It seemed simple enough; the Cleveland Browns would go out and lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers, secure a 4-12 record and look to the offseason to build an offense. The game was unable to even start before reports surfaced that head coach Rob Chudzinski was all of a sudden on the hot seat with significant speculation about where the team would go from there. The reasons for the potential change are unclear at this point, but many reports in and around Cleveland suggest this is more than just about what is going on between the lines; that there were problems between the head coach and the front office that hired him.
Candidates names have surfaced including Bill O’Brien, who has also been linked to the Houston Texans and were a target for the Browns last year. The other name that was mentioned was Josh McDaniels, the former Denver Broncos head coach who had way too much power there, could not handle it and was a massive bust after starting his career there 6-0. McDaniels has a lot of ties to New England and is back there after stints elsewhere.
One of the factors involved in this is general manager Mike Lombardi and there are many questions as to how much of an impact he is having. Lombardi was hired after Chudzinski. There is speculation that Lombardi was actually involved in the Browns organization before he was actually hired but they were worried about the PR hit they would take from hiring him. Nevertheless, the actual timeline has Chud hired before Lombardi.
Lombardi has ties to New England and has openly said he likes McDaniels as a future head coach, which is presumably why his name came into play. O’Brien was in New England before he went to Penn State, where he has received a lot of praise for what he has been able to do there.
O’Brien has been linked to the Texans job and ESPN has had multiple reporters say they are working on ironing out a deal between the two sides. On the other hand, one of the Nittany Lions top recruits has said he talked to O’Brien on Saturday and said O’Brien assured him he was not going anywhere.
For the Browns as an organization, they have done nothing to put down these rumors.
“Our focus is on the game today. We will not discuss any evaluation of the season until this upcoming week.” #Browns statement on Chudzinski
— P.J. ZIEGLER (@PJFOX8) December 29, 2013
One theory put forth by Joe Lull of 92.3 The Fan has basically suggested the Browns are reaching out to O’Brien and if his people say ‘no’, the Browns can simply dismiss the rumors and say Chud is their guy. That seems pretty reasonable. It will be interesting to see if it plays out that way. Should they hire O’Brien or anyone else, there is a huge amount of pressure on them to come in and win immediately considering the way this season was handled.
The question for the front office and ownership is how could a guy who did a good job on the field, considering how ugly the situation was courtesy of the previous regime. Jimmy Haslam came out and said that he did not think anyone could have done a much better job than when the Browns were sitting at 4-5. Seven losses in a row might change a lot, but the Browns have been operating with the worst quarterback situation in the league and were tasked with showing what Brandon Weeden offered while having Brian Hoyer who tore his ACL three games in and Jason Campbell in the wings to try to make up for Weeden should he falter.
The Browns appeared to have a plan in place for this season. They hired Chud, gave him two extremely qualified assistants, built up the defense and had the offense in full evaluation mode. After an expected result once it was confirmed that Weeden was a complete disaster, the Browns were put in a spot to try to mitigate the damage until they could get to the offseason and use the 10 draft picks they have (2 in the first, 2 in the third, 2 in the fourth) to use the pieces they have and add enough to make a good offense. Much of this focus would be on the quarterback position and finding the right one.
All of this has come up as the game was preparing to kickoff and has continued as the game has been played. In a week that seemed to be owned by the Cleveland Cavaliers and Andrew Bynum, the Browns found a way to make themselves front and center in the attention of fans and the media with nothing but questions and confusion surrounding the Browns again on the seventeenth week of the season.