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Worst Coaching Decisions of the Cleveland Browns: Part 1

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The good, the bad and the ugly are all hallmarks of the franchise

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Cleveland Browns 1-2-2011 Photo by David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty Images

So, there is this story about a man who was waiting in the express checkout line at the grocery store. A woman behind him tells him that she is in a hurry because of a sick child and displays only two items. The man is kind and a gentleman, so he tells her to go ahead and mentions all he was going to do is buy some scratch off lottery tickets. Her items are rung up and then she tells the clerk that the lottery tickets sound good and give her three scratch offs from whatever the ones the man had mentioned. She pays and leaves. The man is next, and as he is paying for his tickets the woman comes running back in the store screaming. It seems that one of those scratch offs just netted her $1 million.

What were her chances of receiving a winning scratch off ticket? Much better than the man whose place she took, obviously.

This same scenario plays out time-and-time again in professional sports. The person upper management believes to be the best choice for a head coaching vacancy ultimately fails; whereas another coach that was interviewed - or was decided not to interview - becomes successful on another team.

Or just as frustrating is that young buck assistant coach that was once a staff member who everyone saw potential (except the persons who make the decisions) and has a fascinating career winning multiple championships – just with another team.

Tis the reason to look back at some horrid choices the Browns have made with their own head coaches hirings and firings – or, to look back at some horrid choices they didn’t make along the way.

Counting down here are the Cleveland Browns management’s worst coaching decisions:

Cleveland Browns v Buffalo Bills Photo by: Rick Stewart/Getty Images

15. Romeo Crennel (2005 - 2008)

Crennel was on arguably one of the greatest coaching staffs in the history of the New York Football Giants with Bill Parcells as head coach, Bill Belichick the defensive coordinator (DC), Ron Erhardt offensive coordinator (OC), plus Charlie Weis, Al Groh and Tom Coughlin. Crennel himself would go on to have success in the NFL, maybe not so much as a head coach but has established himself a very competent and respected DC in the league even today with the Houston Texans. In 2015, his second season with Houston, the Texans’ defense ranked third in the league. In 2016 they jumped to number one overall and has since become a Top 10 defense.

Crennel came to the Browns with credentials and impeccable character. He was a two-time Super Bowl champion plus had been on Parcells’ New England Patriots squad that had lost a Super Bowl, Crennel’s third appearance in the big game. Each of these teams sported stout defensive efforts molded by Crennel slap in the middle of those title runs.

He was named head coach of the Browns in 2005 after the Butch Davis era. The franchise was well aware of his talents as he had been the DC for Cleveland in 2000. In 2003, he interviewed for six NFL head coaching jobs and then waited patiently before the Browns called.

In Davis’ last year as head coach, Cleveland went 4-12-0. Crennel’s first campaign as the newly minted head man the Browns began the season 2-2-0 but finished 6-10-0. The defense played well with Denard Lang, Ray Mickens, and Andra Davis. Wide receiver Braylon Edwards was the club’s first-round draft pick. The following year they slipped to a disappointing 4-12-0 despite bringing in free agents Ted Washington, Willie McGinest and Joe Jurevicius. All season long the Cleveland offense was plagued with poor offensive line play especially the center position which was constantly under scrutiny with injuries.

But for the 2007 season, everything began to gel. Offensive tackle Joe Thomas was drafted in the first-round. Edwards had developed into a viable receiving threat while youngster signalcaller Derek Anderson was at the helm of the offense. As with the previous two seasons under Crennel, the Browns began 2-2-0 but caught fire during the middle of their schedule. Edwards would finish with 16 touchdown catches and net 1,289 receiving yards while Anderson was a Top-10 quarterback. Running back Jamal Lewis had 1,304 rushing yards and the offensive line was one of the league’s best with the ever-dependable Phil Dawson at kicker.

The end result was a 10-6-0 record, yet the Browns just missed the playoffs. For his efforts, Crennel was given a two-year contract extension in the range of $4 million a season through 2011.

However, Crennel never saw the end of that contract as Cleveland tanked once again in 2008 with a 4-12-0 record. The Browns had begun the season 0-3 and then lost eight of their last nine games. After losing 31-0 to the Pittsburgh Steelers in their final game, management fired him along with GM Phil Savage.

Crennel’s numbers with the Browns were 24 wins, 40 losses, .375 win percentage, zero division titles and zero trips to the playoffs.

Whatever magic Crennel had manifested in 2007, he could not replicate the success. That 2008 season began the current “Wasteland Years” era of bad play, numerous starting quarterbacks, multiple head coaches, losing records and a string of 17 years without a playoff berth.

