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Browns vets ready to rally behind whoever is hired as new coach

A day like Monday unfortunately wasn't new for Joel Bitonio and Christian Kirksey

The two longest tenured Browns have been here before, cleaning out their lockers hours after learning they'd be playing for a new head coach in the upcoming season. Both made it clear that it doesn't get any easier with experience.

"You have these relationships with these people. You care about people. It is a business, but it is a people business, too," Bitonio said. "Every player that comes through here that you have been a part of you know that there is a chance you never play with those guys again. Some of these coaches have been great coaches and great mentors to me, and they are not going to be here anymore. It is one of things where you look at it and you put yourself in their shoes and their families and stuff, and it is tough."

Said Kirksey: "I have been on this roller coaster before. You just have to keep a clear mind and stay positive throughout the process. We all know the business. It is devastating at times, but you just have to keep moving forward. That is all you can do."

Still, as tough as Monday might have been, there remained an optimism that was present even after Sunday's disappointing loss to the Bengals. The Browns didn't hit their goals for the 2019 season, but they believe the core pieces are in place to realize them in 2020 with whomever replaces Freddie Kitchens.

Wide receiver Jarvis Landry was asked how a change as big as this could turn into a positive for a Browns team looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002.

"I think now just our outlook and what we have in the locker room as far as from a talent standpoint and guys having another year of experience under their belt," Landry said. "Ownership is going to look for somebody that can lead it in the right direction."

The 2019 season never got fully rolling in that direction, and the Browns ultimately dug themselves a hole that required near perfect football during the second half of the season to even have a shot at the playoffs. 

The Browns rattled off three consecutive wins to move to 5-6, but the stretch was marred by an incident that left Pro Bowl pass rusher Myles Garrett suspended for the rest of the season, a devastating blow to a defense already dealing with multiple, long-term injuries. With longshot playoff odds alive up until Week 16, the Browns lost three of their last four to finish the season 6-10, one win fewer than 2018.

Bitonio said the burden and disappointment weighs heavy on the players for their role in coming up well short of their goals.

"I thought Freddie put himself in a good position each week to give us a chance to win," Bitonio said. "I think everybody in the organization has to take a step, look at themselves in the mirror and be like, 'What can I do personally to be better?' It comes from each player, from each person in any part of the building that is within the football organization. We have to look at ourselves and prove ourselves."

Bitonio and others expressed their belief that the Browns' job is an attractive one because of the talent already in place and the room for growth from so many young players bent on becoming even better versions of themselves in 2020. What happened in 2019 or any of the previous years in which the team came up short of the playoffs shouldn't be viewed as a hindrance.

"We have to turn it around. We have to find a way," Bitonio said. "It is an NFL coaching job, and if you get the right people in the right spots, you have a chance to win here. 

"There is nothing cursed about the city or anything like that. You put the right guys on the field, you put the right coaching staff in and you have all of the people working for the same goal, and you are going to win games."