Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

It Must Be the Gods. No Franchise Could Be This Screwed Up For This Long

Cleveland has put up with a lot of NFL nonsense over the past 25 years, but Rob Chudzinki’s firing, the latest absurdity from the latest regime, is the alltime low—and that’s saying something

By Mark Bechtel

The worst part of having The Football Gods aligned against you isn’t the constant losing. It isn’t the draft picks who come already washed up or the coaches who seem chronically overmatched. It isn’t even the looks you get from people in bars or at dinner parties when you talk about “The Football Gods.” It’s not having anyone to blame.

You can’t just fire off an email to gridironzeus@nfl.com. You can’t befoul your favorite piece of gear and mail it to The Gods c/o Football Olympus. And standing in the middle of a Buffalo Wild Wings cursing loudly and shaking your fist at the sky is marginally cathartic at best, out-and-out sociopathic at worst. Blaming fate or luck or whatever you want to call it might seem like a classic coping mechanism and nothing more, but if you’re a Browns fan there’s a logic to it. It’s Occam’s Razor: the simplest explanation is most likely the correct one. And, remarkably, the notion that there exist football Fates who smile on Boston’s fans while continually crapping on Cleveland’s is more believable than the possibility that one franchise could screw things up so royally for so long. Blame the Gods? Or blame Brady Quinn, William Green, Courtney Brown, Tim Couch, Craig Powell, Touchdown Tommy Vardell, Clifford Charlton, Mike (Mad Dog) Junkin, Patrick Rowe, Todd Philcox, Mark Harper, Mike Oliphant, Butch Davis, Chris Palmer, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bud Carson, Jim Shofner, Terry Robiskie, Brian Robiskie, Mrs. Robiskie, Marc Trestman, Phil Savage, Dwight Clark et al.? The former is a lot simpler, even if it means there’s no face to tape to the dartboard.

Owner Jimmy Haslam, looking less than pleased pregame at Pittsburgh before the season-ending loss. (George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, looking quite chipper pregame at Pittsburgh before the season-ending loss. (George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

But occasionally a bull’s-eye comes along. There was, of course, Art Modell, who fired Paul Brown, regained a certain amount of goodwill and then torched it all in 1995 to become public enemies one through 10. In 1993 coach Bill Belichick, with Modell’s blessing, cut Kosar, which is like burning a stack of Please Please Me LPs on the Liverpool docks. (Kosar, of course, latched on with Dallas and won a Super Bowl. Afterwards, a friend sent my dad a T-shirt featuring a shirt with a giant upraised middle finger sporting a Cowboys Super Bowl ring above the words THANKS BILL.) And now there’s Jimmy Haslam, the trucking magnate and former Steelers minority owner who bought the team 14 months ago and has overseen the most maddening, embarrassing period I can remember. (And I well remember the Spergon Wynn era.) Which is why I spent Sunday night seriously debating whether to befoul my Kosar jersey and mail it to Haslam.

I’m not going to sit here and argue that firing Rob Chudzinski is tantamount to firing Paul Brown. Finishing the season with 10 losses in 11 games is pretty bad no matter how you slice it. What’s so maddening about the move from the standpoint of a fan is its utter tone-deafness. It’s similar to the team’s decision to trade Trent Richardson to the Colts earlier this season. From a football standpoint the deal was defensible. (Richardson was somehow worse in Indy than in Cleveland.) But both moves scream, We have no direction and no vision, so we’re going to scrap any sort of long-term plan and start over. Again. Haslam, CEO Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi, in the case of Richardson, could at least say, “Hey, he wasn’t our guy to begin with.” Chudzinski, though, was handpicked by the new regime before being axed less than a year later.

