The Cleveland Browns were an NFL laughingstock long before word began to leak late Saturday that, as an NFL head coach, Rob Chudzinski was a dead man walking.
That those rumors and whispers were true just confirmed what Browns fans already knew all too well. This organization is no closer to figuring things out than it was when Jimmy Haslam bought the team from absentee owner Randy Lerner in 2012 and hired Joe Banner to run the front office.
Haslam is the billionaire owner of Pilot Flying J. He oozed Southern sensibility and a no-nonsense attitude and had been a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, so you had to figure he knew what he was doing.
Banner had been the president of the Philadelphia Eagles during that franchise’s longest sustained run of success, so you had to figure he knew what he was doing.
“Trust us,” Banner and Haslam often seemed to be saying in unison. “We know what we’re doing.”
The hirings of Chudzinski and Mike Lombardi (the general manager no one has ever seen) were supposed to be the first steps toward sustained success and a culture change within the franchise.
But after one full season in possession of the keys to the Browns, this franchise is still on proverbial blocks in Haslam’s front yard. It is the rusted-out 1981 Camaro of NFL franchises.
Nothing — save for some faces — has changed since 1999. It’s just one Black Monday after another every couple of years in Berea.
Banner and Haslam talk a good game. They talked about changing the culture of the Browns when they got to Cleveland and after they hired Chudzinski. They said the same things Monday when they explained why Chudzinski was fired after only one season.
It was the same routine we’ve seen in Berea every two or three years since 1999. That fact seemed lost on Banner and Haslam, who had pledged to bring stability to a rudderless franchise.
“We understand the importance of continuity,” Haslam told reporters Monday. “But I think it’s really important to hear this: We also understand the importance of getting it right.”
So why did they hire Chudzinski in the first place?
How did he go from one of the brightest young minds in the game to being fired in 352 days?
And if Chud became chum so quickly, what makes Banner and Haslam think they’ll be able to attract a coach who can do what his predecessors could not?
The Steelers have had three coaches since 1969. With their next hire, the Browns will be on their third since 2012.
The organization is spinning Chudzinski’s firing as proof that Banner and Haslam won’t tolerate anything but winning.
But outside their offices, the Browns are viewed differently.
A reporter asked the Banner and Haslam: “Can you assure the fans — their words not mine — that you don’t have the Three Stooges running this operation?”
That this question was considered by most observers to be a legitimate query says all you need to know about how the Browns are viewed as an organization. When I heard it, I wanted to believe the reporter was grandstanding and had crossed a line.
But the evidence suggests otherwise.