Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and President/CEO Joe Banner met with the press on Monday after firing Rob Chudzinski.
Haslam: "Good afternoon and thanks for coming. These type of decisions that we announced last night are always difficult. We're talking about affecting people's lives, their families, etcetera. In the case of Rob Chudzinski, a really good person, a good man, somebody we really respected and liked a lot, that makes the decision even tougher. If you'll reflect back to, really I think the last time that I spoke with you all in a public manner, I think it was, I don't know if it was July 26 or 27. It was the opening day of camp and you all asked me the predictable question, ‘What would be a good year? How many wins?' I think if you'll remember what we said was, ‘We don't really want to answer that question,' which probably didn't surprise you. What we would say is that it's really important that we show improvement during the course of the season. Specifically, we talked about, I believe if you look back at the quote, we needed to be better in the last three games than we were the first three games. As the season developed and what was a really nice start and as we got later into the season, it was our feeling that as a team we were not getting better. Yes, we had a young team, but I think if we'd reflect on it we would all say, ‘A young team should get better,' and we simply didn't feel like that was happening. I know Joe (Banner) and I sat up here a year ago and said numerous times that continuity was really important to any organization and we still feel that. We understand why there might be some skepticism. If you looked at Joe's career in Philadelphia, the brief time period where we spent in Pittsburgh and if you look at how we run our business, it's not one that we make personnel changes frequently. We understand the importance of continuity, but I think it's really important for you to hear this. We also understand the importance of getting it right. There'll be a lot of people who said we should've given this staff a second year, a second chance. That's a very fair and valid comment. In our estimation, it was best that we make a change, try to get it right so we could move forward and candidly most importantly, give the fans here the kind of winner they deserve.
"There's nothing that, and you all have every right to write it, that galls me more to read on Monday mornings, ‘Same old Browns.' That's not what we're all about and that's not what we came here for. You have a right to be skeptical and until we turn it around and start winning games, start winning important games, playing meaningful games late in the year and be sitting here this time of year talking about who we're going to play in the first round of the playoffs, you have every right to be skeptical. But that's Joe and my job, is to go out and find the person to lead the organization, to coach the team, to give us those kind of results. It's something we take extremely seriously. We understand there will be skepticism until we get it right, and candidly, we deserve it. I know there'll be questions about what you're going to be looking for as a coach and I think you have to be careful. Coaches come in all shapes, form and fashions, but I think real simply, and we spent a lot of time talking about this, we want an individual who is a strong winner who knows how to win football games. We'll begin our search immediately. I don't know if it will take a week or a month, the importance is to get it right. There will be all kinds of rumors out there. We understand that. We're not going to respond to any of them and it's our intent to bring back the kind of coach I just mentioned to this room sometime over whatever time period. But the important thing is to get it right. I'll turn it over to Joe and we'll be glad to answer any questions."
Banner: "There's really not much to add. I just want to express the very difficult couple of days for us. I think everybody in the building, and I think you heard from our players, has a lot of respect for and likes Chud. We also have a number of assistant coaches whose lives are impacted. It's been a hard time, obviously harder for them than for us but it's certainly something we had feelings about and care about those individuals. We are going to go to work right away and as last year, we're not putting a time limit on the search. If it happens quickly, that's great and if it takes some time to make sure we get the right person, we're prepared to do that."
On if relieving Chudzinski was fair despite the situation inherited:
Banner: "Well I think, as Jimmy said and I understand some speculation about some deeper answer than what we're giving, in our minds there should be improvement happening. At whatever level you may assess the team or the talent, as you go through a season you see teams get better. Sometimes they are not very good teams that get better, sometimes they're the best teams in the league. It was concerning to us that that wasn't happening. It left us feeling the best thing to do was to make a change."
On justifying the decision despite numerous roster changes:
Banner: "I think it's just what we said and if you look around, you'll find similar situations to what you're describing and teams that improved as the year went on. I don't want to walk through all of the teams around the league, but I think that the improvement that should be happening during the season, regardless of the talent level that you're at, is something that you have to be able to see. It's something that's happening on many of the rosters. I think you can argue this year that on every roster with a first-year head coach in spite of very difficult quarterback situations and each of the quarterbacks on a number of those teams. That's just what you need to see."
On why people should think they are able to get the right guy the second time around:
Haslam: "I think we said that, listen, we deserve the skepticism. We accept it. It is what it is. We have to prove to you all that we'll get the right guy. We're confident we can do that. Until that individual comes in here and wins football games, talk is cheap. Actions speak loud. We're confident we can do that."
