Puskas: How low can Browns’ credibility go?

Jimmy Haslam might want to start dictating another letter to Mike Lombardi.

What? You think taking a letter from the owner of the Cleveland Browns is beneath Lombardi, who is — allegedly — the team’s general manager?

Maybe. But what else is Lombardi actually doing, other than contributing to the continuing demise of a once-proud franchise?

It’s clear that Lombardi didn’t perform due diligence when he traded for Davone Bess a month after the troubled wide receiver was hospitalized against his will after bizarre behavior. Nor when — in concert with Browns CEO Joe Banner — he signed Bess to a contract extension.

That moment was the highlight of 2013 for Bess, who had the worst season of his career. This year is shaping up to be even worse for him.

It was so much simpler when Bess was just dropping passes (instead of his pants) and the Browns were losing games. As bad as they are on the field, the Browns have shown an incredible capacity to be even more dysfunctional outside the lines. At least they were competitive on the field.

If you think news about the Browns is bad, just wait a day or two. It will get worse.

Of the seven NFL teams that fired coaches late in 2013 or after the close of the regular season, only the Browns have not hired a replacement.

Somewhere right now, Rob Chudzinski — the happiest unemployed guy in the world — is cashing a paycheck and laughing.

Browns fans, however, are not happy and they’re not laughing. Their team was a laughingstock three weeks ago when the Browns fired Chudzinski and the meandering search for Banner and Lombardi’s next puppet — combined with Bess’ week from hell — has only made things worse.

Also on Saturday, the Browns learned that three more of Chudzinski’s assistant coaches — coordinators Norv Turner and Ray Horton and offensive line coach George Warhop — left to take jobs with other teams.

Turner will direct the Minnesota Vikings’ offense under new head coach Mike Zimmer. Horton will coordinate the Tennessee Titans’ defense under new head coach Ken Whisenhunt, who had interviewed with the Browns. Warhop joined former Browns assistant Joe Cullen on Lovie Smith’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers staff.

Are you sensing a trend?

Other teams have their coaches in place. The Browns, not so much. Worse yet, word out of Denver on Saturday indicated that Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase — considered the frontrunner for the Browns head coaching job — was leaning toward staying on with Peyton Manning.

Can you blame Gase? Can you blame the others who have steered clear of the NFL’s only remaining job opening?

Haslam can write all the letters to Browns fans he wants, but that won’t fix the damage that has been done to the team’s franchise just in the last few weeks. That is staggering for a team that has averaged 5-11 every year since 1999.

And you thought the Browns were bad on the field.

Write Vindicator sports editor Ed Puskas at epuskas@vindy.com and follow him on Twitter, @edpuskas85.

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