“Our fans deserve better.”
That was the message Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam delivered to the Cleveland media one day after the team completed a 4-12 season with a 20-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field.
Haslam and chief executive officer Joe Banner spoke on the importance of changing the fortunes of the franchise, starting with the search for the team’s 15th full-time head coach, which they insisted must be done right after they relieved Rob Chudzinski late Sunday night.
“We’re in this for the long run,” Haslam said. “We feel the responsibility to get it right. Everybody that works in this building understands, first of all, getting the right coach, then, having a successful free-agency (period) and a good draft, are. We’re not going to know that until probably a year from now, but everybody is understanding and everybody is totally focused on that.
“What I want our fans to hear is nobody cares about winning or 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. It’s our single mission to change that.”
Haslam enters his second coaching search is as many offseasons positive he and the Browns can attract the best and brightest football minds in the world.
“I feel confident that we’re going to convince people that this is not a good, but a great place to coach where they’ll have great support, everything they need to be successful,” Haslam said. “Talk is cheap, and we’ll know a year from now, two years from now, or maybe six months from now if we’re successful at that. We feel confident we can do it.”
While it was not an easy decision to let go of Chudzinski, a Toledo native and lifelong Browns fan, Banner believes it sends a message to the fans and the NFL that the team is expecting to compete for championships in the future.
“As unpopular and undesirable for us to be sitting here right now and acknowledging that we didn’t get it right, I think the fact that we’re making this change makes the statement that we’re not going to accept not being really successful,” Banner said. “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’re going to demand of everybody, especially and including ourselves, that we be successful, and if we’re not, we’re going to do what we need to get there.
“The idea is finding a coach that we’re confident can win, can take this group and see it as a group that has a strong nucleus, figure out how to utilize the assets that we have going through the offseason to take us to the next level, I think that’s the focus of what we’re trying to find.”
Haslam and Banner will continue the coaching search, no matter how long it takes to find, in their opinion, the right person for the job.
“I’ve gotten to talk to people around the country who know the NFL,” Haslam said. “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 us in terms of the Packers and the Steelers. That adds even more strong feelings that we need to get this thing and get it right. 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.”
Banner added, “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’s coaching in. I think Jimmy’s already established himself as somebody that’s interested in owning an NFL team for no other reason other than wanting to win football games and focusing everything on having the best football team he possibly can.”
Whoever that “right person” is, Haslam and Banner believe he will inherit a talented roster that could receive a serious upgrade with 10 picks in the 2014 NFL Draft and plenty of salary cap space to add free agents into the fold.
“We have a strong nucleus of talent on the team, including five Pro Bowl players,” Banner said, “and we’re going to have a significant amount of cap room, a lot of draft picks, and really, an excellent opportunity for anyone looking for a head-coaching position.”
Haslam added, “Do I think we’re where we need to be talent-wise now? No, I don’t. Do I think we can get there in the next couple, two or three years? Yes, I do. 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’ve got to hire a new coach. If we get that right, then, we’ll have a lot of really positive press conferences.”