If you thought that 2012 was one crazy year in the world of Cleveland Sports, 2013 proved that there is rarely a dull moment. There were good times and bad, hirings and firings, wins and losses, and appearances in postseasons and courtrooms. As the year comes to a close, like we have done the last five years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the 10 biggest sports stories to grace our local sports scene over the last 12 months. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from ten to one. Do enjoy.
On January 18, the Browns hired Michael Lombardi as their Vice President of Player Personnel. The hiring confirmed months of speculation that Lombardi was the choice to help Joe Banner build new owner Jimmy Haslam’s Browns.
“Listen, I understand that I’m going out on the limb myself by hiring Mike,” Banner said. “So I didn’t do this casually. I’ve spent a lot of time talking to him about everything that matters before I put him in front of Jimmy or Chud. Time will tell if it’s right or wrong, but I made (the choice) confidently and with my eyes open about the perceptions, about the realities, about my own time I spent with him. I feel comfortable with it.”
That decision was not the most popular one in Cleveland.
Lombardi was with the Browns once before as part of the Bill Belichick, pre-move-to-Baltimore regime. Most Browns fans remember him for being part one of the decision makers that release Bernie Kosar due to “diminishing skills.” While it was certainly true that Kosar was on the down side of his career, the Dallas Cowboys thought enough of Kosar to grab him for their championship run. Kosar would go on to play three season in Miami following his split year with the Browns and Cowboys.
Lombardi had been an analyst for the NFL Network prior to taking the job in Cleveland, and his hiring was awkward for several players of whom Lombardi had given bad reports: Cornerback Joe Haden, quarterback Brandon Weeden and wide receiver Josh Gordon. In fact, after Lombardi’s hiring, Gordon took to Twitter to ask if his job was secure. Haden was willing to give Lombardi the benefit of the doubt.
A week before Lombardi’s hiring, the Browns announced the fourteenth head coach in the organization’s history. For the first 50 years of their existence, the Browns had eight head coaches. Since the team returned in 1999, Rob Chudzinski became the sixth.
Chudzinski was coming home. He had previously been with the Browns as an offensive coordinator, but Ohio is home for the man who grew up a Browns fan. This backstory has probably given him more goodwill with the fans and media alike who have been eager to see the coaching carousel stop rotating, and would like nothing more than a hometown guy to get the job done. There is something romantic about the idea of a headline involving a local boy leading Cleveland to its first title since 1964; it is part of the reason LeBron James’ departure hurt this town as bad as it did.
Whether fair or unfair, his hiring will likely always be thought of as a ‘Plan B’ move. Haslam and Banner had flown across the country to meet with then Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. Whatever happened during that long weekend of talks and interviews with Kelly, the Browns contingent left without a head coach. One of the other candidates they interviewed for the job ended up being defensive coordinator Ray Horton. Chudzinski would bring in former head coach Norv Turner to be his offensive coordinator.
That package of hires—Lombardi evaluating the talent, Chudzinski as head coach with long time established coaches Horton and Turner in place—were brought in to turn the team around and build a “perennial championship contender”.
Eleven months later, the Browns sit at 4-11 on the season.