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BEREA, Ohio — Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner said Monday that the team's lack of improvement led to their decision to fire coach Rob Chudzinski after one season, and that they're confident they can attract a top candidate despite the lack of recent job security.
Haslam said he feels it's a great job and that he's certain he can convince the candidates that the organization will support them. He said "the search will begin immediately.'' He added that it could take a week or a month, and that candidates could come in all forms (presumably meaning coordinators, college ranks, former head coaches, etc.).
Banner said they made the final decision on Chudzinski's firing on Saturday after they felt there were no signs the team would improve under him in 2014.
Chudzinski released a statement Monday saying he was "shocked and disappointed'' that the Browns fired him after one year.
Banner said he doubted he'd interview coaches that they talked to for their vacancy last year. That means Penn State coach Bill O'Brien, who interviewed with the Browns last January but opted to stay at Penn State might not be a candidate. He's a frontrunner for the Houston Texans job.
Banner also said it's undecided if any of the current members of the staff will be interviewed. They need to interview a minority under NFL rules, and defensive coordinator Ray Horton fits the bill. He also interviewed for the Browns vacancy last year.
Banner said current assistants will be given liberal permission to interview with other clubs.
Two top candidates for the Browns right now are Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. Lions coach Jim Schwartz, who was fired Monday, goes way back with Mike Lombardi and will also be on the radar.
Haslam stressed that he's so committed to bringing fans the winner they deserve that he's willing to spend the money to get it right. He owes Chudzinski $10.5 million.
"These are expensive decisions,'' he said.
Haslam and Banner admitted they did not make the right move in hiring Chudzinski, a Toledo native and St. John’s graduate, in January of this year and laid out their reasoning for letting him go at a 30-minute news conference at the Browns' training facility.
"As the season developed, it was our feeling that as a team we were not getting better," Haslam said.
"In our minds, there should be improvement happening," Banner said. "I think if you look around, you'll find teams that have improved as the season went on. I don't want to walk around all the teams in the league, but it's something that's happening."
Haslam has spoken often about the need for stability in the franchise, and he said Monday that he understands fans will criticize the team for firing a coach after one season.
"We still feel that way [about the importance of continuity]. We understand why there are going to be some skeptics," Haslam said. "Candidly, we deserve it."
But he added that the fact the team is making the drastic move of firing a coach after one season shows how committed the team is to winning.
Haslam said he and Banner understand how important the next six months are for the franchise, which must hire a coach and have a strong 2014 draft in May.
"This is the crucial offseason for the Cleveland Browns," Haslam said. "If we get that right, we'll have a lot of positive news conferences. We feel a lot of pressure to get this right for our players, our fans, and the city of Cleveland.
"What the fans need to hear is, nobody cares more about winning than the people you're looking at right now, especially the owner," Haslam said. "We take this extremely seriously. It galls me when people write, 'Same old Browns.' I think the key message needs to be that we're going to work hard to get this right."
Browns ask permissionto interview McDaniels
The Browns have asked the Patriots for permission to interview offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, the Canton McKinley High and John Carroll University graduate, for their head coaching vacancy.
McDaniels, 37, has a longstanding relationship with Browns general manager Mike Lombardi and has been a longtime favorite of Browns CEO Joe Banner.
They wanted to interview McDaniels for their head coaching vacancy last year, but he wasn't ready to leave New England yet and uproot his wife and four children again so quickly.
At that time, a league source told the Plain Dealer that McDaniels would "jump at the chance'' to coach the team he grew up rooting for in his hometown of Barberton, Ohio.
McDaniels, a Patriots assistant and offensive coordinator from 2001-08, played a key role on a staff that won three Super Bowl titles and four AFC championships with the organization.
McDaniels left New England to serve as head coach of the Broncos in 2009 and 2010, going 8-8 his first year after a 6-0 start, and being fired after a 3-9 start in 2010.
He took over as offensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams in 2011, where Rams running back Steven Jackson eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the seventh consecutive season despite running behind an offensive line that started eight different combinations over the course of the season.
He returned to the Patriots for their playoff run at the end of that season and into 2012, being named offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach.
The 2013 season was McDaniels' 10th season with the Patriots and his fifth as the team's offensive coordinator.
He was a personnel assistant on the 2001 team that defeated the Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI, served as a defensive assistant on the 2003 club that won Super Bowl XXXVIII, and was promoted to quarterbacks coach in 2004, a season that culminated with a victory over the Eagles in Super Bowl XXXIX.
In addition to his role with Patriots quarterbacks, McDaniels added the title of offensive coordinator in 2006. In his second season as New England's offensive play caller, McDaniels oversaw a unit that broke several NFL records.