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PITTSBURGH — Hard as it is to believe, the Browns have fired coach Rob Chudzinski after only one season.
At about 9:35 on Sunday night, the team sent out a release announcing they fired Chudzinski after his 4-12 inaugural season, one that ended with a 20-7 loss to Pittsburgh Sunday for the club's seventh straight loss and 10th in 11 games.
The team called a news conference for 12:30 p.m. today and issued the following unattributed statement:
"We appreciate Chud's passion for the Browns, and we have great respect for him both personally and professionally. 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.”
Chudzinski, a native of Toledo and a St. John’s graduate, met with the team leadership beginning at 9 on Sunday night.
Fox Sports' Jay Glazer reported that Chudzinski would have a chance to fight for his job in the meeting, but that it was a longshot. He also said Chudzinski requested the session take place Sunday night after the team returned from Pittsburgh instead of early today.
Chudzinski had three years remaining on his contract.
A leading candidate to replace Chudzinski is Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, according to multiple reports. A graduate of Canton-McKinley High and John Carroll University, McDaniels is a longtime favorite of Browns general manager Mike Lombardi and CEO Joe Banner, who's liked McDaniels since Banner was with the Eagles.
NFL Network's Albert Breer also identified Penn State's Bill O'Brien, the former Patriots offensive coordinator, as a likely top choice, but O'Brien is likely to take the Texans job after interviewing with them on Saturday.
O'Brien interviewed with the Browns last year, but opted to stay at Penn State. The Browns wanted to interview McDaniels last year, but he wasn't ready to leave New England.
On Sunday, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam was so disgusted with his team's performance in Pittsburgh that he stalked out of Heinz Field with about six minutes remaining, before the Browns averted their first shutout of the season, according to a source. He was also incensed over what he perceived as poor effort in last week's 24-13 loss to the Jets.
Chudzinski, who put on a brave face after the game, was asked if he'd be back next year.
"As far as I know,'' he said.
He said the firing talk didn't necessarily catch him off guard.
"It sort of comes with the territory,'' he said. "We'll get it started next week and [do] the things we need to do to make the Cleveland Browns better.''
He said he saw Haslam before the game, but that nothing about his job security was discussed.
Asked if he felt he felt he was on the same page with Haslam and Banner regarding the future of the club, he said, "definitely. No question about that.''
This is the Browns’ fourth head coach firing in the past six season: Romeo Crennel in 2008, Eric Mangini in 2010, Pat Shurmur in 2012, and Chudzinski.
Several members of the national media reported that the Browns were unhappy with Chudzinski's ability to hold players accountable and his indecisiveness in big moments.
A source told the Plain Dealer that the front office wanted him to make a statement in recent weeks by cutting a player such as Greg Little or Shawn Lauvao, but that he wouldn't do it. Other sources said he clashed with Browns general manager Mike Lombardi.
News of Chudzinski's possible firing was met with shock and outrage in the Browns locker room.
"That’s ridiculous,'' said linebacker D'Qwell Jackson. "Chud’s gonna be here for as long as he wants to. He’s a great head coach and that’s all I gotta say about that…. That’s not going to happen."
Seven-time Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, who's had four head coaches since 2007, said, "to start over again, it would be devastating. It sets everything back. You just hit the reset button. Anytime you hit the reset button, it severely damages the organization, and it lengthens the amount of time that it takes to get back to the playoffs and turn the team into a consistent winner.”
Thomas said he wouldn't ask out if the Browns fire Chudzinski.
"I’m a Cleveland Brown,'' he said. "I love being a Cleveland Brown. I don’t have a say in the decisions that are made at that level. I’d be disappointed, but I’m still a good solider, and I’m going to show up to work and do my best every day no matter what happens. A lot of times they want to hear the players’ feedback and input and certainly, definitely, if they ask me, defend Chud because I think he’s done a good job.”
The Steelers jumped out to a 17-0 lead in the third quarter. They scored on a nine-yard TD catch by Jericho Cotchery, a five-yard run by running back Le'Veon Bell, and a pair of field goals.
Running back Fozzy Whittaker caught a 35-yard touchdown pass with 2:46 left to help the Browns avoid their only shutout of the season. He also dropped a pass over the middle at the end of the game that was picked off by linebacker Lawrence Timmons with 55 seconds remaining.