CLEVELAND - Only in Cleveland can a press conference about the football team evoke a question about the Three Stooges.
The reference, made by a television reporter reading fan tweets, was enough to make Browns owner James Haslam fire back a, "Why I oughta."
The Three Stooges reference was in response to the firing of coach Rob Chudzinski after only one season. The decision was made swiftly and caught the fan base and media off guard.
Cleveland Browns CEO Joe Banner, left, answers questions during a news conference at the Browns training facility on Monday. Owner Jimmy Haslam, right, looks down while listening. The Browns fired Rob Chudzinski on Sunday, just hours after Cleveland’s 20-7 loss at Pittsburgh.
"These are expensive moves," Haslam said Monday at a press conference.
"We're not only just saying it, we're talking with our pocket books here. These aren't cheap moves we're making - and I'm not saying that should be the guiding factor - but we're doing everything we can to get this right."
Chudzinski was fired about five hours after the Browns closed out a 4-12 season with a 20-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Most of his assistants were also let go, although defensive coordinator Ray Horton remains and could possibly be interviewed for the head post.
At the core of the decision was management's belief that the team didn't make the progress needed to carry over into next season. The Browns lost the final seven games and 10 of the final 11.
"In our minds there should be improvement happening, at whatever level you assess the team as you go through the season," Banner said. "You see teams get better. Sometimes they're not very good teams that get better.
"It was concerning to us that it wasn't happening. We felt the best thing we could do was make a change."
The Browns now face what would seem to be an obstacle in trying to attract a qualified coach to a franchise that has had six coaches since the expansion season of 1999. Moving Chudzinski after one season in which he was faced with multiple injuries at quarterback and a draft class that made little impact seems harsh.
"That's a fair question and something we've debated throughout this process," Haslam said. "I'm still convinced that this group can not only identify, but attract and recruit the right person to come here.
"A lot of it is - as I've talked to people around the country that know the NFL - the first thing they say to me is, 'Jimmy, do you know what you've got there? Do you know what a great franchise that is?' They talk about it in terms of the Packers and Steelers. That adds more pressure that we need to get this thing right."
It was speculated Sunday that the move was being contemplated because Chudzinski wasn't holding players accountable for their actions and that he lacked decisiveness in big moments. Several players came to Chudzinski's defense after the loss in Pittsburgh, expressing a belief that he's the right man for the job.
Haslam and Banner seem more focused on how the next coach will mix in with changes that are coming, which will undoubtedly include a quarterback selected high in the draft. The Browns will pick fourth overall and have seven picks in the first four rounds.
"We have a strong nucleus with five Pro Bowl players, and we have a significant amount of cap room and a lot of draft picks," Banner said.
Critics will argue that trades that brought in those draft picks robbed the Browns of a chance to make a dramatic improvement this season. The cap space is another indication that enough wasn't done to bring in better players, and the trade that sent running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts further eroded Chudzinski's chances of winning regularly.
"If you look around, you see similar situations, and teams improved as the year went on," Banner said. "The improvement that should be happening through the season judged on the talent level where you're at is something we have to be able to see."
Banner said there's no timeline on naming the next coach. After what happened with Chudzinski, there are no assurances the Browns will get it right this time.
"We deserve the skepticism and we accept it," Haslam said. "We have to prove that we got the right guy. Until someone comes in here and wins football games, talk is cheap."
Chudzinski would agree with that statement.