PITTSBURGH — Rob Chudzinski didn’t make it to 2014 as coach of the Browns.
He was fired Sunday night after one season and a little less than a year on the job.
The Browns made the announcement at about 9:30.
The Browns finished the season 4-12 after a 20-7 loss to the Steelers on Sunday. They lost their last seven games for the first time in franchise history, and dropped 10 of the last 11.
“We appreciate Chud’s passion for the Browns, and we have great respect for him both personally and professionally,” the team said in a statement. A news conference was scheduled for 12:30 p.m. Monday. “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.
“Our fans deserve to see a consistently competitive team. We have high standards, and there’s 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 move forward.
“Browns fans are the most loyal and passionate supporters in the NFL. We’re fully committed to bringing them the winning football team they deserve.”
Chudzinski met briefly with owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner at 9 p.m. at the team facility in Berea and was informed of his firing. He was hired Jan. 10 as the 14th full-time head coach in team history and has three years left on a four-year deal. He’s the first Cleveland coach to be fired after one season.
“That’s ridiculous. There’s a report saying he won’t be back? Chud’s gonna be here for as long as he wants to,” linebacker and captain D’Qwell Jackson said after the game. “He’s a great head coach and that’s all I gotta say about that. That’s not going to happen. That’s crazy. That pisses me off.”
Speculation about Chudzinski’s job security began to surface late last week, days after a 24-13 loss to the Jets that infuriated Haslam, who bought the team from Randy Lerner last season for $1 billion. By kickoff Sunday, rumblings around the league were that he could be fired.
Chudzinski was greeted with the speculation at his postgame news conference. He was asked if he sensed dissatisfaction from the front office.
“We haven’t had any of those type of discussions,” he said.
The Browns, who will have the fourth pick in the draft in May, failed to hold fourth-quarter leads in three straight games down the stretch.
“I’ve been through situations where you have to go through some of the struggles to get things established and get the foundation built,” Chudzinski said. “We’ll improve.”
The news didn’t go over well with many of the players. They hated what they thought were rumors.
“To start over again, it would be devastating,” left tackle Joe Thomas said. “I think he’s done a good job.”
Thomas has made the Pro Bowl seven times in seven seasons. He’s never made the playoffs and has one winning season — 2007.
“It sets everything back,” he said of a possible change. “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.”
Early candidates mentioned as possible replacements are Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Penn State coach Bill O’Brien.
Browns general manager Michael Lombardi used to work with New England coach Bill Belichick and is reportedly a fan of McDaniels. He’s a Canton native who went 11-17 in 1½ seasons as Broncos coach. ESPN’s Ed Werder reported McDaniels almost hired Lombardi in Denver.
The Browns interviewed O’Brien last season after they fired Pat Shurmur, who went 9-23 in two years, including 5-11 last year. O’Brien got a raise and an extension to stay at Penn State but now appears ready to return to the NFL, where he was also an offensive coordinator under Belichick in New England.
The Texans, who fired coach Gary Kubiak during the season, reportedly were close to hiring O’Brien.
Another possibility is Jim Schwartz if he is fired by the Lions as expected. He’s 29-51 in five seasons and Detroit went from in control of the NFC North this season to out of the playoffs.
Chudzinski had never been a head coach at any level. He grew up as a Browns fan in Toledo and had spent two stints with the team as an assistant.
He was the first signature hire of Banner, who was brought in by Haslam last season. But Chudzinski wasn’t their first choice.
They interviewed Chip Kelly, Doug Marrone, Marc Trestman and O’Brien before settling on Chudzinski. There were also reported inquiries to Alabama’s Nick Saban and broadcaster Jon Gruden.
The last time Banner spoke to reporters, he raved about Chudzinski. That was before the losing streak.
“I’m hard pressed to think that in nine weeks a first-time head coach can do any better or any more than he’s doing,” Banner said Nov. 13. “All of the measurables that you’d look to come up with — if you even wanted to create a yardstick of measuring at this moment — I just think he’s doing an outstanding job.”
According to NFL Network’s Albert Breer, the front office thought Chudzinski didn’t demand enough accountability from the players as they stumbled late in the season. Breer also cited a lack of decisiveness in big moments.
Chudzinski was asked about holding players accountable.
“I don’t know anything regarding that at all,” he said. “That’s not an issue.”
Safety T.J. Ward agreed.
“If we didn’t believe in him, we wouldn’t play for him,” he said. “When you have guys playing to the end of the season when there’s nothing to play for, you know you’ve got a good coach.”
Chudzinski is the fourth Cleveland coach fired since the end of the 2008 season, and the sixth since the franchise returned in 1999.
Jackson, who’s the longest-tenured player after arriving in 2006, doesn’t like the idea of starting over again.
“Chud’s a great coach,” he said. “He’s had our attention from Day 1. We have great coaches that are coaching us up. That’s absurd to me that a report would be out about a good coach like that.”