Browns explain Rob Chudzinski firing

BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam understands any skepticism directed toward the team about the firing of Rob Chudzinski after one season as coach.

Haslam and CEO Joe Banner said Monday the team made a mistake hiring Chudzinski and felt being decisive at this time was preferable to giving the coach another year.

"We understand the importance of continuity," Haslam said Monday in explaining the decision to change Browns coaches for the second time in a year and fourth time in six. "But I think it's really important to hear this: We also understand the importance of getting it right."

"As unpopular and undesirable as it is to sit here and acknowledge we didn't get it right, the fact that we're making a change makes a statement that we're not going to accept not being successful," Banner said. "That's an important message for our fans."

In a news conference filled with pointed questions -- one Cleveland TV news reporter asked Haslam, using a fan's words, to assure people he did not have the "Three Stooges" running the Browns -- the owner did not hide from the fact that fans had a right to be skeptical after the Browns fired the guy they praised effusively last January.

"I get it," Haslam said. "And I don't think this press conference or anything we say over the next few days is going to change anybody's minds. We have to go out and produce better results."

Chudzinski released a statement thanking Haslam for making his "dream" of coaching the Browns come true.

"I was shocked and disappointed to hear the news that I was fired," Chudzinski's statement read. "I am a Cleveland Brown to the core, and always will be. It was an honor to lead our players and coaches, and I appreciate their dedication and sacrifice. I was more excited than ever for this team, as I know we were building a great foundation for future success."

Browns players expressed disappointment, anger and dismay at the decision Monday.

"Shocking," said rookie tight end MarQueis Gray.

"I didn't even know that was possible," wide receiver Josh Gordon said of a coach being fired after one season.

"It's a business," said receiver Josh Cooper. "They say they want stability, and hopefully we get that in the next few years."

Though linebacker Jabaal Sheard said the move was unfair, Gordon said it wasn't up to him to make that decision.

"It's the business of the league," Gordon said. "But I thought he would have more time than that."

The Browns still owe Chudzinski $10.5 million, league sources told ESPN Senior NFL Insider Chris Mortensen.

Haslam said he did not know if the Browns would interview three candidates or 10, and he said the search could take a week or a month. Banner added he did not believe any of the candidates who were interviewed a year ago would be candidates this time.

That would seem to eliminate Penn State's Bill O'Brien and Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton but would keep New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels in the picture. Given his past relationship with Bill Belichick and Browns general manager Mike Lombardi, McDaniels would figure to be a strong candidate.

Sources confirmed to ESPN.com on Monday night that the Browns have asked to interview McDaniels about their current opening.

The Browns also have asked permission to interview three assistant coaches: Arizona Cardinals defensive coordinator Todd Bowles; Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who can interview Jan. 5, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter; and Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase, who also will interview.

Gase would prefer to wait until after the Broncos are eliminated from the playoffs before speaking with anyone, however.

Jim Schwartz, recently fired by the Lions, also could be interviewed. The Browns also must interview at least one minority candidate to follow the league's Rooney Rule mandate.

The decision to fire Chudzinski was made Saturday, which means nothing that happened in the season finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers mattered. It also explains why Haslam left the loss with six minutes left.

Haslam and Banner said they felt the Browns showed a lack of progress as the season went on.

"It was my feeling as a team that we were not getting better," Haslam said.

According to Banner, if Chudzinski simply needed time to grow in the job, the Browns would have brought him back. But the issues ran deeper, and Banner referred to a "trajectory moving downward."

"There are three teams that picked at the top of the draft last year that have new coaches that are in the playoffs right now," Banner said.

The Kansas City Chiefs qualified after picking first and hiring Andy Reid, and the Philadelphia Eagles picked fourth and made it with Chip Kelly, a guy the Browns tried to hire but couldn't.

The next-highest team to make the playoffs from the draft was the San Diego Chargers, who picked 11th.

Banner also disputed a question that the Browns were playing for 2014 and beyond because they'd traded two 2013 draft picks for picks in '14, and traded starting running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a '14 first-round pick.

Banner said the team brought in players on defense who contributed.

Haslam called this offseason the most important for the Browns in a long time and believes the team can sell the job as an excellent opportunity.

"We understand there will be skepticism until we get it right," Haslam said, "and, candidly, we deserve it."