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Sunday, December 29, 2013
Browns' next hire will bring old promises

By Pat McManamon

Rob Chudzinski
Possible replacements for Rob Chudzinski include Ken Whisenhunt, Bill O'Brien and Josh McDaniels.
PITTSBURGH -- The Cleveland Browns just blamed the band for the fact that the Titanic sank.

That’s the message from management: We’ll drive this ship into an iceberg or two, and we’ll leave you without lifeboats, but by golly, if you don’t keep the inevitable from happening, we’ll hold our breath and stomp our feet and then we’ll ... we’ll ... we’ll fire you.

All the best, Rob Chudzinski: the fans hardly knew ya as a head coach. And good luck to whoever is next, because you’re walking into a losing environment and losing culture, and you won’t have a say in how things go.

That’s where the Browns are right now.

Yes, the Browns will hire a coach, and it might be a big name, and they’ll talk him up and say he can lead a team to “sustained success,” and they’ll justify this move to fire a coach who had one year to prove himself.

Because that’s what happens.

But that does not mean that many in the NFL are not chuckling at a team that has perfected the term "dysfunction" in so many ways and from so many people.

Names of candidates to replace Chudzinski have surfaced. Some of them are good coaches and would be good hires. Ken Whisenhunt is a good coach, and ESPN’s Adam Schefter said the Browns would interview him.

Bill O’Brien of Penn State and Josh McDaniels of the Patriots are on the list as well, according to Schefter.

But when someone is hired, we’ll hear things like the new coach is “the best person to lead the Cleveland Browns to the kind of winning format that we want to have.” And they’ll call him “one of the brightest, if not the brightest young minds in the business.”

They said just that when they hired Chudzinski. Just like others said it every other time they hired a coach in Cleveland.

But although teams like Pittsburgh hire a guy and stand by him in down times and share responsibility as an organization, Cleveland jettisons that type of coach with kind words and a big check.

In a quirky way, the Browns are every bit as consistent as the Steelers, except the Steelers (three coaches since 1969) stick with their people. The Browns consistently dump them before asking their fans for more faith and belief.

A new Browns coach will walk into this system: Joe Banner guides football. There’s no sense kidding about it; he makes final decisions on personnel. GM Mike Lombardi assesses personnel, and the coach has input. But Banner makes the decisions.

Which is fine, as long as he’s making the right decisions.

It’s also fine if you’re going to set a plan and stick with the plan alongside the guy you hire. The Browns this season clearly were building toward 2014 and beyond. To say they tanked is going too far, but the focus was on the future. Chudzinski bought into it, supported it. But in the end, he didn’t get the same support.

But what that system does is eliminate a strong-minded guy or a guy capable of personnel decisions. Because he won't have the say.

It’s no coincidence that Chip Kelly went to the Eagles instead of Cleveland. In Philadelphia, he has say over his roster.

That leaves a guy like Whisenhunt, who might not care about roster decisions, or a guy like Chudzinski, who was eager to get a chance.

Or it leaves a guy with a previous relationship with Banner or Lombardi, such as O’Brien or McDaniels. That would bring Belichick Lite to Cleveland, which can work, but didn’t the last time the Browns tried it with a guy named Eric Mangini.

The Browns get to hire a new coach who will buy into that system and buy into the faith the front office shows him -- after it fired a guy it gave one year as a coach. This from an organization whose owner’s company is the subject of a serious federal investigation fraught with seriously troubling charges and high-level former employees who have already pleaded guilty.

Yes, that has to be in the mind of any new hire.

The Browns will say that it will work out, just like they said a year ago -- and so many years before that.

Trust them, the Browns will say.

And the coach they’re interviewing might want to say: Based on what?

Which, at this point, is probably the exact same thing the fans will say.