On the talent brought in through the draft and free agency:
Haslam: "I think that we said all along that we felt like the draft of 2013 did not compare to the draft of 2014. We like the talent in the draft of 2014. We have 10 picks: two firsts, a second, two thirds and two fourths. We think that free agents, both free agents we signed and free agents we've picked up along the way, have considerable talent and ability. Do I think we're where we need to be talent-wise now? No, I don't. Do I think we can get there over the next couple three years? Yes, I do. You all have heard this way more times than I have because most of you have been around here a lot longer, but this is the crucial offseason for the Cleveland Browns. Joe and I accept that. We accept the responsibility, we have lots of room on the cap, we have 10 draft picks as we mentioned, and we have to hire a new coach. If we get that right then we'll have a lot of really positive press conferences. If we get that wrong, the responsibility is on us. We all understand, and we just met with a core group of our players. We understand. We feel a lot of pressure to get this right for the franchise, for the City of Cleveland, for our fans. We understand how important it is."
On how to sell a long-term vision to a coach after dismissing Chudzinski after one year:
Banner: "I think Jimmy referenced this earlier. I think what should stand out to people is the track record we both have. When we hired Andy Reid in Philadelphia, he won five games the first year. There was no consideration for making a change and we stayed together for 14 years. I think Jimmy referenced his own career background in terms of continuity and the emphasis on it. I think the fact that this didn't go well doesn't change the track record we both have in attracting good people, recognizing good people and having continuity once we've done that."
On if they understand this being a common occurrence with the fans and why the fans are upset:
Banner: "Well first of all, obviously yes. We're not in their shoes. We haven't experienced it all. So in reality I can't tell you that we know exactly how they feel, but we certainly have a sense of it."
On the difficulty in asking fans for patience:
Banner: "I don't think that in this era, especially in the situation now with the cap and the draft, that we're asking people to sit still for some long-term plan. You see right now three teams that were picking at the top of the draft last year that have new coaches and are in the playoffs right now. I'm not predicting that because that doesn't always happen, but the idea of seeing progress and meaningful progress is something that we don't have any problem with people expecting and demanding of us."
On if the formula used to hire Chudzinski was flawed and the formula for the upcoming search:
Banner: "Jimmy referenced it earlier: The idea of finding a coach that we're confident can win, can take this group, see it as a group that has a strong nucleus, help together to figure out how to utilize the assets we have going into the offseason to take us to the next level. I think that's the focus of what we're going to try to find."
On Chudzinski buying into and supporting a plan that focused on the 2014 season:
Banner: "First of all, I'm not sure we agree with the premise. We were one of the most active teams in free agency in the entire NFL. That's not something geared toward 2014; it's geared toward making progress and improving as the season went on. Obviously, there were some instances – the (2013 NFL) Draft being most conspicuous – where we did not utilize every asset we could've, but we feel there was reasonable basis to expect the team to get better as the year went on. As we analyzed why that wasn't happening, it left us feeling we needed to make this change."
On transactions emphasizing a focus on 2014, specifically how cap space was managed, trading draft picks for future selections and trading RB Trent Richardson:
Banner: "I think if you took the players that we added, if you took them comprehensively – undrafted free agents, people we claimed, people we drafted, in free agency – if you look at the teams that we played over the last five or six weeks and compare it, I think we'll stack up OK in terms of what we added for 2013."
On reassuring fans of the organization's confidence in its leadership:
Haslam: "I feel really confident that we have the right people to take this organization where we need to. What the fans need to understand is – you all have heard me say on numerous occasions since we've been here about a year and one-half now - we have the best fans in the world. I've said our fans deserve better. What I want our fans to hear is nobody cares about winning and is going to work any harder to get us there than the people you're looking at right now, particularly the owner. We take this extremely seriously, and I purposefully said what I said earlier. It galls me when you all write, and you have the right to do it and people have the right to say it, ‘Same old Browns.' It's our single mission to change that."
On needing to apologize to the Browns for selecting the incorrect coach:
Haslam: "We can get into that all you want. I think the key message needs to be that we're going to work hard to get this right. We're going to work hard to get this right, and we're going to do everything we can to get it right."
Banner: "I just want to add that as unpopular or undesirable for us to be sitting here right now and acknowledging that we didn't get it right, I think the fact that we are making this change makes a statement that we're not going to accept not being really successful. Whether you agree with the decision or not, that's an important message for our fans to hear. It may be one of the things that we feel will make a difference as we go forward. We are going to demand of everybody, especially and starting with ourselves, that we be successful. If we're not, we're going to do what we need to do to get there."
Haslam: "I'll say one other thing: These are expensive moves. We're not only just saying it; we're talking with our pocketbook. These are not cheap moves to make. I'm not saying that should be the guiding factor, but we are doing everything we can to get this right."