Seventh-rounder Edwin Baker became the de facto No. 1 back. He's the leading Edwin in NFL rushing history. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Seventh-rounder Edwin Baker became the de facto No. 1 back. He’s the leading Edwin in NFL rushing history. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

My best friend is, like me, a transplanted Clevelander who never gave up his allegiance to the Browns. As I was about to send a heated text to him last night, my phone pinged with a message from him. It said the exact same thing I was about to type: This organization is a f—ing joke. Indeed, Chudzinski’s firing was not first debacle brought about by Haslam and his cadre. First there was the investigation by the FBI and IRS into alleged fraudulent business practices in Haslam’s Pilot Flying J trucking company, which led to the development of a contingency plan in August that would see Haslam’s octogenarian father take over the team should the owner have to step down. Nothing like a distraction-free training camp for the rookie coach, eh? (The Haslam trifecta of a quick trigger finger, run-ins with the feds and Cleveland ties bring to mind a less successful version of George Steinbrenner, a native of suburban Rocky River who almost bought the Indians in 1971.)

This came after Haslam hired Lombardi, whose previous comments ripping quarterback Brandon Weeden (“a panicked disaster” is what he called the team’s 2012 selection of the then 28-year-old when Lombardi was an NFL Network analyst) made things awkward from day one and flew in the face of the cardinal rule mandating that if you’re going to do something to undermine your starting QB, you should at least have a good backup in place. (Modell and Belichick had Vinny Testaverde, who took the team to the playoffs the next season.) Lombardi had also had unkind words for wide receiver Josh Gordon, a 2012 second-round supplemental pick whom he termed a “waste.” Gordon led the NFL in receiving in ’13.

If a QB is the face of the franchise, Jason Campbell had the right look against the Steelers. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
If a QB is the face of the franchise, Jason Campbell looked the part at Pittsburgh. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

And then there was the decision by the front office to sit on $25 million in cap space. The Browns’ biggest offseason move was signing linebacker Paul Kruger. The second biggest was trading for wide receiver Davone Bess and signing him to a contract extension, then watching him put up career lows in catches and TDs while finishing second in the league in drops. The third: re-signing the long snapper. So it was that Rob Chudzinski finished the season with 31-year-old journeyman Jason Campbell as his quarterback. His running back was Edwin Baker, a 2012 seventh-rounder who was signed from the practice squad of the league’s worst team and is already with his fourth club. (In his defense, he’s the leading rusher in NFL history among guys who go by the name Edwin.) The 4-12 season that followed couldn’t be put down to bad luck, or angry football gods. This was a mismanaged team in disarray getting the abysmal results it deserved.

Asked in the summer by The MMQB’s Greg Bedard about the team’s lack of offseason activity, Lombardi said, “Having cap room is a huge asset, so we’re going to make sure we protect our assets. Just because you have it doesn’t mean you should spend it. Every decision you make, you have to be judicious in terms of value. You have to be careful—measure twice, cut once, and understand that that money can be used in the next seasons.”

The Mike Junkin Years blended seamlessly—save for a brief period when the franchise didn’t exist—into the Spergon Wynn Era (right shoe optional) in the recent annals of Browns glory. (John H. Reid/WireImage.com :: Doug Pensinger/Allsport)
The Mike Junkin Years blended seamlessly—save for a brief period when the franchise didn’t exist—into the Spergon Wynn Era (right shoe optional) in the recent annals of Browns glory. (John H. Reid/WireImage.com :: Doug Pensinger/Allsport)

By that logic we can expect another offseason of lethargy packaged as envelope-pushing. (A new holder, anyone?) The team does have a stockpile of draft picks, but that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Only four of last year’s six picks are with the team, and only one played more than 20% of this season’s snaps. And going back farther, Lombardi’s draft history as a personnel man in Cleveland is checkered at best. He was part of the brain trust that passed on Shane Conlan and took Junkin with the fifth pick in 1987, just after the Browns lost the AFC title game to the Broncos on The Drive. Junkin was a linebacker from Duke about whom one Cleveland scout said, “He plays like a mad dog in a meat market.” (From Duke?) Alas, on a football field he played like a regular dog. (It can be argued that that pick is the Browns’ Terminator moment, the one thing they would prevent if they could build a machine and send a replicant back to alter history. After Junkin bombed, the team spent its first-round pick the next year on another linebacker: Charlton, who made one start in his two-year career. But that’s a conversation for another day.)

