Sunday, December 29, 2013

Chudzinski lasts less than a year

Update: Rob Chudzinski has been fired as coach of the Browns after one season. The move came after just hours after Sunday's 20-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, exactly 352 days after he was hired. That makes him the only head coach in Browns history with a tenure less than one calendar year.

A club-issued statement Sunday night read in part: "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.

" . . . We have high standards and there is 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 we moved forward."

The following is the original post written prior to Chudzinski's dismissal. 

The date was November 3. Remember that date.

The Browns had just climbed a mountain and defeated Baltimore, 24-18, ending an 11-game losing streak against the Ravens.

It elevated their record to 4-5, a lofty mark after nine games considering they are still considered the AFC North’s stepchild. In order to gain respect in the National Football League, you have to earn it. 

So at 4-5 and heading into the bye week, a measure of respect toward the Browns began permeating around the NFL. Pundits began to take notice. Maybe, just maybe, this was going to be their turnaround season.

Even though they didn’t have much of a running game and were working on their third quarterback, other teams started taking the Browns seriously.

And that’s when it all fell apart.

If you had told anyone in the Ivory Tower at 76 Lou Groza Blvd. on November 3 that the Browns would never win another game this season, they would have had you fitted for a straitjacket.

Yet here we are on December 29 and that is exactly what happened. Seven games up, seven games down. From a 4-5 record in early November to a final 4-12 record in late December following Sunday’s 20-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

And don’t think for a minute the residents of the aforementioned Tower are happy. The improbable winless finish in the second half of the season has jump-started rumors that now swirl over Rob Chudzinski’s head and threaten his employment.

When Chudzinski signed a four-year contract last January 11 to succeed Pat Shurmur as the newest Browns head coach, progress was not only anticipated, it was expected.

“I believe we came back with the best person to lead the Cleveland Browns to the kind of winning format that we want to have in Cleveland and we all expect to have,” said owner Jimmy Haslam III at the introductory news conference.

So what else is there to think when last season’s 5-11 team finished with a worst record this season? What else is there to think after the fans have been subjected to losing football on a weekly basis when they had every right to expect something entirely different?

Joe Banner is a mercurial and unpredictable individual. The club’s CEO is not above pulling the plug on a coach if he believes that coach is not getting the most out of his roster. Never mind if that coach has fulfilled only one-fourth of his contract. If one considers the won-lost record as a barometer, then Chudzinski is in big trouble.

It would not be surprising if Banner is the anonymous source close to the team – you can quote me, but don’t use my name – leaking such a possible development. He cannot be the least bit happy when he sees only four victories under the W with three of them arriving in the first five games.

That to the proud Banner is an embarrassment and he does not deal well with that kind of feeling. As someone who led the Philadelphia Eagles to a power position in the NFL for all those seasons before departing a couple of years ago, a season like this is difficult to take.

The only argument against the possibility of Chudzinski’s possible dismissal is such a move would be an admission by Banner and Haslam that they made a mistake with the rookie head coach. Such an admission is hard to swallow.

It’s not as though they inherited Chudzinski and would think nothing of cashiering him. As for paying him off with three years remaining on his contract, Haslam is loaded and the payoff would be a relative spit in the ocean. That thought at least might serve to temper a knee-jerk decision and cause them to take a step back and look at the entire season before making such a rash decision.

Then again, maybe a coach Banner likes but could not get after firing Shurmur has popped onto his radar and he doesn’t want to lose the opportunity of signing him. It could be he wants someone with head coaching experience, thinking Chudzinski wasn’t ready to handle the job.

That’s all speculation at this point, of course. But there is a reason the day after the conclusion of the regular season in the NFL is called Black Monday. Heads roll on this day. And those heads usually belong to coaches who do not win.

Even though it is only his maiden season as an NFL head coach, the extremely disappointing campaign the Browns have carved out for Chudzinski serves to ramp up this kind of speculation.

There is no question the Cleveland roster has a fair degree of talent, divided equally on either side of the ball. There are roughly 15-18 players who can be considered core, players around whom you can build a stronger team.

It’s very possible Banner and his minions believe this is a team that should have finished no worse than .500 with that kind of talent. But second-half collapses in games and awful red-zone defense dogged the Browns the second half of the season and was the main causal factor for the collapse.

The offense stuttered and staggered in the second half despite the efforts of the extraordinary Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron. The defense, which played well in the first half of the season, fell apart like crepe paper down the stretch.

Clutch plays became scarce as the schedule morphed into the latter stages. Smart football, something the Browns haven’t played in way too long, never became a part of this team’s fabric. Someone has to take the blame.

Who better than the coaches. They are easier to fire.

Chudzinski received high praise when he brought in Norv Turner and Ray Horton as his coordinators. But neither man achieved a high degree of success all season, unless you consider the achievements of Gordon and Cameron and credit Turner for their development.

Horton talked a good game and his players backed him up with a strong first half. The second half was an entirely different story. If anything, it jeopardized his chances of getting a job as a head coach in the league. He’ll get his interviews, but back-to-back records of 5-11 and 4-12 as a coordinator in Arizona and Cleveland do not bode well for him.

Turner, on the other hand, was dealt a weak hand with the trade of Trent Richardson and injuries to all three quarterbacks and should return if his protégé gets a second chance.  But as the clouds hovering over Chudzinski right now get darker by the hour, that doesn’t look to be the case.

More and more, it’s beginning to look as though Browns fans need to get ready for yet another head coach as the never-ending battle to restore respectability to Cleveland Browns football takes another step.

Let the "here we go again" chant begin. 

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