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Picking apart the first coach firing press conference of the Haslam-Banner era

Jan 02, 2014 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ AP

The Morning Kickoff …

Upon further review: Coaches who have spent their entire adult life on football fields often can’t explain what happened in a game until they “look at the film.” There’s always something on that film, or video, that was missed or glossed over in the immediate aftermath of a game.

This sometimes happens to us in the media at press conferences. We hear so much balderdash over the course of a football season that often statements or answers pass between our ears unchecked or unchallenged.

Monday’s press conference of Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner explaining the firing of coach Rob Chudzinski after one season is one example. So after reviewing the video, re-listening to the audio, and re-reading the transcript, we have a few points to make.

1. The “no improvement” doctrine.

The recurrent theme from both men was the firing was necessary because the team failed to improve.

Haslam: “We needed to be better in the last three games than we were the first three games.”

Banner: “At whatever level you may assess the team or the talent, as you go through a season you see teams get better. Sometimes they are not very good teams that get better, sometimes they’re the best teams in the league. It was concerning to us that that wasn’t happening.”

The question not asked was: “Have you analyzed why the team did not improve?”

My answer would be the roster was eminently weaker at the end than at the beginning. I counted 10 players on the roster for Game 16 who were not on the roster for Game 1.

They were, in reverse chronological order of joining the active roster: running back Edwin Baker (Dec. 10), receiver Brian Tyms (Dec. 4), cornerback Julian Posey (Dec. 3), quarterback Alex Tanney (Nov. 26), tight end Andre Smith (Nov. 26), offensive lineman Reid Fragel (Oct. 29), linebacker Darius Eubanks (Oct. 26), safety Jordan Poyer (Oct. 21), running back Fozzy Whittaker (Sept. 30) and running back Willis McGahee (Sept. 20).

2. Who’s really to blame for the late-season collapse?

The offense suffered from quarterback injuries, failure to replace the traded Trent Richardson, and abysmal production from receivers not named Josh Gordon. Yet the key three games that cemented the seven-game losing streak at the end were a result of epic meltdowns on defense.

We are talking about the Jacksonville-New England-Chicago sequence, in which the defense allowed seven scoring drives (six for touchdowns) in nine possessions in the fourth quarter. The starting defense was largely intact during that period, missing only end Desmond Bryant, who was non-existent, anyway, after experiencing an accelerated heart rate in Game 5.

Despite all of its own problems, the offense in that three-game stretch accounted for 28, 26 and 17 points. (Yes, two defensive TDs improved the scoreboard total to 31 vs. Chicago.)

The defense was the side of the ball that Banner and GM Mike Lombardi concentrated so greatly on in free agency and in the draft. They also arranged the marriage of Chudzinski to exulted defensive coordinator Ray Horton, who was actually considered for the position of head coach.

The question not asked was: “Rather than firing the head coach, shouldn’t the performance of the defensive coordinator had been reviewed first?”

3. The double standard.

Banner said Chudzinski was fired because the team failed to improve in the short term. Yet when asked about his and Lombardi’s major roster transactions, Banner answered, “I think most of the moves, both the free-agent moves and draft moves, need to be judged over time. I’m very optimistic that over time, whether we are dealing with undrafted free agents, the players we claimed or the free agents we signed, that it will prove to have been a year in which we moved the needle forward in terms of the talent level on the team.”

Moved the needle forward? All that brain power, all that cap room, all that expertise … and all they did was move the needle forward?

4. Chud wasn’t their first choice, or second, or third.

The first coaching search of Haslam and Banner clearly threw the net out for bigger fish than Chudzinski: 1. Chip Kelly. 2. Doug Marrone. 3. Bill O’Brien. Actually, 1A. was Nick Saban, but he wouldn’t even consent to an interview.

The question not asked was: “If Chudzinski were your first choice, would you still have fired him after one year?”

In all probability, the answer would be no.

So it’s reasonable to conclude that the bottom line of the Chudzinski firing is that Haslam, Banner and Lombardi – who was conspicuous by his absence at the press conference – never “bought in” to Chudzinski as their head coach.

They would have been better off just saying that.

 

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 tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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