By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
Nobody does press conferences better than Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner. They can work a room of interrogators like Tom Brady picks apart a prevent defense.
If they selected coaches and GMs and players with the same acumen as defending their actions, the Browns might some day win again.
Less than 12 months since they hired and then fired their first head coach, Rob Chudzinski, the owner and CEO of the Browns pledged to get it right the second time around.
“Until we turn it around and start winning important games and are sitting up here talking about who we’re playing in the playoffs, you have a right to be skeptical,” Haslam said. “That’s Joe’s and my job -- to go out and find the person to lead the organization and coach the team to give us those type of results.”
Shortly after the 30-minute press conference, Banner reportedly had at least one interview lined up. Adam Schefter of ESPN reported the Browns asked the Seattle Seahawks for permission to talk with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Another potential candidate reportedly is Adam Gase, offensive coordinator of the Denver Broncos with a link to Alabama’s Nick Saban. New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is also in the mix, reports say.
Penn State’s Bill O’Brien was another potential candidate, although ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported the Houston Texans may lock him up soon. O’Brien, the former New England Patriots offensive coordinator, was interviewed by the Browns last year, which helped him earn a new contract with Penn State. Banner said he did not think any candidates from last year’s search would be a candidate this time.
“We want an individual who’s a strong winner, who knows how to win football games,” Haslam said.
Both men claimed they wouldn’t have a problem attracting the highest-caliber coach even after pulling the plug on Chudzinski’s term after one season and a 4-12 record.
And if that meant ceding personnel control to the coach – a privilege that Chudzinski did not necessarily enjoy -- Banner said, “I think we’re open to whatever structure we need to get the right person.”
If these comments sound familiar, it’s because they said similar things at the onset of the last coaching search. They also talked about striving for continuity then and now. So Haslam was very sensitive to repeated questions about the credibility of his words when he failed to adhere to them just a year ago.
He cringed when a reporter from a Cleveland television station spoke of fans comparing Haslam, Banner and GM Mike Lombardi (who did not appear at the press conference) to the Three Stooges.
“Listen, I feel really confident we have the right people to take this organization where we need to,” Haslam said, face reddening. “What I want our fans to hear is nobody cares about winning than the people you’re looking at up here now, particularly the owner. We take this extremely seriously. It galls me when you all write -- and people have the right to say it – ‘same old Browns.’ It’s our single mission to change that.”
Without referencing an ESPN report that Chudzinski received a $10.5 million settlement of his contract with three years remaining, Haslam said, “These are expensive moves. We’re not only saying it, we’re talking with our pocketbook here. They’re not cheap moves to make. We’re doing everything we can to get this right.”
So where did it go wrong for Chudzinski?
Haslam and Banner hammered the theme that they felt the team did not show improvement at the end of the season.
“As the season developed --and what was a really nice start and as we got later into the season -- it was our feeling that we were not getting better,” Haslam said. “Yes, we had a young team, but I think if we reflect on it we would all say a young team should get better and we didn’t feel that was happening.”
Banner disputed the position that Chudzinski was dealt a bad hand with having to play three quarterbacks and five running backs after Trent Richardson was traded after the second game.
“If you look around, you’ll find similar situations and teams that improve as the year went on,” Banner said. “I think the improvement that should be happening through the season is something you have to be able to see. I think you can argue on every roster with a first-year head coach, with whatever the quarterback situation, it’s what you need to see.”
Banner said reports of disputes with Chudzinski over personnel decisions or unhappiness with his handling of the quarterback situation were off base and did not play into the decision.
“I know it’s natural to kind of find things, but I think the root of the decision here is related to the progress we saw,” he said. “I don’t have any second guessing of their utilization and teaching of the quarterbacks and the order that they played them in. I think lack of progress across the roster and the team was what really drove us here today.”
In a statement released by the club, Chudzinski said he was "shocked and disappointed to hear the news that I was fired." The players were, too.
Haslam said he and Banner met with the team as a whole and a “core group” of players to explain their decision and vision of how to turn around the losing culture that permeates the locker room.
“This is the crucial offseason for the Cleveland Browns,” Haslam said. “Joe and I accept that responsibility. We have lots of room on the (salary) cap (and) 10 draft picks. We’ve got to hire a new coach. If we get that wrong, the responsibility’s on us. We understand and we feel a lot of pressure to get this right for the city and for the fans.”
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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