14. Weeb Ewbank (1949 - 1953)

Weeb Ewbank won a Super Bowl with an exceptional quarterback by the name of Broadway Joe Namath. Unfortunately for the Browns, that team wasn’t Cleveland.

Ewbank came to the Browns after a successful college coaching stint at Washington University (St. Louis). Ewbank had been an assistant coach under Paul Brown at the Naval Station Great Lakes during World War II, so in 1949 Coach Brown hired Eubank to coach the offensive linemen (although he had played quarterback in college).

The Browns won the AAFC Championship again for their fourth straight title, and then captured the NFL title in 1950 after their merger into the established league. Ewbank continued as an assistant to Coach Brown until 1953. He was then hired as head coach of the Baltimore Colts.

Paul Brown was an excellent coach, but one thing he did not like was for his assistants to get head coaching jobs with other clubs. When Ewbank was offered the Colts gig, Brown advised against him taking the head coaching position and told him that he was a career assistant coach. Once Ewbank took the job, Brown filed a grievance. Coach Brown accused Ewbank of “misuse of information” since the annual college draft was approaching and Ewbank knew all of the information regarding the Browns’ draft board. The grievance went unfounded.

In 1958, the Colts won the NFL title in “the greatest game ever played” over the New York Football Giants. Ewbank was named NFL Coach-of-the-Year. The following season, Baltimore won its second consecutive NFL championship again against the Giants.

Several years later in 1962 after a 7-7-0 season, the Colts fired him. Meanwhile, the Titans of New York in the American Football League (AFL) had just changed ownership with new team colors and a new team name – the New York Jets. New York’s new owner Sonny Werblin hired Ewbank as his club’s new head coach.

In 1968, the Jets won the AFL Championship. Next up, Super Bowl III against the mighty Colts, now led by Don Shula. The Jets were 18-point underdogs despite having one of the game’s greatest signalcallers, Namath, under center. The Jets clobbered Baltimore 16-7. The win meant Weeb Ewbank, told he would always be a career assistant, now had won four championships.

1968 was also the year that Paul Brown returned to the sidelines as the head coach/partial owner of the expansion Cincinnati Bengals of the AFL and had a front row seat to Ewbank’s success.

But back to 1962. Browns’ owner Art Modell had just fired Cleveland’s longtime head coach Paul Brown, Ewbank was available and was never called for an interview despite being temporarily unemployed from his Colts job. As a head coach, Ewbank went 4-1-0 in playoff games.

Cleveland Browns v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

13. Rob Chudzinski (2013)

Chudzinski had previously worked as tight ends coach and interim offensive coordinator with the Browns in 2004 when Butch Davis was fired and Terry Robiskie took over as interim head coach. After two seasons in San Diego, he returned to Cleveland in 2007 as their offensive coordinator under Romeo Crennel. That season the Browns went 10-6-0 and the offense ranked eighth while four offensive players were named to the Pro Bowl.

In 2011, Chudzinski became the OC with the Carolina Panthers and transformed a horrible offensive attack into a Top-10 unit and set a franchise record for total yards in a season. His quarterback, Cam Newton, was named NFL Offensive Player-of-the-Year. After another great season offensively despite a second consecutive losing campaign, Chudzinski was at the top of the list of head coaching candidates in 2011. He became new Browns’ owner Jimmy Haslam’s first head coaching hire and was proud to land his talents. He was considered a gifted offensive mind and battle-tested.

The year before Chudzinski was hired, Cleveland went 5-11-0 and finished 25th in total offense. In the 2013 NFL draft, the Browns took four defensive players including Barkevious Mingo with the number 6 overall pick in the first-round while the franchise passed on future Pro Bowl players such as DeAndre Hopkins, Xavier Rhodes, LeVeon Bell and Travis Frederick.

After starting the season 3-2-0, under Chudzinski the Browns finished a disappointing 4-12-0 including losing their last seven games. Any loyalty ownership had was instantly wiped out. After a 20-7 loss in the final game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Haslam pulled the plug on the Chudzinski experiment after only a single season.

Chudzinski stated that he was shocked at his firing, and disappointed at the news. His roster was known for issues that were not dealt with and in fact allowed to continue, especially wide receiver Greg Little and quarterback Brandon Weeden. Players lacked effort with an emphasis during the seven game losing skid, and there wasn’t any accountability towards players no matter what happened.

After Chud was cut loose, Browns Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas stated that great franchises don’t fire their head coach after one season. But the Browns did.

