Theodoric of Cleveland

Today the Cleveland Browns announced that they were hiring Mike Pettine to be their new head coach. He’ll be their third head coach in three years, and his resume sounds a lot like the resumes of their last two coaches. He’s a guy who has had decent experience as an NFL assistant coach but has never been the head guy — just like Pat Shurmur and Rob Chudzinski. Shurmur was overwhelmed by the job and got fired after two uninspired seasons and Chud got the boot, unfairly, in my view, after only one season at the helm.

Who’s Pettine? He’s been an assistant coach with the Baltimore Ravens, New York Jets, and the Buffalo Bills. These aren’t exactly the elite franchises in the NFL — Buffalo won just six games this past season. Pettine is a defensive guy, which could be a good fit because the Browns have some defensive talent. But who knows? He’s got a limited track record and limited experience.

I listened to some of the press conference for Pettine today and had to laugh when Browns owner Jimmy Haslam said the Browns were “thrilled” to have Pettine, who would be “tough, aggressive and innovative” and bring “a blue-collar, team-first mentality.” Who does Haslam think he’s kidding? Cleveland Browns fans may be ridiculously devoted, but we’re not blithering idiots. The Browns clearly hired Pettine because their coaching search had become an embarrassment. Cleveland was jilted and rebuffed by all of the hot coaches, who no doubt wanted to avoid a franchise that looks more like a clown show with each passing season. The Browns’ decision to can Chudzinski after only one season in which the Browns played without an NFL-caliber quarterback obviously limited the pool of people who would even consider a job.

I don’t wish Pettine ill. I hope that, against all odds and notwithstanding the obvious incompetence of the Browns organization, they found a diamond in the rough who succeeds famously. But the Browns have no credibility with me any more. Their front office is like a collective Theodoric of York, the medieval barber played by Steve Martin on Saturday Night Live in the ’70s. After Theodoric would kill or maim his patients with his quackery, Jane Curtin would confront him and say: “Why don’t you just admit it! You don’t know what you’re doing!” At the Browns’ press conference today, I was hoping Jane would make an appearance.

Canning The Coach

When I woke up this morning and checked out ESPN I was astonished to see that the Cleveland Browns had fired head coach Rob Chudzinski.

Sure, the Browns sucked — and I mean sucked — this year, stumbling and bumbling their way to a 4-12 season and losing their last 7 games. Russell and I didn’t even use our season tickets for the last two home games of the year. The product on the field was so bad it just didn’t merit a day-long drive to Cleveland to watch the Browns flail their way to another infuriating loss.

Still . . . firing the head coach after just one year? I’m not sure that even Vince Lombardi or Paul Brown could have done much with this team, which featured a decent defense that unfortunately broke down at crucial moments and an abysmal offense that had to deal with the cancer that is Brandon Weedon. Nevertheless, when journeyman quarterback Brian Hoyer was at the helm the Browns looked like a competitive NFL team, and Chudzinski showed some riverboat gambler instincts that were a refreshing change from the normal conservatism of the NFL. When Hoyer went down with an injury, however, the season was lost.

I’m now highly skeptical about the merit of the Browns’ front office. When the Browns traded Trent Richardson two games into the season, it seemed clear that management recognized that the team was going nowhere and was planning for next year. So why hold the coach responsible for not winning more games with a crippled offense of castoffs and retreads who couldn’t score points?

Old fans like me remember when the Browns were the most stable organization in the NFL, with knowledgeable people filling every front-office slot and long-term coaches who were allowed to implement their systems. Now the team is a revolving door, both on the field and in management. Whoever the Browns hire to replace Chudzinski will be their fourth head coach in six years. That’s obviously a recipe for disaster.

In my view, the Browns management — from the owner on down — is now on the hot seat. They had better hire a competent head coach who knows what he is doing, conduct a flawless draft, make some high-quality free-agent decisions during the off-season, and put a playoff-caliber team on the field in 2014. The coaching carousel and incompetence has to stop, now.

Will Chud Be A Stud?

The Browns have hired a new head coach.  His name is Rob Chudzinski, he’s 44 years old, and he’s been an assistant coach in the NFL for years, including two prior stints with the Browns.

Will Chud be a stud?  Who knows?  Most recently, he’s been the offensive coordinator for the Carolina Panthers.  They didn’t make the playoffs this year, but their offense was better than the Browns.  Chudzinski’s supposed to be great at developing young quarterbacks — but then, so was Pat Shurmur, and we all saw how that Browns hire turned out.  So, we’ve got a young guy who’s never been a head coach in the NFL before, trying to turn around a franchise that has given its fans awful teams over the past few years.  It will be a big challenge for him, just as it was a big challenge for Shurmur, whose resume was just like Chudzinski’s.  I hope the Browns hired Chudzinski because they thought he would be a good head coach, and not for other reasons, like his being willing to agree to restrictions on his authority that other coaches wouldn’t accept.

Lots of people are ripping the Browns about the choice.  They may be right, or they may not.  Since their return to the league, the Browns have hired hot NFL assistants, hot college coaches, and former NFL head coaches.  They’ve all stunk up the joint.  I’m not sure there is anything magical, or predictable, about who will be successful as an NFL head coach.  It’s a weird job that requires a unique combination of football savvy, talent spotting and development ability, management skill, inspirational leadership, PR awareness, and a number of other characteristics.  I don’t think you know whether a candidate will succeed until you make them a head coach and see how they perform.  Chudzinski could bomb, or he could do well.  We won’t know for a while.

In the meantime, I’ll just content myself that the name “Chudzinski” fits well with an ethnic, blue-collar town like Cleveland.  And “Chud” allows for lots of good rhymes and puns, whether the team’s performance blows (dud, crud, mud, thud) or is unexpectedly good (stud, bud) or just funny (spud, tastebud, cud).  That will have to do for now.