CLEVELAND (AP) — Rob Chudzinski's dream job turned out to be temporary gig.
The Browns fired Chudzinski on Sunday night after just one season. It was a stunningly swift and shocking exit for the Ohio native who learned all about sports heartbreak while cheering for Cleveland teams as a kid. He wanted to be the one to turn the Browns into consistent winners.
Like five other coaches since 1999, he failed. Nobody discards coaches quite like the Browns, who cited "a concerning step backward in the second half of the year" in their decision to dump Chudzinski, who was let go just a few hours after a 20-7 loss in Pittsburgh — the Browns' seventh straight defeat and 10th in 11 games.
The Browns have fired four coaches since 2008, a disturbing trend that perhaps best explains why the team has made the playoffs just once since their expansion rebirth 14 years ago. Chudzinski didn't even have a full year to fix the Browns (4-12), who have become one of the league's laughingstocks because of the endless turmoil.
While introducing Chudzinski on Jan. 10, owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner touted the 45-year-old as one of the game's bright young offensive minds and they were confident the lifelong Browns fan had the necessary skills and drive to turn the team into a consistent winner.
Now, they're looking for someone new. Chudzinski was let go with three years left on his contract. The Browns scheduled a press conference for 12:30 p.m. Monday at their Berea, Ohio, headquarters to explain the decision to dismiss Chudzinski.
"We appreciate Chud's passion for the Browns, and we have great respect for him both personally and professionally," the team said in an unattributed statement. "We needed to see progress with this football team. We needed to see development and improvement as the season evolved and, unfortunately, we took a concerning step backward in the second half of the year.
"Our fans deserve to see a consistently competitive team. We have high standards, and there's an urgency for success. When we believed we were not positioned to achieve significant progress in 2014, we knew we had to admit that a change was needed, and move forward."
Although the Browns were 4-5 at their bye week, the front office felt some of those wins were misleading because they came against inferior competition. But what concerned Cleveland's decision makers most was that the team seemed to regress over the final seven games.
The Browns lost a few close games, but also dropped four by more than 10 points in their seven-game slide and Cleveland's front office felt the team was getting worse. Although Chudzinski was popular with his players, he wasn't getting the most out of them and the Browns felt a change had to be made to get the team fixed as quickly as possible — and to have the best chance of landing a quality candidate.
With Chudzinski gone, it's likely coordinators Norv Turner and Ray Horton will also be dismissed along with several other assistants. Cleveland's latest coaching search is already underway, with New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and Penn State coach Bill O'Brien being mentioned as leading candidates. O'Brien, who has also been linked to the opening with the Houston Texans, interviewed with the Browns last year but decided to stay with the Nittany Lions.
Chudzinski had plenty to deal with as a rookie coach, including an unsettled quarterback situation as the Browns were forced to use three starters because of injuries. The team also traded running back Trent Richardson and never adequately replaced him. The Browns didn't give Chudzinski much help in the draft as No. 6 overall pick, linebacker Barkevious Mingo, had a disappointing season and the acquisitions of high-priced free agents Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant didn't lead to more wins.
The Browns did have five players elected to the Pro Bowl, and wide receiver Josh Gordon emerged as one of the league's top playmakers. But the bottom line was that the Browns didn't win enough and it cost Chudzinski the one coaching job he coveted most.
Following Sunday's loss, several Browns players were dumbfounded when told Chudzinski could be fired. "It's ridiculous," linebacker D'Qwell Jackson said. "Chud's gonna be here for as long as he wants to. He's a great head coach and that's all I've got to say about that. That's not going to happen."
But it did, and the Browns are back in familiar place.
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