12. Lindy Infante (1986 - 1987)

While Infante was the offensive coordinator with the Browns, Cleveland’s offense was ranked ninth two seasons in a row. Quarterback Bernie Kosar was graded as one of the league’s best and rated as high as number four in 1986. Along with running back Earnest Byner as a trusted receiver, Kosar had at his disposal wide receivers Brian Brennan, Webster Slaughter, Ozzie Newsome and Reggie Langhorne. The 1987 Browns added wide receiver Gerald McNeil and were the second-highest scoring team in the NFL.

Infante was available to the Browns because his former head coaching gig, the Jacksonville Bulls of the United States Football League, had folded. Infante’s quarterback in Jacksonville was former Brown Brian Sipe. Jacksonville led the USFL in attendance both years Infante was their head coach. Jacksonville was also one of that league’s highest-scoring clubs, but their defense also allowed a lot of yardage and points.

Infante was hired by Marty Schottenheimer, who was a defensive-minded coach and needed an offensive mind to shape Kosar and help build a potent offensive attack. Infante had a knack for developing quarterbacks into great players. During Infante’s two seasons, the Browns won two division titles and then went to two AFC Championship Games yet lost 23-20 and 38-33 to John Elway and the Denver Broncos.

When the Green Bay Packers head coaching job became available, Infante was interviewed and hired for his offensive strategy and abilities. Before Infante arrived, the Packers had endured 10 straight seasons of sub-.500 victories’ yet in 1989 the Packers finished 10-6-0 and Infante was named NFL Coach-of-the-Year.

In the future, the Browns’ head coaching job was a turnstile of guys. At no time was Infante ever interviewed for the position.

New England Patriots vs. Cleveland Browns 11-7-2010 Photo by David Dermer/Diamond Images/Getty Images

11. Eric Mangini (2009 - 2010)

There is a long list of assistants that have gone on to bigger things which were hired to Bill Belichick’s staff when he was head coach of the Browns from 1991-1995. Mangini is one of those men.

After coaching a minor league team in Australia, Mangini was hired in 1995 as a ball boy for Cleveland and earned the nickname “that Eric kid.” Constantly around Belichick, he was later promoted to a position as a public relations intern. Months later, he was promoted again as an offensive assistant under offensive coordinator Steve Crosby.

After the conclusion of the 1995 season and the club relocated to Baltimore, Browns’ owner Art Modell fired the entire coaching staff. Belichick’s Director of Pro Personnel had been former Browns’ great tight end Ozzie Newsome, who now was named the new GM of the now-Baltimore Ravens. Newsome hired Mangini as an offensive assistant.

When Belichick was hired by Bill Parcells once again, this time with the New York Jets and then on to the New England Patriots, Mangini tagged along and was part of three Super Bowls as the defensive coordinator.

He returned to New York as the Jets head coach in 2006 and “that Eric kid” was named AFC Coach-of-the-Year after he took a 4-12-0 club to a 10-6-0 record, winning five of their last six games and a playoff berth. Two seasons later, he was fired.

In 2008 Cleveland had just gone 4-12-0 and Browns’ owner Randy Lerner released head coach Romeo Crennel. Lerner called Mangini. The next day, Lerner met with him and was impressed with his potential and discipline, plus the fact that he had been an NFL head coach before. The thought process was that hopefully he had learned from his mistakes. Lerner also interviewed Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, then-Browns defensive coordinator Mel Tucker, and New York Football Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. After the interview process was completed, Lerner wasted no time and inked Mangini to a four-year deal.

Mangini hired Jets quarterback coach Brian Daboll as his offensive coordinator and former Oakland Raiders defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to the same position. There was discussion about Crennel being brought back in some capacity as they were good friends, but the idea was eventually nixed.

Offensively, the 2009 Browns were horrible and the players did not display any support for Mangini. The club began 1-11-0 and ended the season dead last in total passing yards per game, total offensive touchdowns, team rating, average yards per completion, and near the bottom in total points scored, pass attempts, completions and points per game average.

The defense didn’t help matters as they were ranked 31st while the franchise limped to a 5-11-0 record. The following season the Browns repeated themselves and again went 5-11-0. The defense improved to 22nd but the offense was still in shambles and scored the second least points in the league despite a breakout year by running back Peyton Hillis.

On January 2, the Browns were shelled at home by the Steelers 41-9. On January 3, Mangini was fired. His totals as Cleveland’s head coach were 10-22-0 with a .313 win percentage.

Next up: Worst coaching decisions numbers 6-10

Poll

Were the Browns correct in firing Rob Chudzinski after only one season despite the losing record?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    It happened as it should have
    (199 votes)
  • 84%
    Agree with Joe Thomas and would have given him another chance
    (1064 votes)
1263 votes total Vote Now