After another lackluster season, the Cleveland Browns fired head coach Rob Chudzinski.
The move, which came as a surprise to many, comes after a 4-12 year that saw Cleveland lose seven straight games after entering their bye week with a 4-5 mark on Nov. 3 while holding out hope for a playoff run.
The Browns had an up-and-down season that, at times, showed signs of promise before the team ended the year on a sour note. After starting the year 0-2 behind some awful quarterback play from Brandon Weeden, Chudzinski replaced him with backup Brian Hoyer, who led the team to three straight wins before injuring his knee in a win over Buffalo in week 5 that cost him the rest of the season. Weeden returned, only to struggle, and Jason Campbell was later named the starter. Ultimately, the team's lack of consistent play at quarterback held them back.
According to multiple reports, the front office was unhappy with the team's lack of progress and felt that Chudzinski was not holding his players accountable. During its seven-game losing streak, Cleveland blew second-half leads to Jacksonville, New England and Chicago, a sign that their record could've been much better. The team also felt that a number of other first-year head coaches, among them Philadelphia's Chip Kelly (10-6), Arizona's Bruce Arians (10-6), San Diego's Mike McCoy (9-7) and Chicago's Marc Trestman (8-8), were having success and thought that Chudzinski should've had done more in his one year with the club.
The team released the following statement regarding their decision to let Chudzinski go.
"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.
Browns fans are the most loyal and passionate supporters in the NFL. We're fully committed to bringing them the winning football team they deserve."
It should be noted that Chudzkinski was not the first choice of President & CEO Joe Banner and General Manager Mike Lombardi. In fact, they interviewed six candidates for the head-coaching position last year before settling on Chudzinski, a Toledo native who grew up rooting for the Browns.
Candidates reported to be on the Browns' radar include New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Penn State head coach Bill O'Brien, San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Wisenhunt, Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz, should he be let go by his current team, and current defensive coordinator Ray Horton.
Despite losing 12 games, there are reasons for Browns fans to be optimistic. The team currently has five Pro Bowlers on its roster -- WR Josh Gordon, LT Joe Thomas, CB Joe Haden, C Alex Mack & TE Jordan Cameron -- as well as alternate T.J. Ward. However, Mack and Ward will be free agents this offseason, so the team will have to decide whether they're a part of their long-term plans.
The team also holds the No. 4 pick in the draft and will receive Indianpolis' selection, a pick that will fall between Nos. 21-32 depending on how the Colts do in the playoffs. Cleveland also has a second-round pick and two picks in the third and fourth rounds, respectively, giving them seven picks in the first four rounds. On top of that, the Browns are estimated to have $24.3 million of cap space available to sign free agents with next year, more than any team in the NFL.
The Browns will target a number of key needs in the draft, most notably quarterback, running back, wide receiver and offensive line. They will also look to improve their defense, which needs less work.