There are always a few surprises on the NFL's "Black Monday," whether it's a few coaches who unexpectedly retain their jobs or a firing that comes out of nowhere. Sunday morning, rumors began to swirl about what would surely be the biggest surprise coaching change -- Rob Chudzinski in Cleveland.
Shortly before the Browns began a Week 17 game against the rival Steelers, both Cleveland and national reporters started firing off tweets that Chudzinski could be in trouble.
There are some bad vibes indicating uncertainty about the future of #Browns HC Rob Chudzinski. Incredible.— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) December 29, 2013
One place of turmoil (again) to monitor is Cleveland Browns, where there's some turmoil & unhappiness with how team folded 2nd half of year— Chris Mortensen (@mortreport) December 29, 2013
It's hard to imagine that the Browns, in the first year of yet another regime change since the lesser iteration of the franchise returned in 1999, would can their first-year coach. Chudzinksi was the first hire of Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi, and releasing him after just one season would be as much of an indictment of their hiring process as it would be Chud's coaching abilities. Chudzinski did not interview with any other teams before he was hired by the Browns last offseason.
The Sunday speculation had enough steam that the team was forced to issue a statement before its game ended in Pittsburgh. The terse release said nothing and wasn't exactly supportive or laudatory of the coach:
#Browns on Chud: "Our focus is on game today. We will not discuss any evaluation of the season until this upcoming week.'' (again no denial)— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) December 29, 2013
So they're not exactly shooting down the rumors. It could be that the pressure is coming from above Lombardi and Banner, with owner Jimmy Haslam unenthused with how his first full season as owner is ending.
On #Browns: Dissatisfaction with Rob Chudzinski from up high is real, from what I hear. Effort issues, accountability issues. One to watch— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 29, 2013
While Chud was the first big hire for Lombardi and Banner, it did come after a dalliance and aggressive attempt to land Chip Kelly. The Browns insist he was never offered the job after they wined and dined the then Oregon coach in Phoenix, but he was clearly the first option they pursued. Albert Breer of the NFL Network indicated that Bill O'Brien and Josh McDaniels could be options in Cleveland if Chudzinski is let go:
And if Browns were to make a change, Penn State's Bill O'Brien and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels would likely top the list.— Albert Breer (@AlbertBreer) December 29, 2013
Lombardi worked with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick when the two were in Cleveland in the early 90s, and the second-time Browns GM has a general reverence for all things Belichick. So those two Belichick-approved assistants would, indeed, likely be candidates (and were rumored last year during the hiring process as well).
O'Brien is reportedly in discussions with the Texans on a deal that would fill the coaching vacancy in Houston. McDaniels is a Northeast Ohio native who has bounced around in different offensive roles with the Rams and Patriots since he was fired after fewer than two years as the head coach in Denver.