Chudzinski may have a bright future—this is, after all, the place where even Bill Belichick couldn’t get it right. (George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
Chudzinski may have a bright future—this is, after all, the place where even Bill Belichick couldn’t get it right. (George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

Chudzinski’s ouster was met with disdain by players. “We’ve had some crazy things happen since I’ve been here,” linebacker D’Qwell Jackson told Peter King, “but this one, this tops the list.” The press was just as harsh. When Haslam and Banner met the media, and the owner said: “There’s nothing — and you all have every right to write it — that galls me more than to read on Monday mornings, ‘Same old Browns.’ Because that’s not what we’re all about.”

But this isn’t the same old Browns. This is worse.

Mark Bechtel is a Sports Illustrated senior editor. Don’t get him started on the Indians.

The last fan who believes the Browns know what they’re doing. (Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)
Possibly the last fan who believes the Browns know what they’re doing. (Matt Sullivan/Getty Images)

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42 comments
oneiron
oneiron

Cleveland is not called "the mistake on the lake" for no good reason.

JimPierce1
JimPierce1

As a life long Steelers fan, I hope that the Browns can turn it around. I don't understand how year after year there doesn't seem to be enough improvement to get to the next level. Hopefully with all the draft picks you have coming up something good will come of it.  The fans deserve better.

TonyKrasinski
TonyKrasinski

Loved the article. Maybe Banner will fire himself next year.

brown4everandever
brown4everandever

"Hi Mr. Gruden, Jimmy Haslam here. '4 yrs @ $36 million' 2 +.500 seasons in 4yrs, your option $11 million in year 5 & 6 #MNF

DavidCrastnopol
DavidCrastnopol

As a Jet fan who remembers Gastineau roughing Kosar to lose the playoff game  the week before the Browns lost on "The Drive" to Denver:  It's nice to see a team even more dysfunctional than mine.  45 years without a SB victory is still better than never, plus the team that was the Browns won 2 in Baltimore!  I do feel for Cleveland fans and wish you  more success in the future.  I'd love to see the Cavs beat LeBron at least.

ElectricGypsy72
ElectricGypsy72

This season was as the management planned. You don't trade for a first round pick with the Colts thinking you will get a high pick. You make a trade with them expecting a low first round pick knowing that you your pathetic finish will get you a hi first rounder. Amazing how that worked out. When that trade happened, some players where reported to be upset at the fans reactions. That they (the players) had given up. I never thought that. I know that it was the management that gave up on e players and gave up on the fans, and after almost 40 years I think it is about time for me to get up on them. Best of luck to the players, I will try to keep an eye on your from the box scores.

Joseph Rodocker
Joseph Rodocker

This story is rediculous. This man just paid one billion dollars for this franchise! 1 billion! Can half of you even count to a billion? He just paid 10 million dollars to fire one man. The Haslam family is 100% about winning, and winning at all costs! No cleveland is not used to this because it is extreme but that is exactly what the franchise needs! Before you make nonsense comments about the browns organization because you thinkk your educated on the club because you watched back2back episodes of NFLAM this morning look at the facts of yhe current situation. I for one am very thankful the Haslam family is on our side and not someone elses! We have dreamed of having ownership that cares this much, now that we have it we are going to whine about extreme measures taken? My wife and I attend at least two away games every season. The last two years I have met and seen Jimmy at every one! The previous 7 seasons we did these trips I never seen or met any of the Lerner family. I for one am very thankful for the work that you and your office is doing Mr. Haslam to tirelessly strive to bring the winning tradition and attitude bavk to NE Ohio, the place that invented this great game we call football!

Phroggo
Phroggo

I remember sitting in our seats at Candlestick one day when the Browns were in town. As they took the field in their striking all white uniforms and orange helmets, Niner radio analyst and former Lion, Wayne Walker, said, "I've always liked their uniforms".

Those striking all-whites that they wore while winning four NFL Championships, and are admired around the league, are the only thing connecting these Browns to their glorious past. Whoever put them in brown pants this year oughta be sent packing.