On why the improvement they are looking for could not have occurred under Chudzinski, especially considering many NFL coaches get at least two years:
Banner: "Totally a fair question, and frankly, we spent a lot of time debating and discussing it before we came to the decision. What tipped the scales were our expectations, looking at other first-year head coaches and going back in our number of years to make sure that we were being fair in our expectation that we should be making progress, which doesn't mean that we had unrealistic expectations. I think Jimmy referenced it: We know the team needs more talent to be the caliber of team we're looking for, but if the answer was time, then we should have been seeing the trajectory moving upward, and then it was reasonable to expect as more time passed, the trajectory would have continued to move upward. When we felt the trajectory was actually moving downward, then we felt that the answer was more than time. That led us to conclude that we thought we needed to make this change."
On when the decision was made:
Banner: "We made the final decision on Saturday. We probably have been talking about it for maybe about the past week."
On if there were philosophical differences between senior management and Chudzinski regarding personnel:
Banner: "I want to be unequivocal, there was no such thing. We worked together well. I think that is even referenced in a number of your questions, we had a philosophical agreement on a plan, and it was executed. That doesn't mean we agreed on the evaluation of every single player. That's never going to happen. If it does, it's not frankly very healthy. The group worked together very well. There's nothing to those reports."
On if anyone on staff is a candidate for the opening and if the Browns will evaluate candidates who interviewed last year:
Banner: "We're still deciding on the first [question]. I don't think there will be anybody from last year's search who will be a candidate this year."
On head-coaching candidates considering the Browns after releasing a coach after one year:
Haslam: "That's a fair question. That is something that we debated internally as we worked through this process. I still am convinced that this group can not only identify but attract and recruit the right person to come here. I think a lot of it is I've gotten to talk to people around the country who know the NFL – these are people who really know the NFL – the first thing they say to me is, ‘Do you know what you've got there? Do you know what a great franchise that is?' They talk about it in terms like the Packers and the Steelers. That adds even more, I hate to keep using the word pressure, but more strong feelings that we need to get this right. Yes, we do think we can get [our head coach]. We're not naïve to the fact that we just let a first-year head coach go, but we think we can attract the right candidate here."
On how his legal situation affects the Browns and the upcoming coaching search:
Haslam: "I think we've said all along and I'll say it again, this is embarrassing for our family, our company, and I apologize to any cloud it has put over the City of Cleveland or the Browns. Nobody feels worse about that than I do. The company has done everything we said we would do. We've paid everybody back with interest. We've dealt with the individuals who made some very poor decisions. We've resolved a majority of the lawsuits. We are working closely with the government to work through these issues. We are confident we will have a successful, long-term outcome. Has it been a distraction for me in terms of time to spend here over the last six months? Yes. Are we starting to move out of that phase? Yes. Here again I'll say, do I think we can attract the right person to come here? Yes, I do."
Banner: "I really think the most important thing going forward is, are we going to be able to identify and attract the right coaching candidates, so I just want to spend a second on that. When a head coach is interested in determining, is he going to be able to go to a place where he can be successful and where he can enjoy coaching because of the passion of the people in the building he works with and the city that he is coaching in. I think Jimmy has already established himself as somebody who is interested in owning an NFL team for no other reason other than wanting to win football games and focusing everything on trying to have the best football team we possibly can. I think we also have in myself somebody who has a 14-year history with the same coach and a great amount of success that should give somebody comfort. We have a strong nucleus of talent on the team, including five Pro Bowl players. We are going to have a significant amount of cap room, a lot of draft picks and really an excellent opportunity for someone looking for a head-coaching opportunity."
On if there is a Plan B in place for the ownership if he is indicted:
Haslam: "I think the focus needs to be on the Browns and football, but let me just say this: I think we accept responsibility for what happened at our company as the person at the top. I think we've maintained all along that we have not done anything wrong and we are confident there will be a successful outcome."
On if he expects to own the Browns at this time next year:
Haslam: "I don't know how many times I can say that we expect the Browns to be a long-term asset of our family."
On what Chudzinski didn't have that they thought he would have when he was hired:
Banner: "I think the evaluation was based on the results. I think we anticipated that through the season, especially with a young team – you see the fast improvement in young players – that we would see a great amount of progress than we did."
