Where it went wrong for Chudzinski
December, 30, 2013
By Pat McManamon | ESPN.com
Jason Bridge/USA TODAY SportsRob Chudzinski, who never had the final say on personnel, finished the season on a seven-game losing streak.Where did it go south for Rob Chudzinski?
The cynical answer is to say when he took the job knowing he was working in a structure where CEO Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi had more input or as much input on personnel as he had.
Chudzinski knew the structure when he took the job, but clearly the marriage didn't work.
The cynical view is not the Cleveland Browns' view though.
Banner said at a Monday news conference that the working arrangement with Chudzinski, Lombardi and Banner went well, that any disagreements were of the normal kind. He said he was "unequivocal" on that subject.
To Banner and owner Jimmy Haslam, the team simply did not progress or improve. Haslam mentioned he said in July that he would judge the season by whether the team was better in the final three games than the first three. He said he did not see that improvement.
Chudzinski did not finish well. The Browns lost seven in a row to end the season, and dropped 10 of their last 11. A loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars was bad, and the effort against the New York Jets was worse.
But he was also done in by circumstances that he knew of when he was hired, but probably couldn't fully appreciate until he was in the job.
In the Browns structure, Banner runs football, which means he runs personnel. He discusses consensus but he also is the final say on personnel. He also has a certain operating style. Lombardi evaluates and finds personnel.
The tension between the front office decisions and a coaching staff trying to win immediately seemed to increase as the season wore on. The strain showed in various ways, and Chudzinski would not win that struggle without victories on the field.
Barely a week went by in which offensive coordinator Norv Turner did not -- directly or indirectly -- state that he was making do under less than ideal circumstances.
Chudzinski had five different running backs, three different quarterbacks, a third receiver who missed the final two games and a veteran corner placed on injured reserve who finished the season playing for Miami.
Monday, Tony Grossi of ESPN-Cleveland.com reported the front office wanted to shake up the locker room by cutting a starter -- receiver Greg Little or guard Shawn Lauvao, and Chudzinski balked.
If that happened, the coach is in a bind. If he disagrees he's not a team player and he doesn't demand accountability. But if he agrees, he loses the locker room and operates out of fear, which has never been Chudzinski's style.
The Browns, incidentally, deny the request/mandate to cut a player ever happened.
Banner also disputed any notion that the team was building for 2014 and not for this season.
"We were one of the most active teams in free agency in the NFL," Banner said. "That's not something geared toward 2014. It's geared toward making progress."
"I think it you took the players that we added, and if you took them comprehensively -- undrafted free agents, people we claimed, people we drafted and free agency -- and you look at the teams we played over the last five or six weeks I think we'll stack up OK in terms of who we added in 2013," Banner said.
The flip side: More than $20 million in salary cap space went unused and the starting running back was traded and never replaced with a credible back. Cornerback Leon McFadden wound up playing after being drafted in the third round, a round or two ahead of where scouts had him projected. And though first-round pick Barkevious Mingo had moments, he did not make a significant impact.
While Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron and Joe Haden improved, Little did not and Davone Bess, one of the front office's offseason acquisitions, wound up AWOL for two games.
A bad game against the Jets led to the decision to fire Chudzinski regardless of what happened against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It galls me when you all write -- and you have the right to do it, and people have the right to say it -- same old Browns," Haslam said. "It's our single mission to change that."
Except the change has started with two head coaches fired within one day of the final game in consecutive seasons.