BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Browns owner Jimmy Haslam vowed to "get it right" when he hires his next coach.
Haslam fired Rob Chudzinski on Sunday night, just hours after Cleveland's 20-7 loss at Pittsburgh and less than a year after the first-time head coach was charged with turning around the Browns.
Haslam and CEO Joe Banner cited an overall lack of progress in their decision to dismiss Chudzinski, who had the Browns off to a 4-5 start before they lost their final seven games and finished 4-12 — the club's sixth straight season with at least 10 losses.
"As the season developed, and as we got later in the season, it was our feeling that the team was not getting better," Haslam said, who knows there are skeptics with their doubts about him and Cleveland's front office. "Candidly, we deserve it."
Banner and Haslam have already begun their search for Chudzinski's replacement. Banner said the team is still deciding whether to interview Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton for the opening.
Horton interviewed with the Browns last season before the job went to Chudzinski, a lifelong Browns fan who was caught off guard by his ouster.
Banner said none of the candidates interviewed last year will be considered again. That would rule out Penn State coach Bill O'Brien and San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt.
"This is the crucial offseason for the Cleveland Browns," Haslam said. "If we get that right, we'll have a lot of positive press conferences. We feel a lot of pressure to get this right for our players, our fans and the city of Cleveland. It galls me when people write, 'Same old Browns.' I think the key message needs to be that we're going to work hard to get this right."
Chudzinski was told of his firing after the team returned by bus from Pittsburgh.
"I shocked and disappointed to hear the news that I was fired," Chudzinski said in a statement released by the Browns. "I am a Cleveland Brown to the core, and always will be. It was an honor to lead our players and coaches, and I appreciate their dedication and sacrifice. I was more excited than ever for this team, as I know we were building a great foundation for future success.
"While clearly I would have liked to see the long-term vision through to the end, I am very grateful to Jimmy Haslam and the Haslam family for letting me live my dream."
Chudzinski has three years left on his contract worth a reported $10 million.
Chudzinski's firing is the fourth in six years by the Browns, who haven't made the playoffs since 1999.