Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III is a man of many words, but he only needed six to sum up the current state of the franchise.
“Talk is cheap, actions speak loud.”
Yes, they do, which is why Cleveland’s decision to fire coach Rob Chudzinski after only 16 games spoke volumes about Haslam and CEO Joe Banner.
It was an incredibly short-sighted, knee-jerk move by two savvy businessmen who should know better — but apparently don’t — after being around the sport for most of their lives.
“Continuity is really important to any organization, so we understand why there might be some skepticism,” Haslam said Monday during a contentious news conference in Berea. “We also understand the importance of getting it right.
“Nobody cares about winning and is going to work harder to get us there than the people you’re looking at right now, particularly the owner.”
Haslam and Banner delivered almost identical speeches on Dec. 31, 2012, when they terminated the contract of coach Pat Shurmur. While that firing was entirely justified, it was accompanied by the promise that they weren’t conducting business as usual in Berea.
Yet, here we go again. Another year, another double-digit loss season and another new coach.
“You all have every right to write it, but it galls me to read on Monday morning, ‘Same old Browns,’” Haslam said. “That’s not what we’re all about and that’s not what we came here for.
“We’re not naive in the fact that we let a first-year head coach go. There are a lot of people who would say we should have given this staff a second year. That’s a very fair and valid comment.”
Indeed, it is, especially when one considers the genuine respect and affection that Cleveland’s players still have for Chudzinski.
Even at the lowest points of a 4-12 season, the best and most-tenured Browns offered unsolicited praise for Chudzinski’s ability to lead the team.
Banner said the decision to change coaches was made Saturday — one day before Cleveland’s 20-7 season-ending loss in Pittsburgh — after he and Haslam spent the previous week mulling over the move.
Both executives blamed Chudzinski for the Browns’ lack of improvement down the stretch, apparently believing that the team’s 3-2 start was legitimate, rather than the mirage it proved to be.
Having three mediocre quarterbacks in Brandon Weeden, Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer didn’t factor into their mindset, nor did trading away their only decent running back in Trent Richardson in September.
“We want an individual who is a strong winner who knows how to win football games,” Haslam said.
Banner piled on, saying, “At whatever level you assess the talent, as you go through a season, the team should get better. Improvement is something that you have to see.”
Unfortunately for the franchise, Haslam and Banner refused to hold their personnel executives to the same standard.
Reviled general manager Michael Lombardi and assistant Ray Farmer spent the past nine months committing blunder after blunder in free agency and the NFL Draft, but were given a free pass.
First-round draft pick Barkevious Mingo was underwhelming and Paul Kruger was a $41 million flop, while Davone Bess hasn’t been spotted since posting a picture of himself smoking on his deck.
Banner even cited injuries as an excuse why Lombardi and Farmer failed to do their job even respectively, but refused to cut Chudzinski any slack for the same reason.
“Overall, I think that we moved the needle forward (with talent),” Banner said. “There are a lot of names we could add to the list if you talk about some of the people who got injured: The Hoyers, Dion Lewises, Desmond Bryants, (Quentin) Groves. Some of those I think were and will prove to be excellent moves.”
Talk about grading on a curve.
Using the same stilted scale, Chudzinski’s .250 winning percentage also would be considered excellent, while Cleveland’s 19-year drought between playoff victories is pretty good.
Haslam, though, insisted that “people who really know the NFL” tell him that the Browns are “a great franchise,” along the lines of the Packers and Steelers.
No doubt, those were the same network television know-it-alls who were leaked information about Chudzinski’s firing just before kickoff at Heinz Field.
“I know there will be skepticism, and candidly, we deserve it,” Haslam said. “I’ll say one other thing. These are expensive moves. We’re not only saying it, we’re talking with our pocketbook. I’m not saying that should be the guiding factor, but we are doing everything we can to get this right.
“We’ll know a year from now whether we’re right or not.”