ProfessorGriff
ProfessorGriff

If they hire Josh McDaniels, they will get what they deserve and continue to suffer

randomdeletion
randomdeletion

I think they should SERIOUSLY consider bringing back Marty Schottenheimer.  HE WILL WIN.  He WILL restore the franchise to what they were when he built his own legacy as a great coach.  


As an Oiler fan I can say I dreaded the annual trip to Cleveland every year to play those teams. They were tough as nails and I had great respect for them and the fan base.  They deserve better than they have been given since Marty left. 

Donsteelerfan
Donsteelerfan

I am a Steeler fan, so when the Browns continue to show ineptitude, it just means another 2 wins over the Browns each season. But you would think that Haslam would have learned something from being with the Steelers as part owner. In the late 90's, Bill Cowher led the Steelers to 6, 5 and 9 win non-playoff seasons. 5 years later, he led the Steelers to the SuperBowl. The Steelers are patient with their coaches and understand that you can't continue to make changes and expect to compete. Coaches and organizations need time to build winners. I do feel bad for the Browns fans because they are similar to Steelers fans: hard working, loyal and knowledgeable fans. The Browns should have never left Cleveland which would have given them 2 Superbowls. All that I can say is continue to remain loyal and support your team. 

DAN B1
DAN B1

I keep a list called Cleveland's woes....



1. 1954. The Catch. The great Willie Mays runs down a 420 shot to center field in sensational fashion preserving a 2-2 tie. Giants go on to sweep the world series.


2. 1976. Jim Chones breaks his foot in practice, cavs sunk in playoffs.


3. 1981. Red Right 88. Even though they were in field goal range (13 yard line) for a winning kick, Sipe tosses an interception in the end zone, Browns loose 14-12. Raiders go on to win the Super Bowl.


4. 1987. The Drive. 98 yard drive by Elway (including a 3rd and 18 conversion) tied the game with 37 seconds left. Browns lose in overtime. The legend of Elway is born.


5. 1988. The Fumble.  With 1:12 left in the game, running back Earnest Byner appeared to be on his way to score the game-tying touchdown, but lost a fumble at the 3-yard line.  Byner traded to Washington the next year and wins a super bowl for them.


6. 1989. The Shot. Micheal Jordan's iconic shot at the buzzer in game 5. The legend of Jordan is born.


7. 1993 Cleveland Indians pitchers Steve Olin and Tim Crews die in a tragic boating accident.


8. 1994. Brad Daugherty career ended because of back problems at 26. 


9. 1994. The Indians finally have a winning record that would have qualified for the playoffs for the first time in 40 years. The season ended with a strike.


10. 1995. Indians lose the World Series to Atlanta in 6 games.


11. 1996. Best record in baseball, lose to Baltimore in 4 games.


12. 1996. Browns and Art Modell leave Cleveland and move to Baltimore.


13. 1997. World Series, game 7. Indians have the lead in the bottom of the ninth with 2 outs when Jose Mesa(1.12 ERA 46 saves) falls apart on the mound and lets the Marlins tie the game. In the bottom of the 11th, 4 time gold glove winner and 5 time all-star Tony Fernadez(.978 fielding %) muffs a sure double play.  Edgar Rentería ended the game with a single.


14. 1999. Browns back in Cleveland. Draft Tim Couch 1st overall.  Draft bust.


15. 2000. Browns draft Courney Brown 1st overall.  Draft bust.


16. 2001. Browns draft Gerard Warren 3rd overall.  Draft bust.


17. 2001. The Ravens and Art Modell win the Super Bowl for Baltimore.


18. 2002. Browns draft William Green 16th overall.  Alcoholic Draft bust.


19. 2002. New Browns finally make the playoffs and have a 22 point 4th quarter lead against Pittsburgh and lose.


20. 2003. Browns draft Jeff Faine 21st overall, Traded to saints where he becomes a probowl center.


21. 2004. Browns draft Kellen Winslow. 2 games into season he breaks his leg. Lost for year.


22. 2005. Kellen winslow blows his knee out in a motorcycle accident, lost for the year.


23. 2005. Browns draft Braylon Edwards 3rd overall. Blows knee out, lost for the year.


