Top officials of the Cleveland Browns defended their decision to fire head coach Rob Chudzinski after just one season on the job. The team finished 4 and 12 for the season, and as ideastream’s Nick Castele reports, Chudzinski’s firing leaves fans and players wondering what’s next.
Browns top brass say when they hired Rob Chudzinski, they expected him to improve the team over the course of the season. Instead, they said, the team got worse.
Early in the season, the Browns won three games in a row, but soon lapsed into loss after loss – with just one more win to show after that.
At a press conference, CEO Joe Banner told a packed room of reporters that the final decision to show Chudzinski the door came on Saturday.
“As you go through a season, you see teams get better,” Banner said. “Sometimes they’re not very good teams and they get better. Sometimes they’re the best teams in the league. It was concerning to us that that wasn’t happening.”
In a written statement sent out through the team, Chudzinski said he was "shocked and disappointed" to learn of his firing.
"I am a Cleveland Brown to the core, and always will be," the statement read. "It was an honor to lead our players and coaches, and I appreciate their dedication and sacrifice."
Reporters peppered Banner and team owner Jimmy Haslam with questions about the future.
Several asked: will another candidate want to work on a team prone to firing its head coach after just one year?
Haslam says he’s confident he’ll be able to fill the job, because the Browns are a great franchise.
“We’re not naïve to the fact that we just let a first-year head coach go, but we think we can attract the right candidate here,” Haslam said.
Reporters also asked if the FBI investigation into Haslam’s company, Pilot Flying J, for allegedly cheating customers out of rebates would be a factor.
Haslam conceded it’s been a distraction, but thinks it will ultimately work out.
“The company has done everything we said we’d do,” he said. “We’ve paid everybody back with interest, we’ve dealt with the individuals who made some very poor decisions. We’ve resolved the majority of lawsuits. We’re working closely with the government to work through these issues, so we’re confident we’ll have a successful long-term outcome.”
Before the press conference, reporters swarmed the locker room at the team training facility in Berea, asking how the players felt.
Browns’ first-round draft pick Barkevious Mingo described an air of unease.
“The uncertainty is everywhere in this locker room,” Mingo said. “Guys not knowing if they’re going to be back next year. Not knowing if any coaches are going to stay or be back. So it’s just a lot of not knowing.”
So did Chudzinski get a raw deal? reporters wanted to know. Was too great a burden placed on his back?
A number of players indicated weighing in on that question was maybe above their pay grade.
Shawn Lauvao says team ownership expects results.
“This is the NFL,” Lauvao said. “It is a production-based league. It is a Janet Jackson world, you know. ‘What have you done for me lately?’ … I mean, at the end of the day, you know, the powers that be, it’s their decision, we’ve just got to stick by it.”
Jimmy Haslam says he wants a winning team with a winning coach -- and if his word isn’t convincing enough, his money should be.
“These are expensive moves, OK?” Haslam said. “So we’re not only just saying it. We’re talking with our pocketbook OK? So these are not cheap moves to make. And I’m not saying that should be the guiding factor, but we’re doing everything we can to get this right.”
Haslam’s not the only one putting down cash on the Browns’ uncertain future.
The city of Cleveland has agreed to shell out $2 million a year for 15 years to help pay for new scoreboards and stadium upgrades.
It’s possible that next year, voters will be asked to renew a tax on alcohol and cigarettes that helps pay for stadium repairs.
And then there are the fans who pay admission, which the city taxes at 8 percent.
One of them, Jeff Mazie, was sitting in a folding chair on the sidewalk across the street from the training facility in Berea.
He held a big posterboard covered in old Browns tickets, and wore a paper bag over his head.
“I’m just sick of losing and want to win,” Mazie said.
A message on the board in brown and orange letters read, “Thanks for 15 years of pain & misery.”