Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
Cleveland Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

TOM WITHERS
AP Sports Writer

 

CLEVELAND (AP) — Rob Chudzinski didn't even get a full year to fix the dreadful Browns.

Not seeing the progress it wanted, Cleveland's front office fired Chudzinski on Sunday night just hours after a loss in Pittsburgh to end his first season, which started promising but ended with a seven-game losing streak and a 4-12 record.

Chudzinski had only been in place since Jan. 11, when the Ohio native and lifelong Browns fan was hired for his dream position by owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner. The Browns were 4-5 after a win over Baltimore on Nov. 3, but they collapsed in the final two months, blowing several late leads and the organization decided to cut ties before heading into a second season with Chudzinski in charge.

"We appreciate Chud's passion for the Browns, and we have great respect for him both personally and professionally," the team said in a statement not attributed to any person. "We needed to see progress with this football team. We needed to see development and improvement as the season evolved and, unfortunately, we took a concerning step backward in the second half of the year.

"Our fans deserve to see a consistently competitive team. We have high standards, and there's an urgency for success. When we believed we were not positioned to achieve significant progress in 2014, we knew we had to admit that a change was needed, and move forward. Browns fans are the most loyal and passionate supporters in the NFL. We're fully committed to bringing them the winning football team they deserve."

The Browns scheduled a 12:30 p.m. news conference on Monday to explain Chudzinski's shocking dismissal.

Just last month, Banner praised Chudzinski, who had dealt with more than his share of obstacles.

"I'd be hard pressed to think that in nine weeks a first-time head coach can do any better or any more than he's doing," Banner said on Nov. 13. "All of the measurables that you'd look to come up with, if you even wanted to create a yardstick of measuring at this moment, I just think he's doing an outstanding job."

But the losses began to mount, with four of them during the seven-game slide by more than 10 points. Cleveland's front office felt as if the team was getting worse and knew a change had to be made.

Cleveland ended its sixth straight double-digit loss season with a 20-7 setback to the Steelers. Although the Browns dropped 10 of their last 11, players were united in support of Chudzinski and were stunned to hear his job was in jeopardy.

"I think he's done a good job," Pro Bowl tackle Joe Thomas said, "and if you fire coaches after one bad season, it's not like we won the Super Bowl last year, and we were coming back with the same offense. We had tremendous changes philosophy-wise, offense, defense, and so many different players that we brought in. To get that consistent winning is by having consistency in the coaching staff and the philosophy of management, to me, that's how you become a winner.

"I'd just be really surprised."

Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson was upset to learn there were reports that Chudzinski was on his way out.

"It's ridiculous," he said. "Chud's gonna be here for as long as he wants to. He's a great head coach and that's all I've got to say about that. That's not going to happen. Chud's a great coach. He's had our attention from Day 1."

Chudzinski had plenty to deal with as a rookie coach, including an unsettled quarterback situation as the Browns were forced to use three starters because of injuries. The team also traded running back Trent Richardson and never adequately replaced him. The Browns didn't give Chudzinski much help in the draft as No. 6 overall pick, linebacker Barkevious Mingo, had a disappointing season.

So, the Browns, who have made the playoffs just once since 1999, will embark on yet another coaching search. They've gone through four coaches in the past six years and their next hire will be their seventh full-time coach since their expansion rebirth.

Less than a year ago, Haslam and Banner thought they had found the right guy in Chudzinski, who had two previous stints as an assistant coach with the Browns. Chudzinski wasn't the team's first choice as the new regime interviewed Chip Kelly, Ken Whisenhunt, Bill O'Brien, Doug Marrone and Ray Horton, whom they hired as their defensive coordinator, before giving Chudzinski his chance.

It's over now, and it's time to go looking again.