24. 2006. LeCharles Bentley, top rated free agent signs huge contract with Cleveland.  During the first play of the first practice he tore his patellar tendon and ended his career.


25. 2007. Cavs get swept in Finals. 


26. 2007 Indians have a 3 games to 1 ALCS lead on Red Sox.  They lose the last three games.


27. 2007 Browns give up a 2007 2nd round pick and 2008 1st round pick to select QB Brady Quinn.


28. 2008-2009. Cleveland trades not one, but 2 Cy young winners(CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee) Both pitchers meet each other in the world series. (New York vs Philly)


29. 2009. Cavs roll in playoffs, stopped by Orlando.


30. 2010. Best record in NBA.  Lose to  Celtics.


31. 2010 Lebron leaves Cleveland for Miami.


32. 2013 Browns bought by Jim Haslam Jr. He is now under ethics and tax fraud investigation.


33. 2013 Browns have a 26-13 lead with 1:03 remaining on the patriots and lose 27-26


34. 2013 Browns fire Rob Chudzinski after one year and a 4-12 season.

CMFJ
CMFJ

Things have been bad in Cleveland.  However, while I understand being upset about yet another coaching change, whether this was a good move or not depends upon the success of the next head coach.  Sure, the front office should be ripped for choosing a guy that had to be fired 11 months later, but that does not mean that firing him was not the right decision.


With regard to the other move this year, I cannot believe that anyone can still view the Richardson trade as anything other than a major coup for the Browns.  Getting a first round pick for a back is very very good.  Getting it for a mediocre one is incredible.  Richardson has shown himself to be very average and, with his cap number, was a liability in terms of building a team long term.  


The glass is half full take on this is that both moves are part of the front offices ability to be honest with themselves and admit mistakes, even if they take a PR hit.  Of course, that is only useful if you are making other good decisions more than half the time.  

rlombardi100
rlombardi100

Funny caption on picture of "chipper" Haslam.

Hang in there Cleveland. My team was mostly in disarray and the laughingstock of the league from 1960-2000. They traded future HOF players Mike Haynes and Nick Buonicotti because they couldn't afford to pay them. Both went on to win SBs. My team finally made the SB, but got blown out 46-10, immediately after which they were exposed in a huge drug scandal. A few years later another scandal blew up after some players harassed a female reporter in the locker room.

It all changed when a good owner bought the team and hired a good coach. A little luck surely helped when they took a QB from Michigan with a sixth round draft pick. Haslam hopefully sells the team to someone who can restore this proud franchise.

MuddyMustain
MuddyMustain

Good grief, I thought it was tough being a Rams fan over the last 10 years--at least I'm optimistic about next year. Hang in there Browns fans!

ReedWright
ReedWright

Any team that hires Norv Turner should know their future.  I guess the Browns organization didn't learn from the Redskins, Chargers or Raiders.  The Browns deserve what they paid for.  I'd fire the GM to start.  Whether he's your head coach or offensive coordinator, Norv Turner will lead your team to the basement of the NFL.  What Turner had to work with in the early 90s in Dallas is an anomaly.  Who couldn't win with all those HOFers.  How's he looking the last 20 years?  Nothing but a loser.  Turner is the only coach that can turn a 14-2 team into a loser.  Good job Browns.  I'm sure you're so pathetic, you'll probably hire him to be your next head coach.

moxie160
moxie160

What a dumpster fire of an organization!

jc138
jc138

The correct answer to this embarrassment isn't anger. It's apathy. I'm finished giving a damn about these losers. I hope the players have the good fortune to get away from these guys as quickly as possible -- they all deserve better than to have to represent Joe Banner every week. Good bye, and good riddance.

BillKirsten
BillKirsten

Mark, with all due respect to the misery of Cleveland fans, have you never heard of the Detroit Lions?

jasonabresler
jasonabresler

For the record, the "Mike Junkin Era", 87-88, was the highpoint of the browns for the past 4 decades (two [heartbreaking] AFC championship appearances)

KristianColasacco
KristianColasacco

@Joseph Rodocker The Browns are terrible, their owner's a two-bit crook, their management's completely inept and you're absolutely delusional.  

