What if Chud wasn’t fired? (and other thoughts on the Browns)

Rob Chudzinski

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As the Browns continue to work through their process, I’ve been searching out other voices than just those who normally populate WFNY to opine about the Browns and provide perspective. Today, I’ve engaged Mike Burgermeister, who many may know as Jim Kanicki, the man who constantly talks on Twitter when he’s not writing his own website, or guesting on the WFNY Podcast.

Craig: There is a WFNY roundtable going on right now about the whole process of hiring a coach and whether or not perception can be any different than reality. Obviously the perception is that the Browns are listless because they fired their coach after his first season. Some can argue that even if that was 100% the right move that the Browns wouldn’t be able to save face during the hiring of their next coach, regardless. You can obviously talk about that for a bit too if you want Mike, but the real topic of conversation here is what would life have been like for Browns fans so far this off-season had the Browns just given lip-service to four wins being unacceptable, and vowed to get better in year two of Chud, Norv and Horton?

Mike: In spite of—really—an unprecedentedly bad firing, I think the Browns can save face and will.

Before I get to how, though, I think the why it’s “unprecedentedly bad” is a compelling story. After every personnel move by Banner was designed to build for 2014 (new coaches, new systems, stockpiling draft picks, saving cap space) and after hiring three top coaches, two of whom were regarded as minor coups for the Browns, after surpassing expectations on the field when the roster was healthy… it’s simply mind boggling that the coaches would be let go for the stated (and bogus) reason that the team wasn’t progressing. Like what did Banner expect when he left camp with Lauvao and Skrine and Robertson and Gipson as starters? And of course this was also supposed to be the year where we ‘found out’ about Brandon Weeden and how he might perform in the Turner ‘vertical offense.’ Welp, we found out. In short, and from the outside, there were no grounds for the firing. It smacks of either an impulsive, ego-maniacal owner or an ass-covering, scapegoating GM+CEO or both. I mean that’s how it reads to me and it seems clear that that’s how it reads to the outside football world.

But OK. Moving on.

Even though it wasn’t their plan, I like that this ‘process’ has inadvertently forced them to look at ‘second tier’ candidates. Mike Tomlin and John Harbaugh were second tier, IIRC. I’d say Leslie Frazier and Mike Caldwell were second-tier hires in their first jobs and they found success. (Leslie Frazier’s 10 wins in 2012 was alchemy.) Who’s to say Pettine isn’t the guy? Who’s to say we don’t strike gold with some secondary coach at [defensive coordinator]. Bill Cowher was 32 when Schottenheimer gave him a shot. The coaching thing can be OK.

I’m less sanguine about the locker room and downright sour about how this all affects free agency. Last year, they bid against themselves for a player the Ravens weren’t trying to keep and signed the web’s most famous mugshot with a known heart condition and that was with a respected players’ defensive coordinator. We’ll know better if this is irrational fan worry or valid criticism of the front office when the Mack and Ward contract negotiations play out.

What would this off-season be like if Chud and crew were still in place? About 80% Johnny Manziel talk, 15% who’s watching Josh Gordon, and 5% Alex Mack. We’d be looking through free agent ratings to see who’s available and based on that which positions to target in the draft. We’d be looking forward to seeing whether Banner devoted the same proportion of resources to building an offense this year as he did to building the defense last year. I dunno, I’d probably be writing a post saying we should make a run at MJD in free agency. (He passed his audition with me in that Jags game.)

But unfortunately we’re dealing with organizational turmoil, possible systemic dysfunction. My best guess is that we’re dealing with a meddlesome owner who takes a little too much pride in sharing how impatient he is. I’m with Raab in thinking that our best hope is a criminal indictment that forces Haslam to sell.

Craig: Well that was a huge answer. I’ll let your opinions ride from the first part and jump to the part about if Chud was still around…

Who do you think spearheaded the Chud firing? It is my suspicion that there are two sides of this equation, both dealing with Jimmy Haslam. First, I think that Jimmy felt like he had to assert himself to let the world know that a four-win failure wasn’t cool by him. I think it probably speaks to how much say he had in hiring Chud in the first place, which I’m guessing was not a lot. The second side of the coin was making a statement internally to Joe Banner and staff about just who their boss is.

I can’t get the image of Haslam sitting in a conference room with Joe Banner giving him a tutorial on the league calendar that was featured on that “NFL Road Tested” TV show last year. Jimmy was like a student in an Executive MBA program where he’s learning from a guy who he outranks in every major phase of existence. He did it because he thought he had to, but after seeing the results on the field, he lost his mind a bit and decided that he wasn’t going to let some “employee” ruin his rep. Jimmy likes to be in charge and in control. In a world where his life was turned upside down at Pilot this year, maybe this is his only venue for letting himself exert the power he is used to exerting.

And so he’s gone off and ruined his own reputation, all by himself, at least in the short run. I know I’m projecting an awful lot on the situation as an outsider, but I just can’t help but think almost the entire Browns organization would have preferred to keep Chud in place until Jimmy Haslam started getting embarrassed and ultimately left the Steelers game early.

This is my Ben Mezrich version of the story where I dramatically enhance and build story out of a mostly real-life situation.

Mike: I know the theme is ‘what if Chud wasn’t fired’ but i’m mesmerized by the tragic comedy unfolding in real life. So epic. How many times have we said, “his is it – rock bottom. things can’t worse.” being a browns fan means never saying things can’t get worse.

Who was behind this? Agreed that this was Haslam. Descriptors include petulant, pique, impulsive, unsophisticated, simplistic, and bad-type-A. I’m guessing Banner cringes when he sees JH3 on his caller ID. I wouldn’t guess that there was ever a doubt about who was in charge. (I swear there was an early presser where Jimmy waxed joyously about attacking/blitzing 3-4 defenses. I’ve always suspected Haslam wanted the big sack defense and drove that change.) I’m guessing their worst fears re: Haslam’s lack of internal governor are being realized.

Didn’t see that road tested conference room clip, but agree with your read. Jimmy’s never not succeeded fabulously and -my take- is there’s a Roman emperor complex at play. He thinks himself divinely infallible, and like you say, having given his ‘football people’ a year and gotten four wins, he’s taking that as affirmation that he can do better.

I find Jimmy’s speech patterns revealing. He’s always trying to Jedi mind trick you. OK? Right? He demands you to nod your head to the things he says.

As far as the Steelers game, I’d heard that they decided to fire Chud before the game. I’m certain that Jimmy saw the loss as validation of the decision—never mind that there were six inactive starters, and yeah, you lost at Pittsburgh to a playoff team*.

*Steelers did get jobbed by the refs in the last Chargers game.

But I keep going back to the simple stupidity of evaluating a coach strictly on win count. If Fozzy recovers an onside kick in Foxborough, is Chud then a good coach? Romeo had ten wins once, we he a good coach? Five or six All-Pro/Pro Bowlers? Doesn’t that sort of player development accrue to the coaching staff? I mean, like, a lot?

Project away. I know you’ve made the point about the remarkable unfairness that the NFL foisted this guy upon us. It’s a good point.

You know another interesting angle is, ‘I wonder what Joe Banner thinks.’

  • Greg B

    I did not want to hire Chud. Once we did, I found Chud to have a very big upside in front of him. But adjusting to “being the man” learning how to deal with Banner and Haslam, and being stuck with poor receivers and Weeden….he didn’t focus on the accountability issues facing this team. IF we knew how to tackle, we would have won another 2 or 3 games! Seven wins, he keeps his job. After a break, Chud would have seem the player issues and prepared himself to do better in 2014. He didn’t get the chance.