to be talent wise no, but can we get there.
“This is a crucial off-season for the Browns we have lots of room under the cap,” he said. “If we get that right, we’ll have a lot of good press conferences and if not, we won’t. We understand how important this is.”
Banner said he thinks, overall, the Browns roster has been improved over the 2012 roster.
“Overall, I think we moved the needle forward, but not as much as we needed to,” he said. “Most of the free agent moves and draft picks will prove that we moved the needle forward that’s not to say we don’t have a ways to go. Time will prove whether or not they will be good moves.”
Banner was asked if he thinks it will be tough trying to sell a coach on coming to Cleveland after firing a coach who was on the job for less than a year.
“What should stand out is the track record we have,” Banner said. “When we hired Andy Reid (with Eagles), he won five games in his first year. Because this didn’t go well, shouldn’t have (any bearing on the future).”
“We debated in the process, but we feel we can recruit and attract the right person to come here.” Haslam said. “We’re not naïve.”
Banner admitted firing Chudzinski is an indictment on he and Haslam.
“It’s difficult for us to sit here and admit we made a mistake.”
Banner made it clear that he doesn’t expect it to build a rebuilding process with the Browns next year, despite of having a new coach.
Several first year coaches turned teams around in their first season. The Chiefs went from 2-14 to 11-5 and the playoffs with Andy Reid. The Cardinals improved to 10-6 under Bruce Arians, while the Chargers under Mike McCoy made the playoffs at 9-7. Chip Kelly led the Eagles to the playoffs and a 10-6 record. The Bears Marc Trestman improved the Bears to 8-8. Doug Marrone and the Bills were 6-10, while Gus Bradley and the Jaguars were 4-12 but beat the Browns and played their best in the second half of the season.
“We certainly understand in this era, we don’t think you need to sit still,” he said. “Three teams that made the playoffs that changed coaches this year.”
Haslam said he was “confident” he had the right people in place to turn things around and cited the financial side of the decisions.
“These are not cheap moves to make,” he said. “We are doing everything we can to make this right.”
Chudzinski is still owed $10.5 million for his three years remaining on his contract.
The players said they were informed of the decision to fire Chudzinski on the bus trip home after the loss to the Steelers.
Chudzinski addressed the team Monday morning and the Browns released a statement from him.
“I was shocked and disappointed to hear the news that I was fired,” Chudzinski said. “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.”
The players seemed to be still scratching their heads on Monday morning on what exactly happened.
“I didn’t know that was possible,” Josh Gordon said about a coach being fired after one season.
Barkevious Mingo said he was leaving Berea with an “uneasy feeling.”
Several of the prominent players were not in the locker room for the final media opportunity Monday morning.
However, captains Joe Thomas and D’Qwell Jackson gave their opinions after the loss to the Steelers before the firing had been done.
“That’s ridiculous. There’s a report saying he won’t be back? Chud’s going to be here for as long as he wants to,” Jackson said after the game.
“It sets everything back,” Thomas said. “You just hit the reset button. 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.
“You look at the great franchises, they don’t fire your coach after the first season. You can’t do it.”
Browns lost a franchise record seven in a row to finish the season.