I'm not a Browns fan but if I were, I'd be upset that fans like you enable mediocrity and don't demand better.  

crhesq
crhesq

@Joseph Rodocker

So exactly HOW MUCH are you getting paid to troll on behalf of the Browns organization on this post? Either you are being paid to troll or you are on some high quality drugs!! No sane person would write and believe what you wrote.

10centbeernight
10centbeernight

@Joseph Rodocker No, you are *ridiculous.  You think Jimmy is a blessing because he spent a $1B to buy the team?  Ha!  Do you have any idea what he is going to make owning a NFL franchise?  Its not like he bought into a money-losing business.  Oh, and Haslem shows up to the games?  What a saint!


I'd like to personally thank Jimmy as well for giving us nothing we havent seen for 15 yrs.  I'll ignore the embarrassing Pilot J situation, the fact you fired the coach you hired less than a year later, the fact you dont spend any money in free agency, and the fact that you hired Banner, who may be competent (unclear at this point), but is without a doubt a complete power hungry control freak.  Thanks Jimmy!  

anon76
anon76

@randomdeletion 


If the Browns bring back Schottenheimer, the Broncos will respond by taking Elway out of the front office and putting him back on the field.

RalphF
RalphF

@DAN B1 This is an awesome list.  Thank you for compiling.  I will share with my other Cleveland area high school buds (we've all moved out of Ohio since then) and commiserate each other in our choice of fandom.

anon76
anon76

@DAN B1  

As a Broncos and Spurs fan, I'd just like to thank the city of Cleveland for your patronage.


For your troubles:


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GPmjTG8NLuw


"Now the Lord can make you tumble

And the Lord can make you turn
And the Lord can make you overflow

But the Lord can't make you burn"

JimmyDorito
JimmyDorito

@DAN B1 Born and raised in Cleveland. Unfortunate to have lived and rooted for my hometown teams through all of it. It sucks. 

stagger
stagger

@DAN B1 That was much more entertaining (in a morbid way) than the column. I'm sorry...

JimmyDorito
JimmyDorito

@CMFJ Thanks for posting, Mr. Haslam. You're the only one who feels this way. 

CMFJ
CMFJ

@rlombardi100 


In some way, it seems that you are taunting the Browns fans with this, given that a pivotal moment in the Pats history was hiring a coach the Browns fired.

Dboss34
Dboss34

@jc138 Thank you for posting that.  How in the hell are people/fans so blind?  If your dog bit you repeatedly, what would you do?  If your spouse let you down over and over, what would you do?

10centbeernight
10centbeernight

@BillKirsten Is this a joke?  Youre going to try and bring Detroit to this conversation?  Please. You have no idea.  You're bringing a knife to a gun fight in the most cursed city conversation.  


Red Wings, Tigers, Pistons.  ALL winners since Cleveland's last championship in 1964.   

pilotronics
pilotronics

@BillKirstenDetroit at least has had Hockey, Baseball, and Basketball championships.  Take a good look at Cleveland.  It's bad.

Joseph Rodocker
Joseph Rodocker

Ignore another anonymous author Mr. Haslam. 10centbeernight is still trapped in municipal stadium. This guy states the ridiculously obvious - of course you will make money through the league profit sharing. This is the NFL. You embasasal every owner can make money if they reach the level and actually have the opportunity to purchase a franchise! That is not tne poing that was being made. Yhe point was cleveland now has an owner who will not even glance at the pricetag of WINNING! While you try to count your singles to see if you can fill up your Honda and buy that energy drink try to wrao your head around that. Lol!

rlombardi100
rlombardi100

No taunt intended. Just trying to relate how things can change for a bad organization. And the Patriots were one of the worst.

anon76
anon76

@Joseph Rodocker  

"You embasasal"

Seriously?  It's imbecile, and if you can't spell it, you probably shouldn't use it.


And if Haslam is so dead-set on spending his way to a winning organization, what on God's green earth was he doing sitting on $25 million in cap space?

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