On evaluating key roster moves made in the offseason like trading for Davone Bess, drafting Barkevious Mingo and signing Paul Kruger:
Banner: "I'm reluctant to go player-by-player because I don't want to say anything that offends anybody. Overall, I think that we moved the needle forward, not as much as we need to. I think we had a long-term strategy as it related to the draft and a shorter-term strategy as it related to free agency. I think most of the moves, both the free-agent moves and draft moves, need to be judged over time. I'm very optimistic that over time, whether we are dealing with undrafted free agents, the players we claimed or the free agents we signed that it will prove to have been a year in which we moved the needle forward in terms of the talent level on the team. That's not to say there isn't a ways to go; we fully recognize that. Nobody is saying otherwise. We'll endeavor here soon to try to start that needle moving even further on the talent side. "
On if the talent evaluators have more time to prove themselves than the coach did:
Banner: "Again, I am not going to go player-by-player, but you used a list. I think there are a lot of names we could add to the list if you talk about some of the people who got injured. The (Brian) Hoyeres, Dion Lewises, Desmond Bryantes, (Quentin) Groveses. Some of those I think were and will prove to be excellent moves. There are other moves that time will prove if they were as good of moves or not."
On the team playing well when it had decent quarterback play and and how Chudzinski fits into that:
Banner: "He (Hoyer) only played two games. One was Cincinnati, where I think everybody would agree that was probably the best game we had all year, but we scored 17 points. The other the Minnesota game, in which it was a tough game and we won on the road. I think you would have to have a longer stretch and evaluation of just how strong the quarterback play and just what that would translate into. I think if you look around the league, including some of the first-year teams and their quarterback challenges and second- and third-quarterback play, you would still say the expectation of seeing meaningful growth through the season would be a reasonable expectation. "
On the quarterback depth chart and how much the handing of the quarterback situation affected their outcome:
Banner: "I know it is kind of natural to kind of find things, but I think the root of the decision here related to the progress that we saw. I don't have any second-guessing of their utilization and teaching of the quarterbacks and the order that they played them in. I just think that lack of progress across the roster and the overall play of the team was what really drove is to be here today."
On doubts that they will re-interview coaching candidates from last year:
Banner: "I think that when I talked about the existing staff that we're still discussing, whether we think that there is a candidate, or candidates on the staff, as we sit here today."
On possibly giving the next head coach of the Browns more input on personnel:
Banner: "I think we're open to whatever structure we need to have to get the right person. Also, we work very closely with the coaching staff. They were mostly through Chud intimately involved in all of the decisions we made and had input in the decisions that we made. Again, that doesn't mean that we agreed on every evaluation, didn't have some discussions, but our philosophy has been to have a very collaborative approach to how we make personnel decisions."
On the repetitive process in searching for the next candidate for the head-coaching job:
Banner: "We spoke to the team as a whole today and had a separate meeting with a group of the leaders of the team. What you're describing is absolutely true and it's justifiably frustrating and it creates some skepticism. Our job as the leaders of the organization, the job of the new head coach, is to kind of work through that. We have a highly competitive group of core players that I think are very anxious to find the right person to follow and try to get the franchise where they so badly want it to be."
On the status of the current coordinators and assistant coaches:
Banner: "Right now, they remain under contract but we've indicated to them we'll be very liberal in agreeing to any permission requests by another team to talk to them."
On whether he notices that GM Mike Lombardi does not take part in public forums:
Haslam: "I've never really thought about it, to be honest."
On what the organization must accomplish during this crucial offseason:
Haslam: "Listen Tony (Grossi), let me say a couple things: We're in this for the long run. I think that I've said that time and time again. We feel the responsibility to get it right, okay? And believe me, everybody that works in this building understands how important, first of all, getting the right coach, then having a successful free agency, and then a good draft are, and we're not going to know that until probably about a year from now. But everybody is understanding and everybody is totally focused on that."
On convincing new head-coaching candidates that they will have more than a year to develop their plan:
Haslam: "I have no idea if we'll interview three people or 10 people, okay? And they are intense sessions with these individuals. I feel confident that we're going to be able to convince people that this is not a good, but a great place to coach, where they'll have great support and everything they need to be successful. Now, talk is cheap as I've said earlier and we'll know a year from now, two years from now or maybe six months from now if we're successful at that."
On if he would convince the new coaching candidate to keep the current coordinators:
Haslam: "If you hire a new head coach you have to empower him to make those decisions. He will evaluate what he thinks the best staff that he can put together to achieve what he wants to achieve, and have the staff that works together well. Those decisions will be completely in the hands of whoever we hire."
On saying verbatim what they said a year ago:
Haslam: "I think I said, listen I understand why there's skepticism. I get it, and I don't think that this press conference or anything that we say over the next few days is going to change anybody's mind. We've got to go out and produce better results. That's all we can say and that's all that we can do and there's nobody that understands that better than the two of us."