Patience is a virtue Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner admittedly don’t have.
Their impatience proved to be a bad thing for coach Rob Chudzinski, who was fired after one season. What it will mean for the organization and fans is more difficult to judge.
Chudzinski was justifiably “shocked and disappointed” as he said in his statement to the media. All coaches expect more than a year on the job to prove themselves.
Chudzinski truly believed the team was improving and headed in the right direction. He felt the seven-game losing streak to the end the season didn’t tell the whole story.
He pointed to breakthrough seasons for receiver Josh Gordon, tight end Jordan Cameron, cornerback Joe Haden and free safety Tashaun Gipson as proof of progress made under him and his staff. He hated the string of losses, but the quarterback carousel, imperfect roster, lack of running game and key injuries late in the year were legitimate factors.
Haslam and Banner dismissed his argument. They felt regardless of the roster, the team should’ve been better at the finish. They didn’t see enough individual improvement. They used the five Pro Bowlers as an argument against Chudzinski — he had more talent than reflected in the win total.
What really sunk Chudzinski were the performances of the other first-year coaches throughout the league. Jacksonville’s Gus Bradley also finished at four wins with similar quarterback problems, but the Jaguars were better after the bye and beat the Browns in December on the lakefront. That didn’t sit well with Haslam and Banner.
But was it Chudzinski’s fault that quarterback Brandon Weeden melted down before halftime with three turnovers? (I would argue yes, by virtue of needlessly aggressive play calling.) Or that Haden gave up the winning touchdown in the final minute? (I would say no, your best players have to make plays.)
The other first-year coaches fared even better. Buffalo’s Doug Marrone went 6-10, Chicago’s Marc Trestman 8-8, San Diego’s Mike McCoy 9-7, Arizona’s Bruce Arians 10-6 and Philadelphia’s Chip Kelly 10-6.
It has to gall Haslam that he interviewed Kelly, Trestman and Marrone last year, yet ended up hiring and firing Chudzinski.
I believe many Browns fans love the move by Haslam and Banner. They crave someone who’ll say losing is unacceptable, as Haslam and Banner did Monday at a news conference. They want action over patience.
But words are easy. So are knee-jerk reactions, even if they come with $10.5 million still owed to Chudzinski — which Haslam was quick to mention.
The hard part is winning and creating a culture of success. That became even more difficult when they bailed on Chudzinski after a season.
For all their talk about stability, continuity and trust, Haslam and Banner have put the entire organization on edge. Some people — Eric Mangini, for one — feel that’s the best way to run a business. I disagree. I believe people flourish when they feel supported.
Haslam and Banner have removed this option, at least temporarily.
Chudzinski wasn’t overwhelmed in his first go as a head coach. His fatal error was a long losing streak late with a flawed roster. That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on the next hire and could force him to take a short-term approach that’s detrimental to the development of the team.
The best chance for Haslam and Banner to turn the Browns into a winner is for whomever they pick as the next coach to have instant success. That would reassure a shaken locker room and re-establish trust in the decision-makers.
Too bad immediate success is hard to come by. Butch Davis’ 7-9 record in 2001 is the best first-year mark of any of the six Browns coaches since 1999.
The new coach will be starting over. He will bring in a new staff. He could switch the offensive and defensive systems yet again.
The best chance for the next coach is to be given an elite quarterback. The Browns have failed their coaches in that area for 15 years, but will take another stab at it this offseason.
What’s disconcerting for fans is that Haslam and Banner — at least in their eyes — badly missed in their first coaching search. Why should anyone believe they will get it right 12 months later? Even they seem less certain a year later.
When Chudzinski was hired, Banner spoke of wanting a young, innovative offensive mind. That fits for New England coordinator Josh McDaniels and Denver’s Adam Gase. But not Seattle’s Dan Quinn and Arizona’s Todd Bowles. All are on Cleveland’s request list for interviews this time around.
Banner was adamant about the need to run a 3-4 defensive scheme after coordinator Ray Horton was hired. But Quinn runs a 4-3. The Chudzinski decision has hundreds of implications.
Haslam treats his impatience as a badge of honor. It could also become an anchor that sinks his organization.