PITTSBURGH - If you were wondering how the new Browns management team would react to a bad season, we found out in a hurry Sunday.
Less than one year after being named coach, Rob Chudzinski was fired. Chudzinski was given the news a few hours after the Browns completed a 4-12 season with a 20-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Heinz Field.
There were reports that Chudzinski met with team officials to plead his case. It was obvious that owner James Haslam, CEO Joe Banner and general manager Michael Lombardi had made up their minds.
The team released a statement late Sunday announcing the move:
"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.
The move was shocking in its swift development, although there was talk that something might be in the works late last week. Speaking at his post-game press conference, Chudzinski talked as if he would be back, but he admitted that he hadn't talked with management about the future.
Players expressed surprise when asked their feelings immediately after the game. None, of course, were aware that the firing would happen within hours.
Offensive tackle Joe Thomas was visibly angered by the thought of the firing. He was asked if he would continue to be a good team soldier if Chudzinski didn't return.
"I would be very surprised if they made a change, and I would be very disappointed," Thomas said.
Thomas believes that the majority of his teammates are in Chudzinski's corner. Linebacker D'Qwell Jackson agreed.
"I don't believe I'm still answering questions about it," Jackson said. "It was on the players this year. We didn't win the games to let people know how good of a coach he was."
The front office obviously made the move with candidates in mind to replace Chudzinski. Albert Breer of the "NFL Network" speculated that Penn State coach Bill O'Brien and former Denver Broncos coach Josh McDaniels could top the list.
O'Brien would seem to be off the radar. He's reportedly in negotiations with the Houston Texans to replace the fired Gary Kubiak. McDaniels, currently the New England Patriots offensive coordinator, is a possibility. He had a rocky, 28-game stint with the Broncos that ended with him being fired after compiling an 11-17 record.
The first inkling that something was up came when Breer tweeted reasons why Chudzinski might be fired. The story soon gained legs through social media.
The team released a statement during the game that stated there would be no speculation on the situation. At the time it was stated that the objective was on the game.
Management was clearly displeased with the collapse after a 4-5 start that had the Browns in the playoff chase. They finished the season with seven straight losses and defeats in 10 of the last 11 games.
Speculation has also centered on what management believes was a lack of accountability among players and a feeling that Chudzinski lack decisiveness in big moments.
"If you watch any of those games out there, you saw great effort every single week," Thomas said. "You saw good effort this week right to the end. I don't think that's anything that can be refuted."
It would appear that Thomas will be one player that won't buy into anything that is said today when players are consulted about the decision.
"It's not like we won the Super Bowl last season and we were coming back with the same offense," Thomas said. "We had tremendous changes philosophy-wise on offense and defense and also many different players we brought in.
"We were doing all those things to build a consistent winner. To build that consistent winning is by having consistency in the coaching staff and the philosophy of management."
That thinking was shot out of the water last night.